Things Fell Apart

Things Fell Apart

The Colonel & Bob

All of you by now have seen, read and simply been overwhelmed with images, videos and commentary from the pundits, laymen and goons alike about the life and death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.  Here is another goon’s take on the issue.

Much has been written and discussed in Tanzania about the Colonel and thoughts of western imperialism and fears of neo-colonialism in the continent.  Some Tanzanians, have been anti-west arguing against the west’s abetting of the Libyan rebels, while others have been anti-Gaddafi, reminding Tanzanians that it was the late Colonel who assisted Idi Amin in his campaign to annex Kagera during the Uganda-Tanzania War (known locally as Vita ya Kagera).  I happen to lean towards this latter group, although the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its supporters will not be invited to any of my Christmas dinners, any time soon.

Gaddafi did help Amin in the war that not only cost many Tanzanian lives, but also led to many economic woes for the country.  This is fact.  Although Uganda did eventually pay reparations in 2007 to the tune of $ 67 million, Nyerere certainly would have been quick to remind Tanzanians today of Gaddafi’s role in our country’s short history.  If we are to truly honour our founding president, let us not do it by pretence but by actions.  And romanticizing Gaddafi is definitely pretentious.

On the issue of the nature of his death: I concur with The Mikocheni Report that the “manner of his demise” was abhorrent.  As a self-proclaimed anti-execution activist, I found the whole spectacle a little bit like some medieval lynch mob, or worse still, akin to the lynch mobs of the American South.  Pain is one thing.  Revenge.  Another thing altogether.  The Libyan people involved in exacting their revenge on Gaddafi clearly need a re-evaluation of their morals.  I am glad that the people in charge have finally stopped the public viewing of Gaddafi’s body as this only demonstrates the sad psyche of an oppressed people, who viewed their tormentor’s mortal corpse as a trophy.

On the issue of western incursion into sovereign African state of affairs: I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I fear western interference in African matters (see the French involvement in Ivory Coast’s recent crisis), but on the other hand I would like all of us to recall that although we are often quick to criticize the west for failing to help save Rwandan lives during their genocide, we also failed our neighbours.  Edmund Burke has been attributed to saying, more or less, that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.  In leaving the Rwandans to their own deadly devices, we as Tanzanians, let evil prevail.

If African problems are to be solved by Africans, then Africans should show initiative and lead in finding solutions.  There are plenty of great examples of this.  African Union (AU) troops, supplied solely by Tanzania’s army, successfully put down a revolt in the Comoros in 2008 (although even here, the French assisted).  The AU is also currently involved in the conflict in Sudan and most recently Somalia.  Once again, even here, some logistical and financial backing of the west has been needed.  All these are great steps in the right direction of Africa’s capacity to intervene in its own continental crises.

So, we have come a long way since the ambivalence of the Rwandan genocide, but sadly, we have yet to abandon our unwavering cry for the sovereign right of our states.  Zimbabwe is a great example of this: clearly our beloved Comrade Bob has brought his country to its knees.  And yet we defend him with the guise of sovereignty, cry western imperialism and reminisce of our comrade’s courageous freedom-fighting credentials during Africa’s push for independence.  Thus, in the quest for Africans solving their own problems, we still have a long road to traverse.  And as Mahmood Mamdani has brilliantly deduced: if we are apprehensive about external intervention into our affairs, then we need “to concentrate [our] attention and energies on internal reform”.

Lastly, although the west has a poor record of good deeds in intervening in the continent, not all of our leadership issues stem from western incursions in our state of affairs.  Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, touted as a success of African leadership is one prime example.  Although, he keeps his house in order, his rule is not wholly clean.  And like Gaddafi, he is proving to be quite industrious in making sure his people get all the basic needs and more.  All this is good, but let us not forget Lord Acton‘s quip: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Must we sacrifice democracy for bread and water?  Why can we not have both?  The lazy and naive response that leaders like Gaddafi and Kagame adequately provide for their people’s needs is disingenuous to our search for great African leadership that is both effective and responsible.  Like Mo Ibrahim‘s efforts to reward good African leadership failed to identify a winner in 2009 we should not just be content with the current plethora of African leaders.  Let us seek and get the best, and not simply live with mediocrity, lest things fall apart like in Achebe‘s Man of the People.

Constantine was born in Dar es Salaam and raised between Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Lusaka. He enjoys history, comedy, and African live music.