Why Africa has failed 50 years after independence

By Patrick Katagata

I read this intriguing observation: ‘Three words come to mind when people try to explain the future of Africa’s first generation after independence: leadership; tribalism; and resources.

They are not bad starting points, but they do not fully explain why Africa, free at last, endowed with enormous potential wealth and peopled with bright, optimistic men and women failed,’ from Richard Dowden’s book, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles.’ I couldn’t agree more so I set out to explore the “full explanation” to this pickle.

I read meticulously through two other books: Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, and The State of Africa by Martin Meredith, and yes, I found the answer – it’s the leaders’ attitudes! Attitudes that largely were: Machiavellian; ungodly; predatory; myopic; ostentatious; egocentric; divisive; complacent; cruel; emotionally charged; haphazard; name it.

But even more fascinating is that these and similar mentalities were the predominant character of the first generation of post-independence leaders. Sadly, reading through the aforementioned books, one finds that the same evils that blighted Africa in the 1960s still prevail even today:

Corruption, misuse of public resources, impunity, etc. Interestingly, they’re the same evils against which Africans demanded decolonisation only to replicate them at will under their leadership! Leaders like Nkrumah once greeted chant and praises as: Man of Destiny, Star of Africa, Hope of millions of down-trodden Blacks, a messiah capable of performing miracles, ‘Osagyefo’- ‘Victor in War,’ would soon become more repressive leaders than liberators; alienated plunderers than national transformers. Many still blame colonialists, but more than 50 years of independence, is Africa where it ought to be? Aren’t we also to blame for our continent’s delayed transformation?

The recent indictments on high caliber personalities in the academia, business and national leadership, implicated for engaging in the inordinate acts relating to profanity, corruption and fraud in Uganda, are extremely regrettable! But they emanate from our uncouth African mentalities. They taint our national image and urgently call for nurturing of credible leaders! What character will next generation leaders exude? Will it cause desirable socio-economic and political leadership transformation?

A lot, if not all of our crude transformation impeding mentalities come from our culture – families which form our foundational perceptions, and interactions with the wider society. But like the Bible says in Psalm 11:3: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Let’s look at only but a few of our cultural mentalities that undermine transformation:

• The Banyakitara: “Ekishororwa kirungi okyendeza enkoko yaawe”, simply that one wishes their chicken the best worm!

• The Baganda: “Omuganda bw’aba alya tayogera” – a Muganda ought not to talk during meals! Don’t we have some leaders who never dared criticise government when they’re still ‘eating’ from it except when they’re dropped? Your guess is as good as mine!

• Again, the Banyakitara say: “Owakukira ayita Sho, ahungura Nyoko”, literally meaning “the one greater than you may kill your father and inherit your mother while you helplessly look on.”

• And the Swahili? Kutoa ni moyo, si utajiri commonly expressed as: “Kutoa ni moyo”, – charity begins at home! What of: “Damu ni nzito kuliko maji” – blood is thicker than water?!

Who do we expect to perform magic of correcting these erroneous mentalities? Developing a sane and transformational national leadership necessitates deliberately correcting our basic social foundations.

As French philosopher René Descartes’ put it in his analogy of the good and bad fruits, we need to first pour all fruits out of the basket, then separate the good from the rotten ones! We need to revisit and refine our value systems and retain what works.

Mr Katagata is an advocate for transformational leadership. The opinion piece was first published by the daily Monitor.

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