Fast forward to the 90s: these power-usurpers were replaced by a new breed of generals who were suave, educated, and savvy. This group was educated at Harvard, Oxford, the Sorbonne and elsewhere. They were smooth talkers with real panache. Of course, we voted them into office. This was the professor generation of leaders in Africa. What could go wrong — these guys had traversed the world, working at the World Bank, IMF, UN and so on, at least their differences to our former military rulers were so glaring we were taken in by their brilliance.
Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that the professors were actually worse than the military men they replaced. The professors used the same currency to stay in office; fraudulent elections, mass murder, corruption and brazen theft of our economic and political rights.
The only difference they had with the generals is that they couched their transgressions in “democratese and legalese” jargon. When we asked them why they were stealing from us, they replied: “We are fighting neo-colonialism.” When we asked what the connection was between wanton thievery and neo-colonialism, they simply changed tactics and started breaking our bones and bashing skulls.
The continent’s professors have let us down. Remember Professor Yusuf Lulle in Uganda? Now we have a professor of history in the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, who steadfastly refused to learn from history and had to be kicked out of office after refusing to step down after losing a legitimate election.
In Zimbabwe we have two professors at each other’s throat over the leadership of a near-moribund party. Imagine what would be happening if they were at the helm of government.
It is therefore important that we strengthen institutions of governance so that we may never again have to rely upon mere mortals; they are not infallible.
Strong institutions on the other hand can stand the test of time.