Africa still needs strong men
Former United States President, Barrack Obama, famously made a statement that Africa did not need strong men but strong institutions. Like many, I had swallowed the import of this message until prevailing circumstances compelled me to see reason on the flip side. On the contrary, the continent needs both strong men and strong institutions because it takes strong men to build strong institutions that would endure in their own spheres of influence. The general perception of many is that strong men in power denotes negativity but the experience in other climes that had similar situations and challenges as Africa showed that the emergence of such super strong men was the turning point in the history of their countries. Strong men can be positive too, it depends on how they are skewed; the negative image of the strong men who dominated Africa the African political landscape negatively for a long time would make many perceive and dismiss them as evil.
My argument in capsule is that Africa, bedeviled on all fronts, laid back and stunted in growth in every ramification and lagging behind the rest of the world, still needs strong men (and perhaps women) to enable it come out of its darkness into light. For now, Africa especially Nigeria truly has no real business with the mode of democracy that was patented in Greece, championed and marketed now to the rest of the world by the United States, the number one law breaker in a world where might is right. But it is not a call for anarchy either or for dictatorship. Except for South Africa with its Apartheid heritage and North Africa to a lesser extent, the rest of the continent from Cape to Cairo desperately needs a true change to transmute to the next level of development.
A gaze through history shows that some individuals of exemplary character and rare vision birthed the civilisation that the world enjoys today largely through the efforts they made to create conducive political environment in their own specific spheres of influence. Instructively, most of the nation builders of many modern states such as Chairman Mao in China, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Dr. Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia, Chiang Kai Shek in Taiwan, Fidel Castro in Cuba among several others were neither true democrats nor full blown despots.
Circumstances foisted these individuals on their countries that were remarkably at par with most of Africa at independence but now have Africa losing trail of them in every gamut of modernity. Similarly, it was during the tenure of Adolf Hitler, loathe or love him that the famous Volkswagen Beetle car was birthed to be the common man’s automobile. Chairman Mao’s feat is a lesson indeed of how fundamental and foundational genuine builders are to their nations at the outset of any sound developmental process. Mao, it was who initiated the required necessities which modern China now effortlessly prides itself as the second largest world’s economy.
Development does not come about by happenstance or by accident; it is painstakingly planned and ruthlessly executed. Africa is not yet at a destination where institutions work and although pseudo democracy is practised in many countries in Africa, it is founded on very faulty foundations where greed and selfish interests are the order of the day, leaving the masses forlorn and empty handed. Africa needs strong men and women who are nation builders. It needs leaders who are not only fearless but ready to take the risks and whatever it takes to create societies where the interests of all are protected and the rule of law prevails.
Africa needs leaders who are strong mentally, intellectually and physically to get the continent to the next level. Strong men can be positive too, it depends on how they are skewed; the negative image of the strong men who dominated the African political landscape for a long time would make many perceive them as evil. The continent needs strong men who will not put on the same blood stained garments as in the past and were driven to pursue their selfish interests. Africa needs strong men and women who are thinkers and doers who would doggedly apply the instrumentality of the office they hold to bring about real change that fosters growth and development for all. Strong leaders are focused and not easily given to parochial sentiments but pursue their own convictions that hold the interests of all because they want to leave behind rich legacies that will stand the test of time. He would quickly do the needful to end the orgy of violence, senseless killings and destruction that mark the entire landscape of Africa and particularly Nigeria.
Sometime ago, the current president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, in his usual bullish manner made a derogatory remark, ‘shit hole countries’ targeted at Africa, remarkably not one President in Africa could muster a whimper of reaction or come out and call his bluff. A few who initially reacted denied thereafter out of fear. Even as the remark was made, some leaders were hopping on the next flight to Washington DC! What is the pride of the continent, where are the Muammar Ghadaffis of the continent whose country, Libya has been fragmented since his death? Africa needs strong leaders who will bargain hard with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others on the international financial arena and leave their country’s economy stable without swallowing the painful pill of devaluation of their currencies which these myopic international financiers always prescribe as a bait to attract investments that never come.
The present charade in Nigeria called democracy will not lead anywhere except there is a fundamental change in the entire structure which only a strong man or woman can bring about. The National Assembly and by extension, the State Houses of Assembly will never enact laws that will bring real change but only those that will protect their selfish interests ad infinitum . They are not interested in laws that would move the country forward. The executive arm is not any different: visionless and incompetent, unfortunately the whole country has to move along at their pace. The party that held the executive reins of power before now for sixteen years equally did an abysmally awful job that to even imagine it is a wise choice to go back to them merely shows the level the country has sunk.
Things are this way because the fundamentals have never been addressed; they were not addressed before the advent of the present democracy. The leopard does not change its colour overnight, who among the major gladiators aspiring for the nation’s number one seat will make a change? Were they not there before? What impact did they make? Even if the country gets its right tomorrow at the Executive level, won’t the president not be stifled by an overbearing, uninspiring and unpatriotic National Assembly that is driven by selfish interests and mundane issues? It is the country that would continue to move in vicious cycle. Unfortunately, time waits for no one and while other countries are taking great leaps into the future, Nigeria is moving in the opposite direction and the suffering of a vast majority of the people painfully appears not to have any expiry date in the future.
• Ojenagbon is a public affairs commentator, lives in Lagos.
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