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Sunday, August 16, 2009

In Defence of Corrupt, Incompetent and Authoritarian Leaders of Africa

Hillary Rodham Clinton is a leader of tremendous consequence. Not just for the American people but for millions across the world. She is a great role model for girls and women. As a farther of two adorable girls, watching Mrs. Clinton gives me hope. Hope that my two precious daughters will live in a world where women are judged not by their gender but by the content of their character.

It was interesting to watch and listen to Mrs. Clinton during her first trip as US Secretary of State. Her message was unambiguous. She drew the line. America will not tolerate corrupt leaders. America wishes to see free and fair elections in Africa. She warned that official sleaze poses an existential challenge to African states. From Ellen Johnson Sirleaf it was high praise for fiscal discipline and rapid economic progress. In recognition of the democratic leadership, President Obama honoured Ghana with his first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. The Obama administration is walking the talk of his inaugural message “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”.

All of this is great. America is a force of good, generally. America means well. But the solution to Africa’s problems must be sought beyond African capitals and beyond state houses and beyond UN resolutions and beyond indictments for war crimes. There is everything hateful about a vast majority of African leaders. They suffer from a kind of disease. A disease that is deep and infectious. It is a contagious “big man disease” that is passed from one leader to the next.

My sense is that this disease is congenital. It is a deep structural defect in the fabric of African societies. It is a complex syndrome of impunity, greed, a total disregard for accountability and respect for basic human rights and dignity. I see mild forms, benign forms of the big man disease all around me. I see these syndromes among ordinary citizens. I mean, the not so powerful everyday kind of folks. This disease presents at a queue in a bank hall, on the side walk, on the roads, at the outpatient waiting room. I see this despicable display of selfish, raw greed and foul spirit at a church parking lot on Sunday.

The African people are willing accomplices in this orgy of misrule and misery. I recall the palpable outrage of the British voting and tax paying public when the claims scandal in the House of Commons first broke. Resignations and apologies from MPs were swift. In Africa, outrage at official theft or abuse of office is feeble and innocuous. We venerate the corrupt. The reason we elect leaders is so they can steal and share the booty with us.

Friends of Africa must now speak directly to the African people. Only the African voting public has the power to re-shape Africa’s destiny. I believe that citizens of African leaders are a creation of their respective societies. As an African I dare say that our values, our ideals and our aspirations have watered the fields of impunity and murderous greed.

Africans must rise up, dust themselves up, begin to value their own freedoms, demand accountability for their taxes and hold their leaders to account for the decisions they make on behalf of the voters. Africans must demonstrate to the world that the government of the people by the people and for the people has not perished from the continent. This must become true for the African people to take their rightful place among other great cultures and civilizations.

So to all friends of Africa, let us unite and call all Africans to action. Agency and consequence is in the hands of Africans. In a large part, the problems of Africa have been caused by Africans. These problems need African solutions. These problems must be solved by Africans. Our good and admirable friends like Mrs. Clinton can only wish us well.

Choose today Africans, how you will be governed.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Swine Flu Pandemic Marches on in Africa

Africa is the most vulnerable place on the planet to the adverse effects of climate change. And so it is for infectious diseases. As writes Martin Enserink in this week’s Science, experts fear that the high HIV infection rates in many African countries, sub Saharan Africa might be hit the hardest by the 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus than any other continent. The virus has so far been detected in 16 African countries.

Enserick notes that “with HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, and a host of other diseases competing for attention, influenza has never been high on most African countries' priority lists, and getting a handle on the spread of influenza viruses in Africa has long been problematic because laboratories and surveillance have been lacking”.


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