Chika A. Onyeani -
Looking at the terrain of the African continent as a whole, a casual observer
would be hard pressed not to feel pessimistic about this colossus of
political instability, wars, disease, the AIDS pandemic, political leaders prone to
personal aggrandisement and human rights abuses, wholesale looting of the meager
resources of the masses, collusion with outsiders in the illegal exploitation
and robbery of the continent's natural resources, and denial of freedom of
expression, provision of basic services, and most of all, thwarting the
aspirations of young Africans to be educated and employed. Africa is one huge
disappointment to many, not because the people lack resilience, but because of the
myopic vision of the collective leadership.
Fortunately, as with everything else in this world, there is always a spec
of light at the end of a tunnel, as the saying goes. Some events have occurred
to inject a sense of optimism in this midst of nihilistic anarchy.
I am referring here to two elections which took place in West Africa in 2000,
the last one being the recent election in Ghana., and the election that had
taken place earlier in the year in Senegal, with a very smooth transition from
a governing regime to an opposition party. These two countries have become
shining examples of what a free and fair election should be, and not the messy
and stolen presidency we have witnessed in America.
Senegal is the only country in Africa south of the Sahara that has not
witnessed a military uprising, or had a military government. On March 20, 2000,
Abdou Diouf, the then President of Senegal who had been in power since 1981, was
defeated with a vote of 60% to 40% by the then leader of the opposition party,
Mr. Abdoulaye Wade. As I had said in my editorial in the March 23-29 issue
of this paper, "The Senegalese have shown the world the beautiful side of
Africa, which the international media continues to ignore - the movement towards
entrusting the decision of governance to the people rather than an entrenched
totalitarian and corrupt officials using the power of government to squelch
the peoples' will."
I went on to say that, "However, the individual who deserves our greatest
respect and admiration for this turn of event in Senegal is none other than the
outgoing president, Mr. Abdoul Diouf. It is true that Mr. Diouf had reigned in
Senegal since 1981 when he took over the government from that African
renaissance man and poet Leopold Senghor after his retirement. Both in the 1998 and
1993 elections, the opposition parties had accused Mr. Diouf of cheating and
rigging the elections. Whether he did or not, is not the question now, but his
conduct at the just concluded elections, has placed him in the highest
regards of Africans."
But it was not that Mr. Diouf lost the election, but the manner he
conducted himself after. As I had said, Mr. Diouf showed Africans grace in defeat:
he quickly and without ego, called on his opponent to concede defeat and
congratulate him on his election.
In this case, Mr. Diouf has joined such statesmen like Presidents Nelson
Mandela and Kenneth Kaunda in peaceful transiton of power. ..... I must point
out here that Mr. Diouf's graceful exit from power is not only a great victory
for Africa and an example to some of Africa's other autocratic, totalitarian
and tyrannical leaders, but a sign of statesmanship and leadership."
Former President Diouf, like his mentor and predecessor, Leopold Senghor, is
living a life of dignity and statesmanship, in harmony with the new leadership
in Senegal. President Wade, on his part, has employed the considerable
experience of Mr. Diouf in utilizing him in the international arena to the benefit
of all Senegalese people. Now comes Ghana, where the former military dictator
turned civilian President, Jerry Rawlings, orchestrated another evidence of
the optimistic outlook for Africa, which Mr. Diouf, Mr. Mandela and Mr. Kenneth
Kaunda had presented as the new face of Africa. Former Flight Lieutenant
Jerry Rawlings, who had seized power twice in Ghana and ruled for more than two
decades, abided by Ghana's new constitution limiting him to two terms as a
civilian president. He supported his Vice President John Atta Mills during the
election, but Mills lost to John Kufuor, leader of the opposition party. Again,
we witnessed the same graceful exit from Rawlings that Mr. Diouf had earlier
exhibited in Senegal. Both Rawlings and his protege, Atta Mills, called on
Kufuor to congratulate him on his election to the presidency.
Of course, there are many who would rather see the glass as half empty
instead of half full. There were bitter battles during the campaigning in both
Senegal and Ghana, but the graceful exit of these political gladiators gives me
enormous anticipation for the new wind of change that is about to blow over
The above examples may not be enough in a continent of 53 countries, but
every step in the direction of an open society devoid of political bitterness and
a tendency to muzzle the opposition gives us that hope of a light at the end
of that tunnel. It is my enthusiastic optimism that we finally have African
leaders who don't see power and being in power as a God given right.