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Why did African leaders cease speaking for ordinary citizens but standing with oppressive leaders?

01 Nov 2022 at 11:50hrs | Views
Whenever I watch clips, repeatedly replayed on state television, of a couple of African leaders calling for the 'lifting of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe', my heart sinks, as I am quite sure, it also bleeds.

I am particularly disturbed and pained with the late Tanzania President John Magufuli - with his speech at a SADC heads of state summit in August 2019 - as each time the video of him urging other leaders to stand together in demanding the immediate removal of these restrictions, I cannot help wondering if Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was not turning in his grave.

Surely, although this great pan-Africanist played his immense revolutionary role, for the liberation of the region from colonialism, when I was still only a little boy - I am quite certain, however, that he stood, spoke and fought for the ordinary people of these nations, and not the leadership.

From the little I remember about his activities in that time, and what we then learnt from history in school - the likes of Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel, Kwame Nkrumah, Agostinho Neto, Nelson Mandela, and Sam Nujoma - passionately and valiantly called for majority rule, the respect of the dignity of ordinary citizens, and their rights to living freely and equally in their own motherlands.

Never did they focus their attention on protecting and shielding national or nationalist leaders - but, remained resolute in their desire for all people of Africa to be emancipated from all forms of subjugation and discrimination, whilst equitably sharing in the abundant resources with which their nations were endowed.

In fact, when nationalist leaders in colonial Rhodesia appeared to lose focus on their main mandate of fighting for the cause of the majority - these African progressive icons never hesitated in rebuking and calling them to order, with threats of withdrawing any further military, political and material support.

Yet, it is so heartrending listening to those who succeeded these great men - with hardly any of the current crop of national leaders ever standing with, or speaking for, the rights of the ordinary African man, woman and child, in their quest for a dignified and honorable life - in the face of relentless economic and political attacks by those in power.

In all those demands for the 'immediate removal of sanctions' - which every literate person knows fully well are merely travel bans, asset freezes and an arms embargo on only a handful of individuals and entities in Zimbabwe - has anyone ever heard these African leaders speak for the millions wallowing in poverty, due to rampant corruption by the political elite?

Quite frankly, I would have understood, and not have had any problems with this 'calling for lifting of sanctions' by leaders on the continent - had they, in the same breath, also demanded an immediate end to the disgraceful and cruel looting of national resources by those in power in Zimbabwe.

Had the late Magufuli similarly demanded the respect of the rule of law, recognition of citizens' rights to expression, political affiliation and assembly - he would have seen himself easily in the same mold as Nyerere.

If South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa also unequivocally called for Zimbabwean authorities to cease abusing state institutions (such as the electoral commission, judiciary, and security sector) for partisan interests - he would have become a modern day Mandela.

Had Namibian President Hage Geingob also demanded the implementation of genuine electoral and media reforms - that ensured constitutionality, a level electoral playing field, and equal access for all political parties to public-funded media - he would have been another Nujoma.

Nonetheless, their clearly one-sided shallow (and, oftentimes baseless and unproven) clamoring solely for the removal of these targeted restrictive measures on the ruling elite - whilst, totally disregarding, as if nonexistent, the intolerable oppression, suffering and impoverishment of the majority at the hands of the same sanctioned individuals - leaves the rest of us, the ordinary citizenry, questioning whose interests these African leaders truly represent.

Why do they find it easy standing with oppressive fellow leaders - yet, completely ignoring the pain and poverty of millions of Zimbabweans - most of which is authored by those they are speaking for?

If these African leaders sincerely believe that our failure to afford the most basic of needs, or place a roof over our heads, or going without potable water for years, or our children not receiving quality education, or our own inability to access good health care, is a result of these supposed sanctions - but, still that does not explain their deafening silence on the obvious brutal violent crackdown on the opposition or other voices of dissent, and arrests of activists on spurious charges (who languish in prison for months as repeatedly denied bail).

Why not, at least, speak out about those troubling issues?

Why not say anything when global news headlines are awash with images of opposition members and supporters, including honorable members of parliament (MPs), having their limbs savagely broken and beaten to a pulp (possibly, left for dead) by ruling ZANU PF thugs, merely for daring to campaign for their party candidate in an election?

Granted, we may differ on the true impact of these restrictions on only 73 individuals and 37 entities - but, certainly, it is undeniable that Zimbabweans are being brutally repressed by those in power.

Again, why are our African leaders not making noise about that?

Why, then, should any of them turn around, in apparent surprise, when some amongst us end up running to the West for assistance?

Instead of rushing into labeling them as 'sellouts' and 'regime change agents' - do we ever stop to question what they were expected to do, in the face of a vicious relentless onslaught by their own government - both the regional and continental bodies (SADC and AU) have repeatedly turned a blind eye, pretending nothing was amiss in Zimbabwe?

If you abuse your spouse, yet close relatives refuse to intervene and act - in spite of continued cries for help - do not be shocked if he or she runs into the open arms of someone you probably may not particularly like.

It is time that African leaders reignited the revolutionary spirit of Nyerere, Kaunda, Machel, Nkrumah, Mandela, and Nujoma - who stood with the lowly ordinary people, as they spoke and fought for their rights to freedom, and a life of dignity and prosperity.

Never would these great pan-Africanist and nationalists have ever stood on the side of repressive, evil and thieving leaders.

‚óŹ Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, researcher, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936, or email:

Source - Tendai Ruben Mbofana
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