Someone, please explain this conundrum to me: Why do our people in villages and towns stone and set on fire chicken thieves but never raise a finger against the big thieves in government?
I have asked myself this question forever but in the light of events in Sri Lanka, it came back to me with renewed poignancy. The sight of jubilant crowds plunging into the president’s swimming pool, lounging in the president’s master bed and forcing him to flee the country came to me as something that many Africans would desire but which is hardly possible on our continent.
The anger expressed by the Sri Lankans against their rulers stems from a number of factors, including corruption in high places, failed economic policies and deepening poverty among the ordinary people.
Are these not the same ills that Africans have been complaining about for the past six decades or so of our existence as “independent nations”? So, why do we react differently from our counterparts elsewhere?
The answer to this question, and many more that could arise from it, lies in a number of places, which I have been mulling.
One, we react in different ways when we catch a chicken thief than when we are told that an official has stolen from the government. The chicken is stolen from someone we know, John, Aisha, or Masalakulangwa, a real person we know. So the theft is “real,” causing someone to miss a future meal, while theft from the government by a government official is far removed from us — unreal and theoretical.
This second type of theft does not touch our senses the same way the first one does. It would take a lot of explaining to make large enough numbers of people understand that the government officials are stealing our collective chickens in their hundreds of millions and that their thefts are depriving us and our children’s children of hundreds of thousands of meals in terms of real food, shelter, clothing, education, health, water, roads, trains, sports, etc.
The strategic damage caused by people in government stealing from us is hidden from the masses, and these latter will be forever blind to that reality because even the people they send to representative councils – such as parliament — to serve as their eyes and ears, are in cahoots with the thieves in government.
These are realities that remain beyond the comprehension of the majority of our people, who are dizzied by the combined effect of poverty, helplessness and cluelessness to the point that they “take it out” on the poor chicken thief, who is really their comrade, only they do not know.
But what should they know? That, like what happened in Sri Lanka, it is their government that is causing the hunger and the poverty?
For that to happen, the people need to access information about that causality, that link between their deplorable conditions and the action (or lack of it) by the government.
For that to happen — for the people to really know — they must possess media that freely informs and educates them on the nefarious forces operating against them. But in situations where press and media have been brought under the thumb of the government censor, this information is out of the question, and thus official corruption feeds on enforced opacity, and lack of transparency.
In the rarest cases, where this enforced opacity is breached by unrelenting and spirited activism involving members of an unflappable civil society, the people usually respond, and start asking questions of their rulers. This latter, not used to being questioned by those they rule over, unleash official violence against their people, wounding and killing indiscriminately, until the people give up the fight and go back to their villages and towns, looking for the next chicken thief to lynch. Until the next time.
Look around the African countries where the people have risen against their unpopular regimes and the military have been called out to quell the unrest. You realise that the rulers — for the most part so-called civilian — have refused to listen to the demands of their people, and the falcon cannot hear the falconer. Soon, the military will take over, and the African Union will say that military takeovers are unconstitutional!
To which my response is, “Fiddlesticks!” The military took over a long time ago, ever since the “civilian” governments failed to hear the voices of their people and turned guns on them. To condemn all military takeovers as undemocratic is tantamount to saying that all “civilian” governments are democratic, which is a no-brainer. I have seen so many of them, in Pierre Cardin suits, but they don’t fool me.
The same charges of corruption and “state capture” that were levelled against South Africa’s Jacob Zuma are being levelled against other African rulers in that neighbourhood and beyond. This speaks to the perennial issues afflicting us hinging on a certain inability to govern ourselves. The African governments rule over their countries as though they were foreign powers come to exploit and export back to the metropole.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]