African Leadership: The tragedy of manufacturing gods
by William Mpofu
The president died laughing. Even as the angry young soldier broke from the parade shouting profanities and pumping bullets into his heart, he warned “don’t do anything silly my son!” Laughingly. And then he was dead. A pile of broken bones and a porridge of bloody flesh. Bleeding evidence of a vengeful assassination.
Until that fateful morning of October 1981 when he was killed, Anwar Sadat, the third President of Egypt believed what his loyal supporters told him, that he was “The last Pharaoh.” As the last of the Pharaohs he believed he was “a brother to the Moon and a cousin to the Sun.” He lived in the neighbourhood of the gods as a fierce cosmic force and did not have to fear death.
Intelligence warnings of his impending Kamikaze killing by unhappy Al-Jihadist militants he dismissed with the flap of the left hand and the words “Egyptians are my children; they will not harm their father.”How angry the AL- Jihadist militants were for his making peace with Israel, allegedly smoking splifs of Marijuana, stashing hardcore pornographic movies and doing the very unislamic thing of allowing his wife to hug other men and non-believers, “The last Pharaoh” did not measure or did he care. Until he was dead, killed by messengers of the radical leader of Al- Jihad, medical doctor and current leader of Alqaeda, Ayman Al Zawahiri. So blind to danger, deaf to advice and impervious to common wisdom was Sadat, as he believed that he was above humanity and occupied the realm of the gods.
Sadat’s tragic story of blind confidence might sound like another chapter from Egyptian folklore, but in actuality it is a tale that is cinematic of how in Africa we have the political bad habit of elevating our political leaders to the status of saints, living legends and gods. With sycophantic flattery and hyperbolic praises we transform otherwise promising leaders into human political deities who are so insulated from reality that they quickly forget that they are fallible beings who have to account to the electorate and their fellow citizens.
No wonder Idi Amin, the late Ugandan despot faithfully believed that he was “ the last king of Scotland” when in reality he was just busy at work, dragging a promising African country down to the proverbial dogs, and dancing and laughing as he did the sad work. Among Amin’s flatterers were University professors and journalists who confirmed to him his hallucinations of being indefatigable.
In fear of condemnation, Winnie Mandela, herself lionised in South Africa as “The Mother of the nation” had to take a humiliating retreat from frank remarks she made about her former husband in an off the record interview with a journalist who later published the juicy words. “Mandela went to prison as a revolutionary, but look what came out!” She said, describing how Mandela came out of prison softened and compromised to the extent that she claimed “he let down the black people badly.”
Mandela has been so effectively godified and saintified that his very sad role in letting apartheid criminals against humanity go scot-free and allowing only political apartheid to go while economic apartheid remained intact has remained an unspoken of subject in South African public discourse. How Mandela was moved from Robben Island in 1986 and taken to Pollsmoor Prison where he lived in comfort and was allowed luxuries and niceties while he had clandestine negotiations with the apartheid regime, and made what are politely referred to as “ historic compromises” is a well known subject but one that has not been surrendered to objective analysis and fair commentary.
In publishing a revealing book, The Young Mandela, in which Mandela the womaniser and wife beater who did not only work with political legends like Lillian Ngoyi but also frequently took them to bed stands up, brave journalist David Smith had to justify his courageous narrative as an attempt “to rescue Mandela from the dry pages of history” and present him as a flesh, blood and bone human being and not a saint.
It is largely because of the saintification of Mandela that the ANC is embarrassed and angered by Julius Malema’s proposal for the urgent nationalisation of mines and redistribution of wealth in South Africa. Malema’s loud screams about economic apartheid indirectly point out Mandela’s unfinished if poor assignment of liberating blacks from apartheid. South African political debate suffers a severe collapse in that the subject of Mandela having done a poor job at best or having sold out at worst remains a political hard hat area where even the brave amongst thought leaders and thinkers fear to venture.
For all his crimes against humanity and dark record of violence, plunder and pillage in Zimbabwe, a minister named Tony Gara once publicly declared that “Mugabe is a true son of God.” Several other ministers and supporters have called Mugabe many biblical titles from Jesus Christ himself to Moses the prophet and deliverer. Sadly, Mugabe himself seems to believe the exaggerations to a point of mistaking himself for a larger than life figure.Beliving in his extra- human qualities , he has trampled on the lives and political rights of Zimbabweans with impunity that smells to the high heavens.
An enterprising Sangoma and primary school dropout Rotina Mavhunga in 2009 took advantage of Mugabe’s superstitious beliefs in himself and the supernatural by claiming that the ancestors of Zimbabwe were sending him pure diesel from under the mountains of Chimanimani. She mounted a tank full of the precious liquid on top of the mountain and connected some tubing which simulated a gush of diesel from under the soil. Before the trick was exposed, Mugabe had showered her with cars and farming land. While she rots in Mugabe’s jail, she managed to expose to the world just how deluded and misled about himself and the world Mugabe has become. For a man with seven university degrees under his belt to be that removed from reality is true stuff of high tragedy, pity the poor Zimbabweans who are ruled by such a man.
Other commentators have called this habit of Africans to turn their leaders into gods “the dear leader mentality” or “dear father syndrome.” It is such a bad habit which has severally led to political tragedies and disasters. Free from any criticism or censure, Joshua Nkomo of Zimbabwe, believing the title of “Father Zimbabwe” that he was given, and exposed his supporters to genocide. Nkomo effectively disarmed and disbanded his ZIPRA armed wing in the name of Zimbabwean unity and nationalism. At the same time Mugabe was training an ethnic militia which massacred defenceless civilians in one of Africa’s still unresolved genocides. So blinded was Nkomo by his high sounding name that he could not see Mugabe plotting the heinous crime of ethnic cleansing right below his nose.
Even as his Ujamaa economic and social policies were sinking Tanzania down to poverty from 1976 to 1986 and Julius Nyerere was preaching his infamous thinking that “democracy is a luxury that we cannot afford” the Tanzanians called him Mwalimu, meaning a wise teacher. While it is true that Nyerere was teaching somethings, it is blatantly false that there was any wisdom in it. Up to now Tanzania has still not recovered fully from Nyerere’s toxic and very unwise teachings.
Clearly, in Africa we mould and manufacture our leaders into human gods through hyperbolic praise singing and sycophantic flattery. The weak minded among them tend to believe the exaggerated praises and turn around to be unlistening, untouchable and impossible tyrants and holy cows that are answerable only to themselves. The truth dies every time a leader’s mistakes and weaknesses are not openly discussed and criticised in the name of heroism or legendary this and great that ! We need to invest our support in strong institutions and constitutions that will protect us from the excesses of individual politicians.
William Mpofu is a Media, Journalism and Public relations consultant.