South African President, Jacob Zuma, is a controversial figure. In the past few days, the maverick politician has been facing lots of opposition from the home front. He has severally faced calls for resignation after it was found out that he has misused 246m rand (£13.73m) of taxpayers on the upgrade of security in his country home. The total spending amounted to eight times the estimated present-day value of securing the home of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president.
The discovery is an injurious blow to president Zuma, whose presidency has been characterized by copious scandals. While his village lacks access to electricity or potable water, Zuma’s country home project demonstrates audacious implausible affluence. He was equally accused of uncanny arrogance of power and gross insensitivity as his neighbours were ordered to move home without proper authorization, thereby costing government millions in public fund. Zuma was also indicted of conflict of interest by engaging his private architect who earned a mind boggling 16.5m rand (£922,796) from the project.
Zuma, a past Robben Island convict and a polygamous Zulu conservative, is no alien to scandal. He was exonerated of rape and merely became president after more than 700 corruption, fraud, money-laundering and racketeering charges against him were dropped on technical grounds shortly before his election in 2009. Zuma also has the image of a randy man. Aside, the many wives he had married since assuming office, he also had a child with the daughter of a close friend.
Characteristically, the government’s own investigation cleared Zuma of wrongdoing, on the basis that the improvements in his homestead were necessary for security reasons. It, however, remains to be seen how ‘improvements’ which included construction of a visitors’ centre, amphitheatre, cattle enclosure, marquee area, extensive paving, new houses for relocated relatives and a swimming pool are required to improve security.
Since the post colonial era, impunity and astonishing acts of recklessness have, no doubt, become the hallmarks of many African leaders. Though most African nations now operate democracy, but in sharp contrast to democratic principles, most African leaders act in defiance of democratic engagements. In Gambia, the current president has been in power for over 25 years and according to reports, plans to run again. Same goes for Congo democratic Republic.
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe, 93, remains the country’s ruler since 1980. Various opposition groups, opposed to his prolonged stronghold on power in the country, have had to contend with serious realties of his iron hold on power. Sadly, a large chunk of Zimbabweans have continued to live in abject poverty as all economic indicators keep pointing to a nation on the brink of socio-economic collapse. The assumption that no one else but him could steer the ship of the country, at 89 and after 36 years in the saddle, is nothing but a charade as he is no super human.
The tragedy of the African continent is that most of its leaders, especially those who have little or nothing to offer the people, have continued to tow the ignoble path. Is it not funny that most of the leaders whose stay in power have pauperized their people would rather prefer to die in power than give opportunities to others with fresh ideas to rule? Those who argue that Mugabe’s prolonged hold on power is as a result of the love and affection his people have for him, need to be reminded that Mandela was equally held in high esteem by South Africans and still voluntarily relinquished power after just one term in office.
Despite its leaders’ penchant for power, in Africa, the practicality of poverty is quite frightening as most Africans live on less than a dollar income per day. Perhaps more niggling is that 34, out of a total of 49, African countries account for a greater proportion of the Least Developed Countries, LDCs, in the world. This, perhaps, explains why poverty indicators such as extreme hunger, malnourishment, homelessness, diseases, high crime rate, slums, lack of opportunities, low productivity and illiteracy abound in larger quantity in the continent. The African poverty situation is further compounded by the failure of governments across the continent to properly harness human, natural and material resources for the common good of all. This is partly why Nigeria, a famous world oil exporter, is ranked among the poorest nations of the world.
African leaders need to wake up to the frightening poverty situation in the continent. They need to shift focus on the education structure in order to fashion a new order that could facilitate wealth creation. The present education arrangement, in most African countries, would only help in further entrenching poverty since its emphasis is more on education of the ‘head’. Though this in itself is good, but there is need to further emphasise technical education with the central aim of providing head, heart, mind and hand education. It is only this kind of education that could take Africa out of the doldrums of poverty.
Similarly, African countries need to look inward and develop their natural resources to create wealth for the people. Anti-colonial elements often criticize European nations for being responsible for the underdevelopment of the continent. Their grouse being that the natural resources of African nations were fully exploited by colonial masters to build their respective countries. But now that African nations have fully obtained political independence, what have they done with same resources? Why has poverty remained part and parcel of the continent in-spite of all her natural endowments? It might be difficult for Africa to get off the hook of poverty until its leaders begin to pay particular attention to education, agriculture and industrialization, all anchored on a tax based economy.
This is the time for African leaders to uphold the right concept of power for the good of the society. Government does not exercise power; rather, it is the concept of government, upheld by law, which exercises power. Democracy will be endangered, when political power actors assume that they wield power, and not, that power wields them.
In the meantime, Africans should rise up and make their leaders accountable and responsible.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.