Is there a justification for the quantity and quality of discourse on Africa? Are we pathologizing? Here is one answer by Okello Oculi, Ph.D, Executive Director, AFRICA VISION 525
A most significant component in Africa's condition has been one long theme song of systems, dictators, and elected rulers bowing to new systems of power and rulers. Today's youths can be forgiven for mistaking names like John Vorster, Ian Smith, Pik Botha, Ahmed Ben Bella, Modibo Keita , Bishop Abel Musorewa, and the colourful Mobutu Sese Seko Kukubendu Wazabanga (meaning "the cock which leaves no hen untouched"), for either being names of players in third division football clubs in Polland or Spain, or names of games on the internet. No thanks to the media in Africa which suffers from severe depletion of memory due to high exit of staff; seeming antipathy to tapping from the wit of academic historians and a disappearing breed of scholars of African comparative politics, the youth do not associate these names with the high distinction of all, but a few of them, teaching the continent's current rulers with the art of political brutality; easy resort to massacres of critics and demonstrators; one-race or one-tribe rule; naked and ruthless use of power to rob and exploit one group in society for the benefit of the group that shares a cherished attribute, notably race or some other biological uniform, with the core rulers.
And yet, the continent has known titanic changes; changes which were often so heroic and novel that, through television and print media picture stories, they taught lessons of revolt and the sweat and blood of democratization to oppressed peoples around the globe including Europe. Such was the case when black children in South Africa shamed their own parents ( who in the early 1970s had began to grow freedom fatigue and gotten weary of taking unyielding beatings, massacres, bannings, restrictions of movements and imprisonment with hard labour for their political leaders (in a struggle which began in earnest in 1912 with the formation of the African National Congress, ANC ), into the revival of struggle against apartheid. The children began boycotting classes and biting live bullets during mass protests against being taught Afrikaans, and not English, in what they saw as as a means of isolating them from political movements in the rest of Africa.
Pictures of white policemen bashing blach children with batons; shooting to kill as they fled and bled in panic, or kicking them to the ground, aroused shock and anger both abroad and among parents inside the country. The fight against apartheid would gather a new momentum which reached its nadir with the famous walk by Nelson Mandela into freedom.
Ian Smith, and his party: the Rhodesian Front, had sworn that European colonists would rule black people in Southern Rhodesia(now Zimbabwe) for at least one thousand years; and would commit mass massacres against African civilians in villages and camps in defense of that pledge. For a white ruling tribe which had controlled power and its economic rewards from the early 1920s to 1980, when Robert Mugabe, as leader of an armed liberation struggle, triumphed over them, change had been too bloody and bitter to allow for a turn of their minds towards the more positive, creative, morally and philosophically more dignified task of nation-building. Zimbabwe would in 2005 still be paying the price for this brutal and uncreative resistance to change by the white tribes.
A dramatic change which would be characterized by a ruthless "racial cleansing" long before fighting white tribes in Yugoslavia made "ethnic cleansing a blood stained affair, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, Conqueror of the British Empire, had in his youth as a foot soldier in the colonial army, The Kings African Rifle, been allowed to play the game of rugby with his white officers because he was physically tall and big and athletic. In rugby one learns to hit the opponent with very hard tackles, with teeth regularly flying out of battered jaws of victims. Reaching out for, and pulling at, sexual organs of opponents is also fair. For Idi Amin, the colonial foot soldier, the harder his knocks felled his victims, the harder came his British officers regard, if not respect, for him. Little wonder he saw himself as conquering the British Empire with each hit and a tackle at a rugby game.
Idi Amin, later as the head of the army under President Milton Obote had sat through frustrating sessions when Obote negotiated with British officials for the repatriation of thousands British citizens of Indian and Pakistani ancestry who carried British passports but controlled Uganda's commercial sector. With a tiny and stagnant industrial sector, this monopoly of the trading sector annually locked thousands of school leavers and several hundred graduates coming out of universities from entering and opening its money vaults. They could only turn to the civil service for jobs and economic advancement. Moreover,, Idi Amin's own ethnic group, the so-called "Nubians" were even shut out of looking towards the civil service, due to the fact that British colonial education policies did not provide and never prodded Christian missionaries to provide primary and secondary schools for Muslim children. To add hot pepper to their social wounds, British municipal edicts prohibited all Africans from trading and owning shops for a distance of ten miles from the center of a trading center. This was the special prerogative of the Asians to fuse geographical space and commerce.
The British had imported slave labour from India (long before Pakistan broke away after independence in 1947), to work on building a railway line from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast, across the fertile highlands of central Kenya, the breathtaking rift valley, and through to Kampala on the rich shoreline of the second largest inland lake in the world; a lake the British forcibly, arrogantly and fraudulently named after their reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. A little while before that, Captain Frederick Lugard had squashed a military revolt by troops recruited from former invading forces of the Turkish rulers in Egypt. They had been cut off from the main body of an army which had been routed and decapitated by a nationalist revolution in the Sudan led by el-Mahdi. The stranded troops called themselves "Nubians" and had sold their services to Lugard to fight against the armies of the ruler of Bunyoro-Kitara. A dispute over their rewards led to a full fledged "mutiny" which forced Lugard to appeal to his commanders in London to send in troops from the colony of India, a location that was nearer to Uganda than London. The native troops from India arrived and routed the mutineers. With the vindictiveness and injured memory of an elephant, Idi Amin would, seven decades later, strike back at the descendants or relatives of those colonial troops from India when the monopoly of military power returned to his Nubian people.
Each time Idi Amin sat through thickets of the big and polished English grammar that Obote and his officials exchanged with British trade officials and diplomats, he must have tortured his clenched fists in exasperation and deepening wrath. He must have recalled his rugby tackles at their brothers in his youth. It is, however, history's peculiar sense of humour that when Prime Minister Edward Heath came to the unpleasant conclusion that Obote was unrelenting in his demands for large numbers of British Asians to leave Uganda and was even clever enough to cover himself from being accused of racial prejudice by posing as one of the most bitter tongued critics of Britain's support for white rulers of apartheid South Africa, he turned to Idi Amin to shut Obote's loud mouth. Britain, the United States and Israel would support Amin's military coup of January 23, 1971.. Amin Dada paid Britain back by expelling ALL Asians out of Uganda at the end of a ninety day ultimatum. It was change through a rugby tackle. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandans would perish from these tackles from Amin.s killer squads as an indifferent world looked on.
Mobutu Sese Seko's fall was less interesting but absolutely vital for Congo's (former Zaire) subsequent staggering and epileptic efforts at making progress after he had fled into exile and safety as yet another cursed nonentity who would be betrayed and denied even the opportunity to use gold and diamonds to buy pain killers against the ravages of cancer in a European or an American hospital. Mobutu had fought change with cunning and vile murder. He had used poisoned food and drinks to terminate suspected opponents. He is accused of having send presidential jets to bring over invited guests and then had those considered to be opponents thrown from inside aircrafts flying over vast forests. He ran provinces, districts and villages by encouraging administration officials to share released budget funds as they trickled down from one level to the next down the ladder. Consequently, the only roads ever built in the country were those left behind by colonial rulers who needed to evacuate agricultural products from the interior to the cost. Like most military rulers he worried about pampering officers but not paying foot soldiers. Soldiers in rural districts received no salaries but fed themselves by using their uniforms to rob villagers of chickens, potatoes, cassava, and monkey meat being taken to or from markets by. Above all, as a boy from upcountry or "bush" villages on the border of Central African Republic, he sought to make change bring his people to also bask in the sun of controlling power in the capital Kinsasha. In this he was typical. Idi Amin took over Asian-owned shops in Kampala and brought in new owners from up north on the Sudan border. President Arap Moi in Kenya ia accused of giving headships of profit-making government-owned corporations to fellow Kalenjin from the Rift Valley and their allies from small ethnic groups around the country. His critics would, in 2004, insist that he told these redeemed appointees never to blame him in the future if they remained poor ever after. They heard him well, and all the corporations, including the former East African Railways and Harbours Corporation, were bled to death.
In his autobiography, The Mustard Seed, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda asserts that he started hating Obote with a rare intensity as early as his days in secondary school. He does not say why, and the narrative sounds like an effort to craft a heroic myth around a youth who was already tasting the blood of victims of warfare in his teenage years. He would later win power after America's CIA officers are alleged to have persuade the Catholic Bishop of Gulu to strike an agreement between military officers from Tito Okello's Acholi ethnic group in the north, and Museveni's battered remnants of a guerilla army in the Luwero Triangle. Museveni's battered fighters lay encircled and trapped by Obote's troops inside the Luwero Triangle, a section central Uganda. The truce gave Museveni the breathing space he needed to run out of the triangle into the western region of the country and recruit potential trainees mainly from his own ethnic Banyankole ethnic group for a new open war army to be thrown against General Tito Okello and Major Basilio Okello. He beat them both; and what they saw as his betrayal of an understanding reached against Obote as their common enemy, fed a war in the north which has lasted over eighteen years. Here, change has left bitter conflicts with large and long tribal marks.
Museveni's critics in 2004 hit him with two charges. First is that his "zero party system" is a hoax for covering up a "no challenger system" which is similar to that of British colonial governors who lost no sleep over contesting elections. He is accused of both cherishing and has defending it by liquidating potential challengers regardless of what ethnic group they came from. The second charge is that in following the biblical injunction of "seek ye first the political kingdom and the rest shall come unto you", he has bought political support from the United States, Britain, France and Germany by selling to them, at very low prices, Uganda's most profitable public corporations, including the Uganda Commercial Bank. The result has been massive stagnation as profits which used to be loaned and reinvested locally now gets repatriated outside the country. He is also accused of selling the best of the crumbs to members of his own immediate family white building a private tribal presidential guard to protect his bid for another term in office. The bitterness of the criticism seems to peak when it is added that he does not seem to want to quit office and allow others also to taste power. The last bit is not expressed so crudely. Rather, it is expressed as: his assumption that he is the only one with the best ideas for the country; and the country would return to anarchy if he were to leave. What I didn't hear much of were his critics outlining new roads for change to follow; new visions for a country which has tried the imperial thrust of a porcupine against an elephant (when Museveni invaded the Congo elephant to the west and supported John Garang's Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, SPLM, against the government of the giant across its northern border). Museveni's vision of change appeared to have lost hold of the creative tail of change.