Seth Pecksniff in Charles Dickens’s novel Martin Chuzzlewit represents the worst of human characteristics. He is sanctimonious and obnoxious. He passes himself off as an asset to society, yet he is a liability. He pretends to be kind, but he is conniving and dishonest. He pretends to be self-sacrificing but exploits students he is ostensibly teaching the art and science of architecture.
He waxes lyrical about his designs and creations, but has never designed or built anything. He has no honour, no principles, no conscience. But many in society are fooled by his hypocrisy. We all know of scoundrels who pass themselves off as great moral assets to society. Africa’s political class – dirty, dishonourable and thieving – seems to draw its membership from the Pecksniffs of society.
Our institutions also pretend to be guided by principle and honour, when they are in reality driven by expedience. They pass themselves off as being of great use, but were they to be abolished today, ordinary people would hardly notice it. In fact, in a majority of cases, society would be better off without them. The officials who run them claim to be doing a thankless job, but they live in fabulous wealth amongst the poorest people in the world.
The officials tell us they offer crucial service to society but they are in fact parasites. These institutions pretend to be custodians of African dignity and sovereignty, when in truth their acts of commission and omission daily humiliate us and diminish our sense of national pride.
Take a look at the corruption scandals being exposed daily in Kenya since the Jubilee government took power in 2013. When the truth finally comes out, it will reveal, to even the most fanatical supporters, that the Jubilee government, as anti-corruption crusader John Githongo often says, is the most corrupt in the history of Kenya. Yes, even more corrupt than the regime of Daniel arap Moi.
And yet the high ranking officials in government ministries and institutions who perpetrate this kind of thievery will gather in church every Sunday or at so-called National Prayer Breakfast meetings where they offer hypocritical prayers castigating the devil for causing poverty and tribalism, or give cash offerings of millions of shillings to ensure, as Deputy President William Ruto recently said, they do not “hustle in heaven as they hustled on earth”.
It is an indication of how morally decrepit we have become as a nation that members of the clergy clapped hysterically at the blasphemous remark. Bribery had become such a central part of our national culture that we thought nothing of extending the practice to heaven!
An institution that just as shamelessly embodies the Pecksniff syndrome is the African Union. I was reminded of this debilitating condition when I listened to the continental body giving Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, first a few days, then a few months, to revert to civilian rule. But what, pray, did the AU consider Omar al-Bashir’s regime to be. He overthrew a civilian government and went on to preside over an extremely brutal regime.
Omar al-Bashir pretended to be a religious man, but he had no qualms about torturing and executing dissidents. He ordered or at least facilitated genocide in Darfur, for which he was indicted by the International Criminal Court. Bashir ran a corrupt regime that benefitted only a few cronies (when he was ousted, millions of dollars in cash were found in his palace).
All this time, the AU said nothing. If anything, Bashir was welcomed with brotherly arms at AU meetings. When he was indicted, the AU gave him unequivocal support. In the end, it was left to ordinary long-suffering Sudanese people to liberate themselves from the tyrant by their bootstraps.
The military takeover in Sudan is the result of a political and economic system the AU encouraged and supported. The same way the AU had endorsed Robert Mugabe’s system that led to his ouster by the army. The same way the AU supports Teodoro Obiang’s kleptocracy in Equatorial Guinea. The same way the AU encouraged Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia.
The systems in Sudan, in Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, guarantee poverty of African people because the state is primarily a tool for oppression and stealing. The resulting conditions drive millions to risk their lives trying to get to Europe. In the face of this, can the AU claim to be the custodian of African dignity and sovereignty? An institutional Pecksniff!