The fires have been lit and South Africa still burns: widespread looting, pandemonium and killings have erupted since the jailing of former President Zuma for contempt of court and the security services are still struggling to restore law and order.
Before the advent of independence Africans clamoured for the right to rule themselves: they were fed up of their white colonial masters running their lives. They could do it themselves.
After a lot of countries gained independence in the early sixties in-fighting led to the collapse of the early republics. Civil wars followed leading to military dictatorships taking over to maintain law and order. As a result, a lot of despots were born who would go on to rule their countries with an iron fist for many, many years.
The last part of the 20th century saw many African countries drift back to democratically elected governments with most of their constitutions fashioned after the British or American style of governance.
But the one thing Africans haven’t copied from their former colonial rulers is that nobody is above the law: African leaders will always act with impunity giving the impression they are above the law; what is happening in South Africa is a clear example of this. On the other hand, our former colonial masters know they are not above the law and can be called in to account for themselves at any time. Recently we’ve President Donald Trump impeached, twice, for abuse of power; ex- President Nicholas Sarkozy of France was jailed for corruption. In Great Britain current PM Boris Johnson has had to answer questions about his expenses and income and there are still outstanding questions about sleaze in his party and Matt Hancock, his ousted Health Minister, which will result in an inquiry and probably end up in court.
So, what makes ex-President Zuma and other African leaders, past and present, any different? They are or were servants of the people, elected to high office by the people and are accountable to the people for whatever they get up to when in office.
Ex-President Zuma would not have landed himself in jail if he had done the decent thing and turned up in court to answer questions on corruption pertaining to a $2.5bn arms deal. And the country would not have been on fire if his supporters hadn’t started mischief claiming it was a political witch hunt.
Democracy in Africa will fail (- or already has failed!) unless politicians can be held accountable for their actions. Nigeria, another country, which hasn’t erupted in flames, yet, has scores of politicians, past and present, accused of one misdemeanour or another who occasionally stick their fore finger up at the judiciary because they believe they are above the law. And should they be arrested they’ll have their supporters out on the streets creating chaos, destroying private and public property, looting and killing, claiming their revered one is a victim of tribal, religious or political witch hunts ignoring the facts he might have embezzled public funds or abused his office. And these are foot-soldiers, the non-entities, who are the ones rioting and killing – or will be killed – in the name of a person who doesn’t know they exist.
Sadly, ex-President Zuma will be released from prison, shortly, probably on ‘health grounds’, to appease the people, his court case will be abandoned or adjourned indefinitely (like they do in Nigeria) and the victims of the carnage will have to pick up their shattered lives, most without any form of compensation, as another African politician proves he’s above the law. And that is why Africa burns.
– Tony Ogunlowo
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