If we can’t spank overgrown babies like Jammeh, we deserve the world’s scorn

Tuesday January 10 2017


By Jenerali Ulimwengu

Much hot air has been expended in various fora and platforms discussing the governance issues besetting the African continent since the Independence of our countries in the 1960s.

Much ink too, in the form of numerous books, pamphlets and papers that scholars and commentators – African and foreign – have produced over the years.

Still, African governance issues have recurred. In some cases, those problems have seemed intractable, as if there is nothing that can be done about them, because the continent is fated to be the way it is and no other way is possible.

That is what some people have dubbed Afropessimism, the outlook that sees the continent through bleak negative lenses that offer little else than the usual sightings of war, famine and plunder.

That is the picture we are used to and which the world has come to associate with us: A continent endowed with everything that is needed for growth, development and progress but denied the very basic human agency that could have transformed all that potential into real forward and upward movement.

As a result, we have continued to be receivers of alms from those we call “donors,” who, to be sure, will continue to “donate” to our continued underdevelopment because it serves them well. And the more they continue “donating” to our underdevelopment, the more we continue to harbour feelings of hopelessness and cluelessness.

But from time to time we get indications that this hopelessness and cluelessness is not our natural state, and that we can indeed rise above the mire we have bogged ourselves down in. Some countries have shown us –individually and collectively – that Africans can take their fate into their own hands and move their weight.

For instance, just the other day, another African clown treated us to a demonstration of how nonsensical we can be. The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh first conceded electoral defeat for the first time since he stole power in that country more than two decades ago, and we all applauded and hailed him as a harbinger of a new dawn in Africa.

But, even as we were celebrating Ghana’s smooth transition and thinking that this new spirit was becoming an African reality, Jammeh reneged on his word, rejected the election results he had accepted and refused to budge. In the tension that ensued, the president-elect, Adama Barrow, was reported to be on the run, the chair of the electoral body was missing and the country was thrown into turmoil.

It is then that the West African economic bloc Ecowas, which has increasingly taken on security roles in the region, decided to tell Jammeh where he got off, and when he refused to heed the regional leaders’ calls, they announced they would remove him, manu militari, if need be.

Knowing Ecowas and what it has done in the recent past, I believe this is no empty threat. They have taken resolute action in a couple of hard crises in the region, and there is no reason to suggest they will not do it this time around. I truly wish they would go in, arrest the thuggish clown and dump him in some Senegalese jail to await judicial proceedings.

That would establish a potent precedent for our countries and regional blocs. The East African bloc could learn from that example and do what is needed in a couple of its own countries that are refusing to behave like adults. Then the rest of Africa may sit up and take note.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the continent has not received the news of the decision by Ecowas with any enthusiasm, but I guess that speaks to the other rulers elsewhere in Africa seeing this as the writing on the wall for themselves.

It is time we started to take ourselves seriously, otherwise the rest of the world will have no reason to take us seriously.

The image of overgrown babies that we have given to the world does not do us any service. Indeed, it makes us the laughing stocks of others and subjects us to all sorts of racist ridicule and psychological manhandling.

It is important to do away with all that. But the most important task for us is to do this for our own selves, so that we can make sense to ourselves before we interface with the rest of the world. This can never be attained with the Jammehs of this world being allowed to run riot.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]