War and peace

It is very easy to criticise an exclusive approach to our political problems, which divides everyone neatly into the Goodies and the Baddies and then insists that neither side is capable of change, or allowed to change.

Julius Nyerere
Julius Nyerere

In fact , very few of Africa’s liberator generation started with the aim of enriching themselves. (I know a few of ours who did, but let that pass.) Most had high ideals, wanting to free their people from foreign oppression, but later things got more complicated.

Winning independence is the easy part. You are given a new flag and a new national anthem, a new government takes control of parliament, the army, police and parastatal companies. But what will they do with those things? They soon discover that winning independence and running a government are different, and demand different qualities in leaders.

Independence Day in any country is a great event, but it is just a one-off event. When everyone has recovered from their hangovers, cleaned up the paper flags, dead fireworks and other evidence that you’ve just held the party of the century, you are in a different world but not entirely different.

Your government has its hands on the controls inside the country, but they are not flying a jet fighter. The plane is more like a flight trainer, where the learner may find that if he makes a mistake, his teacher operates a different set of controls to avert disaster. In the case of a country, those controls for running an economy, for example, are very different from the ones that were used to achieve independence. The levers may be outside your country.

Whether you got to independence by a military or political campaign, it was a one-off event, and to achieve that ceremonial transfer you needed a campaign that used military style, even if it was played out without firing a shot. Running a government is much more complex, and people may have different ideas on how you are to do it. You can win independence by ordering your troops or your party to do the right things. Governing a country may require that you persuade people who opposed your struggle for independence.

It will certainly require you to negotiate with the people outside your country who hold some of the controls. You will need to accept that some of your own people disagree with you on how to handle these problems.

Now, it is very tempting for a leader who has just won independence, by a struggle which united all the people behind the simple aim of independence, to continue to demand the same kind of obedience and loyalty after independence that he commanded before independence. Now we are back in the real world, where people are many individuals and groups, each with their own ideas on what is best for us and, even where they agree on the long-term aim, they certainly have different ideas on the tactical methods of getting to that aim. That doesn’t make them traitors or sellouts.

The leader and his party need to learn new skills; how to persuade his own people, who, now they are free, feel free to express their opinions, and how to bargain with foreign powers, whom he cannot control because they are beyond his reach. Leaders who ignored, or forgot, this lesson only brought disaster on their countries and usually on themselves.

It is said: “You can drive a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” We don’t need an Idi Amin, who would kill the horse if it didn’t drink. We do need a Julius Nyerere, who realised convincing his horse to drink was a lifetime task, that he had to lead by example, listen to different views and that he would not see 100% success in his own lifetime.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *