African Leaders and Nations Must Be Accountable
I once wrote an article entitled, "The Moral and Ethical Imperatives of Black Leadership." I expressed a concern that far too many Black elected officials in the U.S. and heads of state in Africa were behaving as if the only goal of the Black liberation movement was to replace White faces with Black faces in high places. I was responding to what seemed to be an emerging pattern of self-serving, self-aggrandizing, corrupt and self-perpetuating leaders who were more interested in power and personal fortunes than the interests of the masses of the people. As a progressive, African-centered scholar/activist and Pan Africanist, I wrote the article because of a deep conviction that the new world we seek to create for African people and humanity must be fundamentally rooted in the principles and values of Maat, the ancient African concept of justice, righteousness, balance and service. In my view the goal of the Black Freedom Struggle in the U.S. and the Pan African liberation movement should have been and must be to create non-repressive/oppressive/exploitative social orders - just and humane societies that enable the people to fulfill their potential as human beings.
Unfortunately, when I survey the scene in the Pan African world today, people of African descent are far from realizing this goal. And, what is lacking is an open conversation/discussion about what I consider to be the urgent need for a prescription of progressive principles of Pan African governance. The recent crisis in Libya is a case in point. I am on record vehemently opposing the U.S. /NATO led assault on Libya to liquidate Colonel Muammar Gaddafi -- within the context of what emerged as a civil war. However, to the dismay of some of my friends/allies, I also made it clear that I do not view Gaddafi as a paragon of progressive Pan African governance, or a hero to be hailed simply because he mouths anti- American, anti-imperialistic rhetoric as the self-proclaimed paramount chief of a United States of Africa. The reality is, for all of his splendid rhetoric and some noteworthy accomplishments (he did snatch the Libyan people from the jaws of European colonialism and modernized the country), Gaddafi was essentially an authoritarian ruler who remained in power by repressing dissent and oppressing sectors of the population. Though he obviously has a following of loyalists, there was substantial, seething, suppressed discontent with his regime which burst into the open in response to the uprisings against repressive rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, the so called "Arab Spring." In their offer to mediate the conflict, the African Union (AU) emphasized the need for democratic reforms to resolve the crisis. This is why I strongly supported the AU initiative. It did not ignore the fact that there were legitimate grievances the Gaddafi regime needed to address in order to achieve peace. Few of the pro-Gaddafi proponents I know were willing to acknowledge the flaws and failing of his regime. Instead, most simply chose to herald his stance as a champion of Pan Africanism.
A recent rally in Harlem not only called for support of Gaddafi, it also decried sanctions against Robert Mugabe, the aging autocrat from Zimbabwe. Though Zimbabwe is supposed to be a democratic state, Mugabe and the leaders of his ruling Party have achieved "victory" and maintained power by brutally crushing the opposition. It is clear that a once highly regarded hero of the struggle for independence is hell bent on being President for life -- with the ruling Party determined to hold power after his demise. Mugabe's U.S. based supporters proclaim him the most revolutionary of African leaders because he has seized land from the White farmers, the minority which constituted the backbone of colonial rule, and redistributed it to veterans of the liberation struggle. Mugabe devotees contend that the opposition is allied with and financed by White farmers. There is likely some truth to this charge. I absolutely agree that land stolen from Africans by interlopers should be returned to the original owners. However, the issue is whether in a "democratic" society, intimidation, repression and violence should be used to suppress the opposition no matter who their allies or what their political persuasion. My answer is that it is not acceptable.
Because of his status as a hero of the anti-colonial liberation struggles, for years African leaders have refused to chastise or rein in Mugabe. Some leaders were no doubt reluctant to do so because of their own despotic regimes --"let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." Thankfully that is beginning to change. South African President Jacob Zuma, AU's designated Mediator, is openly warning Mugabe to cease using repressive means to maintain power or risk losing legitimacy in the eyes the AU. Hopefully, the posture of seeking a settlement in Libya and President Zuma's willingness to confront Mugabe signals a refreshing trend toward holding leaders and governments accountable for their behavior. For progressive Pan Africanists the message to African leaders must be unequivocal: having a "correct" posture on anti-imperialism or Pan Africanism while suppressing, maiming, killing and otherwise constraining the aspirations of your own people is not acceptable and will not be tolerated! While we must fight against imperialism and support Pan African projects and initiatives, we will not embrace tyrants, despots and autocrats. Leaders, governments should be judged by progressive principles of governance.
As an outgrowth of deliberations at the Black Power Conferences in the 60's and the Congress of African people in 1970, a broad set of principles for engaging electoral politics and judging the performance of Black elected officials in the U.S. evolved. The mission of Black elected officials was to expose the hypocrisy, contradictions and ultimately the inability of the Capitalist political economy to deliver a quality standard of living for all the people; to utilize electoral office to strain the system to its limits in order to maximize the delivery of resources to the people; and to mobilize/organize independent political structures to which elected officials would be accountable. After the Gary Black Political Convention, the concept of holding elected officials accountable to Black agendas devised by the people in local communities was also advanced. The bottom line is that progressive Nationalists/Pan Africanists outlined a rationale for engaging electoral politics and devised principles or standards for holding Black elected officials accountable. The goal was not to elect people to extol the virtues of the system and maintain it, nor was it to have them gain access to power for status, prestige and personal advancement. It was to engage the system to deliver maximum resources/services to the people while simultaneous organizing to transform the system.
Candidly, few Black elected officials in the U.S. measure up to these principles. And, there has been a failure to consistently articulate and popularize them as potentially effective tools that can be used by community people to hold elected officials accountable. Nonetheless, activists who are aware of the struggle to develop these principles can speak to that history and continue the fight to institutionalize them within the body politic in Black America. The task is to devise and discuss a similar set of principles for African nations and their leaders in the Caribbean and on the continent. Having such standards is particularly important because, unlike Black America, these African leaders have the opportunity to control nation-states and the resources available to them. And, as DuBois noted, Africa is the richest continent on earth.
I do not purport to be a political theorist, but a few very basic ideas come to mind in terms of progressive principles of governance. Revolutionary thinkers like Franz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral and Kwame Nkrumah were clear that "national liberation," winning political independence from European colonialists, was only the first step toward genuine freedom and self-determination for African people. "National reconstruction," the total "decolonization" or dismantling of the socio-economic and political structures of colonialism was the decisive step for African people to achieve real independence. It was not enough for Black faces to occupy and preside over the structures and institutions put in place by the colonizers. New societies must be constructed based on the values of the traditional way of life of African people. Central to this value system is the communal control of and sharing of resources to benefit the people. To warn against the dangers of "national liberation" without "national reconstruction," Nkrumah wrote Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. His basic premise was that political independence without ending the external control over a nation's resources by the former colonial masters would only perpetuate dependency or amount to what has come to be known as "flag independence."
The principle to be extrapolated from this discussion is that African leaders should first and foremost be servants of the people who are committed to gaining and maintaining control over the resources of the nation to benefit the welfare and development of the masses of the people. This entails working for the creation and maintenance of African-centered structures of governance and economy, structures rooted in the humanistic values of the traditional way of life of African people. The acquisition of power is not for the purpose of pillaging and pocketing the nation's resources or to permit the continued plunder of the nation's resources by external forces. With Africa's enormous wealth, it is an absolute disgrace that so many people live in abject poverty and misery. This is because far too many African leaders are out of synch with the principle of servant leadership and the idea of utilizing the nation's resources to benefit the people. As a consequence, with rare exception, what we have on the African continent are leaders and a political class who are enriching themselves and permitting external forces to ravish Africa's resources - all to the detriment of the masses. "Leaders" and regimes that steal, give away or squander the resources of the people/nation must be held accountable!
I can't imagine that the foot soldiers, the ordinary people as well as activists and intellectuals, who waged struggles for independence did so simply to see colonial rule replaced by authoritarian, dictatorial and despotic rulers and regimes. Tragically, the outcome of many liberation struggles has been ugly aberrations of the people's dreams to be free and self-determining. Not only are vast numbers of Africans "citizens" of countries where the rulers/regimes are pocketing, pilfering and giving away precious resources, all too often they have to suffer political repression or an absence of meaningful and effective channels to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. As a matter of principle, African people should demand and expect the creation of inclusive structures and institutions which encourage, facilitate and maximize participation in the political life of the nation.
I mention "inclusive" because many African states are simple reflections of the boundaries and divisions imposed by European colonialists when they carved up the continent at the Congress of Berlin in 1884. The colonizers had no respect for ethnic/national boundaries and therefore created colonies which artificially included portions of territory from distinct ethnic nations. This set the stage for potential tensions/conflicts between ethnic groups once independence was won/ granted. Emulating "democratic" systems that utilize "winner take all" procedures are likely to exacerbate divisions between ethnic groups. Indeed, what we have witnessed too often are African rulers who play various ethnic groups against each other while relying on their ethnic bases to dominate governments and utilizing the bureaucracy and public till to benefit and enrich themselves and their ethnic compatriots. This is not a prescription for healing and building national cohesion. As a matter of principle, African people should demand the enactment of laws that require inclusion of all ethnic groups in every branch and body of government. Indeed, "coalition governments" should be the order of the day when a nation is comprised of diverse ethnic groups. Inclusive, meaningful participation in the affairs of state is a benchmark for good governance and leadership.
Finally, respect for basic human rights must be a hallmark of African leadership and governance. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a good yard stick to measure adherence to or progress on this principle. Much of what is discussed above is consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of UDHR. Not only must citizens have avenues to express their views including opposition and dissent, the arbitrary detention, intimidation, torture, brutalization and killing of one's own people by rulers and regimes is a violation of human rights and must not be tolerated. To reiterate my basic thesis, no matter how "progressive" one's rhetoric or record as an anti-imperialist and Pan Africanist, it does not exempt a ruler/regime from criticism or repudiation based on the failure to be accountable to principles of progressive governance in the treatment of one's own people. That's why I can oppose the U.S. backed NATO assault on Libya without hailing/embracing Gaddafi as a hero.
Devising progressive principles of Pan African governance does not mean that we expect perfection from imperfect human beings, nor the emergence of utopian regimes. It means we should have principles standards to strive for and standards by which we judge, approve and disapprove of rulers/regimes. It is interesting how activists and organizers give rulers/regimes a pass on repressive practices they would never accept/tolerate in the U.S., e.g., bans on the right to peaceful assembly. In some respects a personal guide is to ask yourself if you would be content to live in a nation or under a ruler if you were in the opposition. Rulers and regimes will have their knots and warts; they will not be perfect, but as proponents of the Black freedom/liberation struggle, we must remember our goal should be to create just and humane societies. "We who believe in freedom cannot rest" until we create a new world!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.