NGUGI: What do cartoons and our presidents  have in common?

Sunday May 03 2020

Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina officially launches a remedy based on local medicinal plants (Artemisia among others) that he believes can prevent and cure patients suffering from Covid-19. PHOTO | AFP


Popeye, the cartoon character, has a magical way of getting superhuman strength. He simply eats a few leaves of spinach, and voila, he performs super human feats.

Another cartoon character, Asterix, drinks a magic potion to give him extraordinary powers. The two characters use their super powers to protect themselves and their communities from enemies.

In Africa, our presidents, too, employ magical tools to defeat our enemies. The ex-dictator of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, would have Aids patients line up outside his palace for a sip of a concoction he claimed could cure the disease.

Jacob Zuma of South Africa advocated jumping quickly in the shower after a sexual encounter to drown the Aids virus. Now in the face of the Covid-19 disease, two African presidents are touting magic cures. President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar claims that an herbal concoction can cure the disease.

In Guinea, President Alpha Conde is advocating drinking hot water together with a mentholated gel.

There is a correlation between regimes headed by presidents-turned-quacks and mismanagement and corruption. When Jammeh was defeated in an election, we learned of the horrendous extent of theft and neglect by his regime.


The incoming government discovered dozens of personal planes and luxurious vehicles, some rotting in parking bays. When he went into exile, Jammeh took with him whatever was left of the country’s foreign exchange.

Jacob Zuma’s presidency was the most corrupt in South Africa’s history. And that is including the apartheid regimes. There were lavish renovations to his personal homes at public expense. There were questionable state contracts.

By the end of his rule, South Africans were referring to the endemic corruption as state capture. In other words, key state organs had been repurposed to facilitate theft.

Madagascar’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world is not wholly attributable to the regime of Rajoelina. Every regime since independence has contributed towards that dubious distinction. But you would expect Rajoelina’s regime to be making up for lost development time. Instead, the regime continues with that rich tradition of neglect and corruption.

Guinea was ravaged by ex-dictator Sekou Toure. But as with the case of Madagascar, those who came after him seem totally incapable of extricating the country from the grips of extreme poverty and decay. Alpha Conde is equally inept.

Do we really expect regimes headed by self-acclaimed quacks to make progress? Why does the world engage with them as if they were rational and bona fide custodians and drivers of democracy and progress?

Surely, the mentality that hawks potentially dangerous concoctions and quack remedies to impoverished citizens cannot be moral or rational enough to devise and oversee strategies for societal renewal.

Those in Africa and the West who roll out the red carpet for these quacks are their accomplices in the impoverishment of their countries. The world would not expect Asterix to run a country, so why does it expect real life cartoons to?

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.