LONDON CALLING- African Leaders and the Question of Morality
BY AUSTIN KALUBA
In many European countries, politicians have resigned on their own or forced to step down when they transgress from expected moral behaviour.In countries like Japan politicians are required to uphold very high moral standards and incidents have been reported when leaders have committed suicide as a real option for failing to meet these moral values.
It is important to note that all mortals whether in Africa or Europe err. What is important is what they do to show that they are sorry. Or better still, what the citizenry do to ensure a precedence of wrong doing by leaders continuing to hold public office is not set.
In Europe unlike in Africa, erring politicians are exposed in the sharp-eyed media and made to resign. I will cite the United Kingdom which like in Africa is no exception to political scandals.
We have read about leaders entangled in political scandals in the 1980s and 1990s involved in what has been described in the British press as “sleaze’’ whose definition is dishonest, disreputable, or immoral behaviour, especially of public officials or employees. Woe to a politician who is implicated in sleaze.
However, in Africa, politicians seem to play a different ball game when it comes to sleaze with very few known leaders resigning on moral grounds whenever they are found wanting.
Following revelations that South Africa President Jacob Zuma fathered a child out of wedlock, the Catholic bishops of the country were outrage and expressed concern at the morality of national leaders.
The irate clergymen called on leaders to be role models and warned that their immorality had hindered the fight against HIV/AIDS, a disease that was claiming many lives and needed intervention from leaders.
President Zuma who is not secretive about his behaviour once confirmed publicly that he had a child by another woman who was not one of his wives.
He said he had taken “personal responsibility” in the matter by acknowledging paternity and accused media coverage of profiteering and of violating laws that protect children from media exposure.
Zuma, a polygamist in marriages with several women, said it was “mischievous” to argue he has undermined government efforts against HIV and AIDS.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, OFM, the Archbishop of Durban, issued a statement on behalf of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC). The Conference asked the country’s leaders whether their sexual morality made them a worthy role model for youth.
In Zambia during the first republic, the first republican president Dr Kenneth Kaunda used to admonish immoral leaders who were expected to set an example by adhering to high moral standards.
He once reprimanded Abraham Chibanda for ‘taking too much to the bottle’. On another occasion, Kaunda castigated Vernon Mwaanga after attending one of his weddings by humorously but forebodingly commenting ‘I hope this is the last wedding I am attending.’
Kaunda himself set an example of how a leader should behave since he had no known scandal involving women or helping himself to government coffers.
He recently celebrated 66 years with his dear wife Betty strumming a guitar for her and singing a love song in her honour.
Alas his successor President Frederick Chiluba who ushered in a culture of sleaze towering over other leaders as the high priest of corruption and immorality was the opposite of his predecessor.
He plundered the country’s coffers and married someone’s wife throwing morality to the wind. The country reeled in indignation at the president’s excesses and unbridled corruption in what was termed as the ‘new culture.’
The ‘new culture’ was ironically devoid of any cultural values since its proponent spoke in a forced accent he wrongly thought was good English. He also wore executive suit that can only qualify him as an Uncle Tom of the highest order.
Looking at the immoral behaviour of many African leaders, one can conclude that many are conscious or unconscious disciples of the Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli whom Chiluba once referred to as “That great Italian philosopher.”
That Machiavelli is famous is clearly indisputatable. However, I would hesitate to call him ‘great’. The Italian philosopher is certainly famous, but not great.
Many politicians in Africa have unconsciously schooled themselves in the teachings of Machiavelli. This ilk seems to follow ‘the end justifies the means’ dictum.
African leaders have found Machiavelli’s wicked ‘wisdom’ in achieving their goals at the expense of the electorate whose interest they disregard attractive.
For Machiavelli, the Ruler must concern himself with only one ‘moral value’: How to acquire power and maintain it. Consequently, what defines right and wrong actions for the Ruler or for someone aspiring for power is whether the action he takes will help him acquire and maintain power.
Now Zambian leaders have thrown morality to the wind and they don’t seem to care a hoot on what the people who voted them into power think about their behaviour.
Many have numerous mistresses and engage in corrupt practises plundering government funds dry to fill their already overflowing coffers.
At the recent concert by visiting Congose musician, many Zambians could not believe their eyes at the behaviour of hedonistic ‘public figures’ Commerce and Trade deputy Minister Messieur Richard Taima and his Local Government and Housing counterpart Steve Masumba who took to the floor with Congolese singer Fally Lupupa’s scantily dressed dancing queen
at Mulungushi International Conference Centre.
The two gentlemen probably in their 30’s and 40’s should show the old guard what the new generation has in stock for the future of this country.
Considering this impunity in upholding decent conduct can we conclude that democracy that demands the rule of law and upholding of moral standards is alien to Africa?
Looking at the numerous examples of bad governance and immorality in Africa, I think this seemingly far-fetched assertion could be true since the Colonial governments social, political and economic structures that African nationalists inherited appear to be incompatible with leadership in Africa.
The nationalists who attained independence from colonialists failed to set up modern structures like those in Europe with many only succeeding in creating afro centric structures remiscent of traditional leaderships.
Many African leaders do not understand how the idea of a modern African state that is conceived and exported from Europe to Africa ought to be introduced in the African context.
It is with this failure to employ western models of governance that has led to many African states becoming artificial creations that emerged from 1884-85 Berlin Conference for the scramble and partition of Africa.
The imported models were never adopted into any existing indigenous morality. In the traditional African communal structures, people clearly understood their obligations and they knew the dos and don’ts.
The hybrid colonial mixture of African and European social structures has, in part resulted in nepotism, massive corruption, bad governance and inability of African leaders to adopt democracy that demands accountability to the electorate.
While African leaders deafen our ears with the talk of the world becoming a ‘global village’, they have lamentably failed to adopt democracy which characterises governance in Europe.
It is for this reason that scandals that make people in the worst puke are dismissed as being trivial in Africa. /End..