I HAD a ‘laugh instead of tears moment’ last month. A laugh instead of tears moment is when you experience or see an incident that is so sad that it should make you cry, but paradoxically, it makes you laugh – either because you do not want to burst into tears or because, despite its sadness, the incident is also comical.
My laugh instead of tears moment was triggered by Alpha Condé, President of Guinea (Conakry) and current head of the African Union. He was in Paris to visit President François Hollande, and he took this opportunity to speak truth to power, i.e. France and the West. He urged them to respect Africa’s sovereignty and let it determine its own path to development and democracy in accordance with its circumstances, without any meddling from outsiders.
What made me laugh was that in addition to saying all the above, President Condé also begged France to help him secure International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans that would boost Guinea’s development. ‘We still need to sign another contract with the IMF, we count on France to help us obtain a contract that would grant Guinea access to loans capable of enabling us to develop ourselves,’ he said.
It is extremely sad that nearly 60 years after independence, most African countries are still unable to stand on their own feet, and are compelled to rely on foreign crumbs, loans and handouts. It is even sadder that the behaviour of most African leaders reveals their inability to either understand or, more worryingly, to accept that their primary duty is not to be in power for their own sake, but first and foremost to deliver protection, development, basic human rights and dignity to their people.
It is also comical that these African rulers think that they can count on the West and other foreign powers to help African countries achieve development on the one hand, and on the other hand, they believe that they can retain the independence of their countries and lecture foreigners on Africa’s sovereignty. It’s like grasping red hot coals and expecting them not to burn your hand. Or putting a wolf in a sheep barn and trusting it to leave the sheep alone. None of these things can happen.
What’s more, behind the comical naivety of African rulers lurks something that is so awful that it should make us cry on a daily basis: the fact that most Africans are currently unable or unwilling to seek, nurture and secure their countries’ sovereignty and yet, at the same time, they expect foreigners not to encroach on African states’ sovereignty. It would be too easy and extremely wrong to lay the blame for this state of affairs on the shoulders of African leaders only. Leaders do not appear out of thin air. More often than not, they are the products of a social mindset, or a longstanding socio-political system, or a school of thought, or many other factors emanating from their environment.
Continental generalisations seldom reveal the full picture because historical, cultural, social and political circumstances vary from country to country. But general tendencies are often useful indicators of specific realities. In terms of postcolonial development and protection of national sovereignty, it is hard not to compare most African countries unfavourably with most Asian states. Both African and Asian nations were generally very poor when they became independent in the 20th century. But qualities such as the spirit of self-sacrifice, the single-minded quest for collective development and the sense of responsibility and national purpose that have enabled the majority of Asian states to quickly develop themselves are generally lacking among African countries.
Most members of the postcolonial African elite –the professionals, business people, politicians, political advisers, academics, thinkers, journalists and so on – made the mistake of assuming that sovereignty simply meant throwing out the colonisers. They failed to understand that it was incumbent on them to secure, cherish and preserve their countries’ capacity to govern themselves without any interference from external world powers. They did not realise that in addition to pursuing their personal goals, they had the responsibility to build, develop and protect their nations. They failed to lay the foundations for institutions that could ensure the channelling of the national wealth towards collective development, the protection of their populations, the preservation of their dignity and the guarantee of a better future for subsequent generations.
Nothing illustrates Africans’ unwillingness to either preserve their dignity or cherish and protect their sovereignty better than the new headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa. Despite the existence of dozens of African billionaires and multimillionaires, this building was entirely funded by the Chinese. This reluctance to use our resources in order to determine our destiny and solve our challenges explains why the African continent is now a byword for charity, and the playground of foreign celebrities who are in search of attention and humanitarian credentials.
We Africans must understand once and for all that we cannot expect others to respect us unless we respect ourselves. We cannot prevent foreign powers from encroaching on our sovereignty unless we manage to build, develop and protect our nations ourselves. We cannot have the benefits of sovereignty without fulfilling our sovereign duties.