African Leadership – Despair and Hope

“In Africa, there have been over eighty violent or unconstitutional changes of government; nearly ninety leaders have been deposed; at least twenty-five heads of government have been killed in political violence. Thirty-one countries have been plagued by the violent overthrow of government, and in twenty of these, this kind of political turmoil has occurred more than once.” -George Alagiah, A Passage to Africa.

Violence, corruption, chaos and turmoil. This week, I invite you to read about postcolonial Africa’s homegrown leaders. It is a grim picture to be sure – you will find some of the world’s suspect leaders in Africa – but there is hope for the future. We are beginning to see the rise of a new breed of politician and in countries like Botswana and Uganda things are beginning to change for the better.

Libya: Anti-Western Muammar al-Qaddafi

In 1969, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi revolutionized Libya, making it a pro-Arabic, anti-Western, Islamic republic with socialist leanings. It was also rabidly anti-Israeli. A notorious agitator, Qaddafi aligned himself with dictators and fostered anti-Western terrorism. The Lockerbie bombing and other acts of terrorism inflamed western hostility. But even in Quaddafi there is some glimmer of hope: he surprised the world in 2003 by announcing he would give up the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and submit to full UN weapons inspections.

Sudan: The Khartoum Government

Fundamentalist Islamic law was instituted in the Sudan in 1983 heightening tension between the Arab North and the black African animists and Christians in the South. Civil war erupted between the government and southern rebels – the SPLA. Since 1999, international attention has also focused on evidence that slavery is widespread: Arab raiders from the North have enslaved thousands of black southerners. Last January, a peace deal was signed to end a civil war that resulted in the deaths of 2 million people. While this was happening, another war intensified in the Darfur region. Militias called the Janjaweed were permitted by the government (some say they were armed by the government) to carry out massacres against black villagers and rebel groups in the region. These Arab militias have killed more than 30,000 and displaced more than 1 million. It is one of the worst humanitarian disasters the world has ever known.

Ethiopia: The Red Terror of the Derg

In 1974 Ethiopia was proclaimed a socialist state under a collective military dictatorship called the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), also known as the Derg. U.S. aid stopped, and Cuban and Soviet aid began. Mengitsu became head of state in 1977 and ruled until 1991. At this time, Ethiopia fought against Eritrean secessionists and Somali rebels while the government fought against its own people in a campaign called the “red terror” where thousands of political opponents were killed.

Uganda: Murderous Colonel Idi Amin

Amin came to power in 1971 and launched a reign of terror against Ugandan opponents, torturing and killing tens of thousands. He had himself proclaimed “President for Life” in 1976. The following year, Amnesty International estimated that 300,000 died under his rule. He was chased into exile in 1979.

Yoweri Museveni, a guerilla fighter, led the National Resistance Army to victory over Milton Obote in 1986 and was declared president of Uganda. Museveni set about transforming the ruins of Idi Amin and Obote’s Uganda into an economic miracle, preaching a philosophy of self-sufficiency and anticorruption. In 1996, he won 72% of election votes was re-elected in 2001 with 70% of the vote. It is in leaders such as Museveni that hope is strongest for the future.

Museveni continues to battle the Sudanese extremist rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Between 8,000 and 10,000 children have been abducted by the LRA and have formed the army of “prophet”, Joseph Kony, whose aim is to take over Uganda and run it according to his vision of Christianity.

Kenya: Corrupt Daniel Arap Moi

Daniel arap Moi ruled Kenya for over two decades before relinquishing power in 2002. Kenya experienced a series of disasters during Moi’s rule (flooding then drought, epidemics of malaria and cholera and finally ethnic clashes) and Kenya’s infrastructure began to disintegrate. Transparency International regularly ranked the country among the ten most corrupt countries in the world. IMF and World Bank funding was actually suspended because of Kenya’s corruption and poor economic practices.

Zimbabwe: Mugabe’s Land Invasions

Robert Mugabe spoke of peace and reconciliation for white settlers when he first came to power in 1980. The world put its trust in Mugabe. Initially, he was an inspirational leader but soon, conditions began to deteriorate. Today, Zimbabwe’s economy is one of the fastest shrinking in the world. In 2000, in a bid for re-election, Mugabe sanctioned land invasions and hundreds of white owned farms, many of them legally acquired during Mugabe’s own presidency, were forcibly taken. Much of this land has fallen into disuse. Mugabe has himself been responsible for several abuses of power that have shocked the international community. Hundreds of innocent civilians were killed, for example, in his response to an insurgency in Matabeleland.

Botswana: Capable Festus Mogae

Festus Mogae, an economist, became president of Botswana in 1997. Mogae is well regarded by the international financial community for continuing to privatize Botswana’s mining and industrial operations. Today, Botswana is a shining beacon of hope and remains one of the wealthiest and most stable countries on the continent.

South Africa

South Africa declared itself a republic in 1961 and was ruled by the white supremacist National party. Black protests against apartheid grew stronger and more violent and when Apartheid’s grip on South Africa finally began to give way, Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, was released after 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela helped to form a multiracial forum to draft a constitution to dismantle apartheid and provide for a multiracial democracy with majority rule. South Africa’s transition to democracy is one of the 20th century’s most remarkable success stories. Mandela and F. W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1993. As president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, cemented his reputation as one of the world’s most far-sighted and magnanimous statesmen. He retired from office in 1999 and has gone on to become a powerful spokesman in the fight against poverty.

– Written by Niamh O Riordan and published in The Imokilly People

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