I DID not expect much to come out of the African Union summit in Egypt this week. But it was bad enough that what little was said came from persons in the form of Gabon’s Omar Bongo and Kenya’s Raila Odinga.
It was worse when one took into account Western media headlines that the African leaders meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh were “under pressure” to act on President Mugabe.
Nobody explained who was exerting the “pressure”, but I was not unduly surprised when the “bloody idiots” thunderbolt hit some “brave” journalist Western in Egypt. They were keen to be seen to be taking a more robust stance than the African leaders who welcomed Mugabe at the summit as a “hero”, according to Omar Bongo who has been in power since 1967.
It’s not that Bongo or Odinga said the wrong or the right thing. They are simply the wrong choice of speakers for Africa and their diametrically opposed positions exemplify what is making debate on the Zimbabwean crisis so messy and confusing.
Odinga was perhaps raising genuine personal feelings about the political violence in Zimbabwe when he called for the country’s suspension from the AU, declaring President Mugabe’s re-election illegitimate and calling for a peacekeeping force.
Perceptions differ. What Odinga said could earn him a Nobel prize in Europe. Which is what makes Bongo’s comments so telling about what is now perceived as the West’s irritating and patronising attitude towards African leaders. He did not tell the Western journalists who harangued him about Mugabe’s illegitimacy that Zimbabwe was not a province of Gabon nor call them “bloody idiots”.
“I can certainly tell you (journalists) that we are not obliged to obey orders from overseas,” he said. On whether the AU would condemn Mugabe’s re-election, he retorted with an equally pointed rebuke: “Africans are able to decide for themselves. We have even received Mugabe as a hero.”
Whether what Bongo and Odinga says is their choice. What I find completely unhelpful is this obsession with condemning, as if that constitutes a solution to problems. Western governments condemned the sychronised March 29 elections before they were held. They condemned the presidential election runoff of June 27 before it was held. In both cases the outcome was different.
Then they came to Africa to demand: “Are you folks going to follow the precedent we have set?” In other words African leaders have neither the spine nor the conscience to act in their own best interests unless “pressure is exerted” on them from Europe and the United States.
That to me lies at the heart of the confused and confusing narrative on Zimbabwe: conclusions are made in Europe well in advance of the result and African leaders with access to Mugabe must take up the chorus. If they refuse or don’t agree with those “predetermined” conclusions they are labelled Mugabe’s friends, they were not properly elected themselves or they are accomplices in crime.
The root cause of the crisis – land ownership – is lost in the rarified verbiage about human rights violations, a subject far more easier to sell to ignorant Western audiences. The “bloody idiots” are the foot soldiers carrying the rhetoric in the global war to maintain or extend the West’s hegemonic influence in Africa now under serious threat from the dragon from the East.
Most of them are genuinely ignorant of their proxy role. Land ownership is a settled matter in their countries. They don’t have to think about the welfare of the farm labourer in Guinea so long as Starbucks brews the coffee.
The same cannot be said of Raila Odinga where poor Kenyans still seethe with rancour each time they see a bwana saunter around his opulent bungalow in the White Highlands. Not to mention his “bloody road” to State House which he has failed to sell to Morgan Tsvangirai and ordinary Zimbabweans. Does he genuinely believe over 1 000 Kenyans deserved to die for him to earn a sinecure as prime minister?
Tell me not about Mwai Kibaki. They are both foreign creations.
As for Omar Bongo, it’s only convenient to say what he said. He has been in power for over 40 years.
Then there is Thabo Mbeki’s unenviable and thankless task in Zimbabwe. He must share the same cross with Bob. But after seeing how his “not a crisis” was deliberately distorted by the media to “no crisis”, I feel guilty I never bothered to find out what he in fact said in his now famous “denial” about Aids. What is plain so far is that the media can ruin a person’s character just as easily as it can build a false one.
Every “wrong” political decision Mbeki has made since assuming power has been coloured mainly by his opponents’ interpretation of his remarks about the “link between Aids and poverty”.
He is a deeply flawed character indeed and has made many questionable decisions in a presidency overshadowed by Mugabe’s “land war” but has stolidly refused to be anybody else’s voice. It is a war he understands well but which those against it have disfigured and cheapened to human rights without land. I feel sorry for Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
There will be no medal for Mbeki’s pains. If it came from Africa, it would be greeted with scorn; if it came from Stockholm, Western journalists would be aghast. He is as doomed as a Siamese twin.