Lord of the Flies moment: We’re paying dearly for failure to talk

Saturday August 19 2023

Supporters of Niger's National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland gather for a demonstration in Niamey on August 11, 2023 near a French airbase in Niger. PHOTO | AFP


A little more than 10 years ago, in this very page, I wrote about a Lord of the Flies situation on the African continent, citing William Golding’s 1954 novel about little boys stranded on a tropical island, alone, without the care of parents or teachers, and how they slowly descend into anarchy, murder and mayhem.

The continent was, of course, deep in that state as I wrote, and, alas, has not seen its fortunes improve, as our crises have not only deepened, but they have also become more widespread than they were back then. Today, they look like they could still worsen some more.

As I wrote then, the African Union (AU) had just adopted two aspirational landmark targets, Vision 2020 (soon amended to 2030) for Silencing the Guns, and Vision 2063, envisaging an integrated, peaceful and prosperous Africa. The aspirations enunciated in the latter vision, of course, passed through the former, whose date, even amended, is some seven years from where we are at today as I write again.

Read: Guns louder on African Union year of 'Silencing the Guns'

There is little to report on either front, as I can safely say that we are very far off the target of “silencing the guns,” and that must mean, of necessity, that the distant goals set for 2063 will be hindered. As I see it, the issue is not one of speed in the implementation of what we adopt as aspirational targets, but rather the levels of seriousness and commitment that we invest in those declared goals. I find that there is a serious deficit in these, and as long as we do not address them our wishes will remain so pious but also so spurious.

What have we witnessed on the continent for the past 10 years, just to take the short period since my Lord of the Flies lament of a decade ago? Almost at the same time as my article appeared, a spate of military takeovers happened, ranging from the removal of Mali’s Amadou Toumani Toure to the overthrow and murder of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and the chasing away of Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore.


Since then, we periodically hear of another coup or attempted coup and general state of instability, culminating in today’s impasse between Ecowas and the military junta in Niamey.

The so-called Coup Belt in West Africa is now challenging the conventional regional balance of power dictated by mighty Nigeria, and we may soon get to a point where that “Abuja Consensus" finds its checkmate.

Read: Military coups in Africa: What determines a return to civilian rule

And if and when that happens, a pandora’s box will have been opened, with consequences hard to foretell.

This, I can see, because the interdiction of military takeovers inside individual countries has to be accompanied, if it has to make any sense, with proper, democratic, civilian governance systems, and not de facto military rule headed by fake civilians in Pierre-Cardin suits.

The inability to engage our people in permanent dialogue, and the tendency to govern by fiat and police tear gas, is at the core of this problem.

While taking in everything coming from the Sahel, I have had time to look at my country as a microcosm, where a number of voices have been raised to challenge a recent move by the government to allow the Dubai Port World to operate Tanzania’s ports, critics charging that the agreements are shrouded in opacity and corruption. The government’s response has been to mount a propaganda campaign, insisting that the agreement with Dubai is the best thing since ugali, and suggesting those who oppose it are ill-intentioned.

Read:EYAKUZE: If you don’t feel port pact, please stand

The arguments have degenerated into shouting matches producing way more heat than light as the contending voices fall prey to their basest inclinations and feelings of tribe, race, creed and whether they are Zanzibari or “Tanganyikan”.

We have never, in the past few years, been exposed to such fractious attacks, full of venom and bigotry. I got to thinking that it was time to ask for counselling for Tanzanians in the public sphere, to rebuild our skills around argumentation and disputation, faculties we have lost over time, as our country became a cerebral brushland, tended by philosophical Lilliputians.

My thinking was inspired by my understanding of Seithy Chachage’s concept of “collective imbecilisation,” as a process of the massification of the deadening of the intellect. I thought that someone would be willing to look into the possibility of arresting this intellectual and spiritual decline.

So, how was I to know that the authorities were planning to up the ante, and to arrest some of the more vocal opponents of the DPW deal, charging them with “treason,” nothing less? Though the DPW agreements have had numerous critics — some from the ruling party — the treason trialists are from the main opposition party, Chadema, although they include a former Chadema kingpin, who was served briefly as ambassador to Sweden, but has recently come back to familiar themes.

It looks like we have descended farther down the slope of intolerance and may not find it easy to come back to the norm anytime soon. But, for now, I am left marvelling at the charge of “treason” preferred against the DPW accused. It is the same charge levelled against Niger’s Mohamed Bazoum by the soldierboys who deposed and imprisoned him.

It’s another Lord of the Flies moment.