Translated variously as “watchful guardian” or “all-seeing guardian,” Argus could be a fitting parody of the present-day African state and its security arms. Appointed by Hera, queen of the gods, to be the guardian over Lo, a lover whom Zeus had turned into a cow to protect her from his wife, the 100-eyed giant in Greek mythology, was so fixated with the task that even as he slept, there were always a few eyes open to catch any intruder.
In the end, he became so intransigent to the extent that to free Lo, Zeus was forced hire Hermes, who found a way of lulling Argus into a shutting all his eyes, before he cut off his head.
Across Africa and closer home in East Africa today, citizens and political leaders appear to be hostage to an alert and vicious security apparatus that appears to be so good at keeping its masters in power but incapable of keeping citizens safe.
The paradox in Uganda, Kenya and several other African states is how seemingly mundane threats to the common good manage to escape the watchful eye of security agencies that can sniff out and effectively crackdown on protests by political activists.
It is intriguing that in an era when forests and secluded places should be on the security watchlist for insurgents and terrorists, Kenyan Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the leader of the Good News International Church, has for years got away with defrauding his followers, whom he then tricked into death by starvation.
A grisly search for victims that started on April 14 in Malindi, on Kenya’s North Coast, found the remains of just over five dozen of Mackenzie’s victims. Another two dozen were found on the verge of death, after going without food and water for an unknown period.
The riddle of Mackenzie, who is being held by the police as investigations continue, brought alive memories of Ugandan Joseph Kibwetere, who in March 2000 killed hundreds of his followers in a deadly inferno in an apparent suicide pact. The world was horrified on March 17, 2000, when 778 followers of The Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments of God, a doomsday cult based in the south-western district of Kanungu, perished inside a barricaded church that was set ablaze. The victims, and dozens of others whose bodies were later recovered from other locations as far as Kampala, were murdered after they had sold all their worldly possessions and handed the proceeds to the cult leaders. It has never been established if Kibwetere and his side-kick Credonia Mwerinde were among the dead.
Whatever the case, the two incidents betray a grave abdication of duty by political and security leaders preoccupied with their self-preservation. But, as the myth of Argus shows, ultimately, it becomes a futile undertaking.
To free his love, Zeus in the end had to decapitate Argus, the instrument that was holding the tide in his contest with Hera. To redeem the African state and free citizens from a security system gone rogue, political leaders have to get down to the unenviable task of dismantling the current security apparatus, and replacing it with something more fit-for-purpose in an economically and politically advancing democracy.