Mention Zimbabwe and its leader Robert Mugabe, and almost every African has taken a position on the situation in the Southern African nation. It is the latest in a series of debate over where and how interference differs from intervention.
When the wind of change was blowing across Africa in the early 1990’s, few would have predicted the continent would have leaders who would adhere to the dictate or will of their people. Then existed the Mobutus, the Mengistus, etc. More than two decades on, it is happening even if in dribs and drabs, and in a few countries only.
Of the more than 50 countries on the continent, only about 23 have a leader with “democratically-elected” credentials. In our midst still exist Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Gabon’s Omar Bongo, Guinea’s Lansana Conte or even Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. They have told their peoples and civility to go to hell. Alternative to that is one frightening trend that keeps creeping in: the call for the setting-up of Governments of national unity after elections have been rigged.
Who honestly will dispute the fact that Mwai Kibaki rigged December’s poll in Kenya last December to remain in power, just to be legitimised by a government under the cloak of that of national unity? The same is being touted for Zimbabwe. This probably explains why very few leaders have the guts to denounce President Mugabe’s mockery of democracy. It further explains why at the African Union summit last week most of the leaders in attendance paid lip service or even supported Mugabe. So when the Gabonese president and the longest-serving leader in the world, Omar Bongo, praised his Zimbabwean counterpart, even fools were not surprised.
Then President Umar Yar’Adua of Nigeria dismissed Mugabe’s election as a farce. A South African friend of mine emailed me to ask what credentials the Nigerian leader had to condemn Mugabe’s election. After all he was elected under equally dubious circumstances.
But amidst the irony and dishonesty exhibited by many African leaders, stands President Ernest Bai Koroma whose moral height on this issue, matches his physical standing and frame. Robert Mugabe’s sham of an election must be condemned and re-run. President Koroma saying this brings joy and pride to me as a Sierra Leonean, but also as an African.
The issue of Mugabe has been inextricably linked with the country’s land issue. But the question is, if that were the case, why did more Zimbabweans vote against him? I disapprove of the British land system in Zim, no doubt. But Mugabe using that as a pretext to suppress the basic fundamental rights of his people leaves so much to be desired.
African leaders are in the hypocritical habit of backing each other or keeping quiet about their misbehaviours. The only reason for that is that they expect the others to do same to them when they misbehave tomorrow. When they go to the West clapping hands and begging for cash, the issue of Western interference does not come in at all. But when once they are told to re-rail themselves, they begin to shout about sovereignty.
The European Union is thriving because what happens in one member state is of concern to the others who speak out and not shut up about it. The earlier African leaders imbibe this culture, the better for their peoples. And the move by President Koroma to make this radical departure is a move we must all be proud of.
I have always emphasised that we have the moral fibre to speak out on foreign policy issues especially on democracy. I believe we are far ahead of Senegal whose president, whatever he says regarding foreign policy, makes headlines. He does not respect free press as much as we do here. He frames up political opponents and exhibits many undemocratic tendencies that we do not. So why does he run away with all the credit and serve as the conscience of conscientious leaders in the region?
We have a lot to gain once we make ourselves relevant overseas. The world is such a global village these days that the synonyms of “war”, “amputation”, et al, attributed to us can be replaced once we take a bold step in foreign policy. Assertive foreign police!
One other advantage about that for the ordinary Sierra Leonean is that it restrains our leaders from embarking on anti-democratic tendencies. The natural phenomenon of them being told to look back at themselves, like Yar’Adua is now being told, will make them improve on their standing back home.
There are more issues no doubt to talk about. How about the issue of Western Sahara over which Morocco cowed the Organisation of Africa Unity by withdrawing from it? Why are African leaders quiet over telling Rabat to let the Saharawes determine their future? If Morocco was a European country would the AU be this quiet? Meanwhile fellow Africans are being oppressed while Morocco buys time. With that time, it can pump more of its citizens into the former Spanish colony and people it with its own, who will eventually vote in a referendum and swell the votes in favour of Rabat.
The Peer Review mechanism of the AU is as good as useless if African leaders who topple democracy are not named and shamed and re-railed. It will keep being a vicious trend that will swallow up the continent and further blight the future of its population. African leaders tact on Zimbabwe must change for the betterment of the people of the southern African country, but also for the continent of Africa. The road West Africa should take has definitely been led by President Ernest Bai Koroma. This is a height we must strive hard not to lose.
Soon, we should think of making statements even on the situation in neighbouring Guinea, where democracy is being smothered. And the west should stop the double standards of ignoring Gabon, Cameroon, Guinea and a host of others who wallow in undemocratic tendencies ad apparently get away with it. what is good for the goose must be good for the gander.
By Umaru Fofana