African leaders’ cyclical behaviour that kills hope

Sunday January 28 2024

UN agencies warned that the major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition -- conflicts, economic shocks, natural catastrophes -- as well as glaring inequality seem to become the "new normal". PHOTO | AFP


A former colleague recently asked why I was pessimistic about Africa. For a brief moment, I thought that perhaps I had become like Eeyore, the donkey character in Winnie-the- Pooh, a children’s story by A.A Milne. Even when things look bright, Eeyore always manages to see the dark side.

I argued that I do not fabricate the things I write. That we cannot continue with negative behaviour and hope that things will somehow get better.

I gave a few examples. Every time there is a coup in West Africa, the coup leaders cite the same reasons that earlier coup leaders in the ‘60s and ‘70s had cited for their action: Runaway corruption; lack of development; widespread poverty; and tribalism and cronyism.

I pointed to the orgy of bloodshed in Eastern Congo, which is as old as the Congo River. How was it possible that successive governments in the DRC have totally failed to give the people of that region peace?

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Every few years, TV stations broadcast thousands of impoverished mothers and their children fleeing their homes in Eastern Congo. Then, after every couple of years, the world wakes up to images of yet another famine in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Chad, South Sudan, etc. How come we have never found a formula to solve a predictable problem?


Since independence in Kenya and elsewhere, we keep waking up to headlines of massive theft or misuse of public resources. In many countries, we keep complaining about a parasitical political class that underwrites its debauchery with our taxes.

Every other day, we decry outdated cultural customs that prevent girls from achieving their potential. Every year, we ask why that road or hospital that was budgeted for was not built.

Kwame Nkrumah’s or Jomo Kenyatta’s cult of personality did not die with them. It is now expressed in endless presidential motorcades.

We cheered the nationalist leaders as they turned our nations into personal fiefdoms. Today, we cheer the political class as they live large on our taxes.

In Kenya today, four years to the next election, we are witnessing resumption of political intolerance — heckling and violence at rallies.

The other day, the governor of Kisii and an area MP resumed their violent interaction, leaving four people injured. Before long, we will hear of deaths at these kinds of rallies. Acts of political intolerance have been with us since the dawn of independence.

Like I told my colleague, we cannot continue doing the same things and hope that our circumstances will change. Our actions must engender hope.

Read: NGUGI: AU tolerates coup makers, defends despots from ICC

We have the example of a country that was hopeless at one time, but which now bubbles with hope: Rwanda. Their actions have transformed a country where once corpses filled the streets into one where hope abounds. Today, young Africans want to flee to more hopeful places. We must create hope for them here by eradicating the cyclical ills that have killed hope on the continent.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator