The Central African Republic (CAR) is in turmoil. The Republic of Mali is still delicate. South Sudan, having hived itself from Sudan, is unravelling. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sits astride an iffy peace. The old African tar baby is once again spilling out of its cradle, and the babysitters have their work cut out.
It is an uncanny scenario that keeps repeating itself without African politicians being able to draw the lessons that other specimens elsewhere might have drawn.
Congo and South Sudan have been at war with themselves ever since I was wearing khaki shorts, with the Simbas of Pierre Mulele in the former and the Anyanya in the latter battling it out with the respective governments in Kinshasa and Khartoum they considered to be impositions.
The CAR, for its part, has known many skirmishes over time, though these did not qualify to be called civil wars. But that country found another way to distinguish itself when it allowed one of its sergeants to take power in Bangui, declare himself general and later crowned himself emperor, necessitating the restyling of his country as an “empire.”
If Jean Bedel Bokassa had been a clown in a pantomime, we would have laughed ourselves sick, so comical was he. Unfortunately there was nothing to make one laugh, even when he was placing the crown on his own head a la Napoleon, or when he went to Paris to mourn Charles de Gaulle where he showed himself inconsolable with cries of “papa! papa!”
He was a murderer and a thief, just like his neighbour, Mobutu Kuku another sergeant turned general — nay, field marshal — in Congo, which he renamed Zaire and plundered more thoroughly than King Leopold ll before him.
When I had the misfortune of meeting this Kuku in Kinshasa in the 1970s, the megalomaniac was talking to us about “cet homme zaïrois que je suis en train de façonner…” (This Zairean man that I am in the process of creating…)
It was also about the same time that I met another megalomaniac by the name of Moussa Traore, who received our delegation, which had gone to Bamako to plead for the release of a former colleague of ours at the Panafrican Youth Movement who had had the stupidity of angering the big man.
He wanted to assure us that he would honour his word, but I was not impressed by his assurance, “Je ne peut pas mentir, d’abord en tant que soldat, et puis en tant que malien…” (I cannot lie, first as a soldier, and secondly as a Malian.)
Soon the Malian people tired of his lies and consigned him to the dung heap of history, but I suspect the rot had seeped to the bone marrow of that nation. As I behold the thoughtless destruction of priceless ancient monuments and scripts in the name of a demented theology, I cannot help but feel that a nation led by liars and thieves will eventually pay dearly.
Which is no doubt what has befallen South Sudan. For it is clear now, it was not the freedom of the South Sudanese people that the SPLM was fighting for for so long, but rather the self aggrandisement and self enrichment of the new rulers.
Shorn of the religious and racial divides of the old Sudan, the power struggle has been ethnicised as the black, Christian and “animist” — where did they get that one from? — bigotries have found new expressions to box themselves in and fight for.
Time was when the whole of Sudan was administered under what the Brits called, euphemistically, the Condominium, which had khedival Egypt as superintendent under London’s thumb.
Time was, too, when Mali was known as French Sudan, Congo was Leopold’s shamba and CAR was actually an empire under the little toad who thought he was Napoleon.
The DNA from those sad days informs African behaviour today, and that’s why the babysitters of yesteryear have not as yet worked themselves out of their jobs. Our rotten politics, inordinate appetites and just plain ugly still mark out our countries as in-conflict, post-conflict or pre-conflict.
By Jenerali Ulimwengu