Issues at stake

Issues At Stake:  African Leaders And The Royal Syndrome

Yerima Kini Nsom

By Yerima Kini Nsom

Although many African leaders call themselves democratic Presidents, what makes them different from monarchs is in lamentably short supply. They are still gripped by the “royal syndrome”, which is that African kingship ailment that combines the simulacrum of infallibility and unassailability. They see themselves as vice-gods who should be praised at all moments even when all the odds are stacked against their tenure.

While many African leaders have moved out of the brackets of this crop of leaders by way of genuine democratic reforms, those of the Central African sub-region have continued to hold the fort of their thinly masked absolutism. They sing about democracy but deliver dictatorship to the people in all ramifications. Such leaders surround themselves with political thugs and sycophants whose politics of counselship is to tell the king only what would sound like sweet honey to his ears. They see evil and call it good just to please the king and swell their selfish ambitions. Such a setting has a club of palace chronicles who mangle historical facts and sugar-coat daily events to please royal ears.

Such a situation makes it possible for the king, especially the tired and ailing one, to live only in the fictional world which is the figment of the imagination of his collaborators. Saying anything that does not sound like sweet music in the ears of the king is like challenging a god. Anybody who is foolhardy enough to challenge such a god runs the risk of committing the awesome combination of blasphemy and treason. That is why all criticisms are treated as treacherous crimes whose authors should be “rewarded” with heavy sentences in deep dark prisons. In such settings, critics are the enemies of the republic and should be treated as such. Is anyone surprised that in the countries of such rulers the prisons are full with all those who are foolhardy enough to utter a word against iron rule and its setbacks? Here, clamping down on critics physically and psychologically is considered an act of patriotism that is worth rewarding. Small wonder that administrators, security and military officials, have gained promotion just by cutting off any protesting finger and relegating to backburners issues that are likely not to put a smile on the face of the king.

Here, the enemies of the republic are not those who fester so majestically and opulently in stolen wealth. No! The enemies of the republic are the critics who are virtually drunk with the passion for socio-political and economic answerability. They are those who are pregnant with the pungent thrust of patriotic anger in their clamour for justice. They are those who point accusing fingers at the word benders who parade the naked hypocrisy of “just and egalitarian society” and those who have been negatively converted against the dreams of the people. It is on account of this Stone Age brutality that many critics have been cowed into submission and forced to preside over the funeral of their trade. Yet, it remains an unspeakable calamity that whistle blowers are padlocked and intimidated into clipping their tails in sepulchral silence like frightened dogs. Otherwise, why would civil society leaders remain in all tranquillity when ordinary citizens are suffocating under the stranglehold of a monstrous inflation which has driven the prices of basic commodities out of their reach?

Here, clamping down on critics physically and psychologically is considered an act of patriotism that is worth rewarding. Small wonder that administrators, security and military officials, have gained promotion just by cutting off any protesting finger and relegating to backburners issues that are likely not to put a smile on the face of the king.

I keep wondering what crime this part of the globe committed to be accursed with this interminable run of backward leadership by people whose modus operandi is akin to Stone Age despotism. The common character traits of such czars are manifested in corruption, dictatorship and visionlessness. If you gainsay this, then, tell me why their countries are bywords of paradoxes and enigmas of poverty. How would one explain otherwise the enigma of a country that is endowed with enormous natural and human resources but remains home to the poorest people on earth? What other reason can be given to an oil producing country that is a citadel of underdevelopment and home to citizens that are ranked among the poorest on earth. Such countries are blessed with abundant rivers and minerals, yet they are unable to generate electricity for their own use. Providence blessed them with millions of hectares of fertile land, but they are unable to produce enough food for themselves. They are blessed with millions of hectares of equatorial forests, yet they are unable to produce tooth pick for local consumption. They are generously endowed but wasted countries that are no longer home and haven to, but nightmares to their citizens. Otherwise, how would they be full of bounce and bravado, brain and brawn, yet remain impotent in infrastructural and human development?

While the people sob helplessly in want and deprivation, the leadership is blissfully enjoying the docile followership of the citizenry which has been hectored into accepting anything and everything from the top. They seem to have espoused such compromised leadership and its dangerous fallouts. In such a situation, we need critics who would not mind sticking out their necks to be guillotined for the common good. We need whistle blowers to keep reminding the leaders of their responsibility for the common good. Such critics also shoulder the responsibility to remind the ruled the vital need to fight for their rights even when they run the risk of being charged with insurrection.

The critics here include the journalists who should be thought leaders and agenda setters. Their sense of journalistic power should be the hallmarks of their counselship commitment to leaders who see them as the faithful mirrors of the society. Any journalist who refuses to number among the swaying crowd of social critics is only doing but half of his or her job. Every journalist should have an uncompromising sense of personal mission in his battle to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Their criticisms must be genuine and well-reasoned in such a way that they must contain the germ of corrective proposals. Genuine criticisms should not be allowed to share any border line with insurrection and betrayal of one’s country. When hope is obliterated by compromised leadership elsewhere, the society looks up to the press to hold briefs for them. But can a press that has been mangled and emasculated by the oppressors strike a balance between one-sided official reporting and highlighting the aspirations of the people whose voice they carry? It speaks for itself how much of a huge challenge, journalists and other critics, have in undemocratic societies as compared to their democratic counterparts.

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