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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Columnist: Ennin, Baffour

The enigma of the African Politician

Baffour Ennin, Washington, DC

Professor Dennis Levi of University of California, Berkley, once described “crowding” a perceptual phenomenon as “an enigma wrapped in a paradox and shrouded in a conundrum.” This quote unquestionably befits the quintessential African politician.

Who is an African politician? An African politician is almost invariably a man and in a few instances a woman. In Africa, politicians don’t necessarily have to be elected to office. In fact he may not hold any office or hold any official title, yet because of his influence in the government in power, he becomes a politician. An African politician can be in power for hundred years but never once will he stand for election. If and when an African politician subjects himself to election, the outcome is inconsequential since electoral rigging is the norm on the continent.

Most African politicians just emerge on the scene with guns blazing. They immediately declare themselves chairman, president or emperor for life and then begin a campaign of looting and destruction. Just look at the “before and after” politics photo of the African politician. Almost all of them look emaciated when they first burst on the scene. The “after” photo shows pot-bellied specimen of a human being with the telltale signs of the diseases of the affluent- insulin-resistant diabetes, gout and obesity.

African politicians always try to perpetuate a dynasty. It could be a family, tribal or party dynasty. Sons succeed fathers. In the case of a tribal dynasty, an African politician perpetuates the hegemony of a tribal minority.

African politicians are notorious for their awards, titles and accolades and you dare not call his name without the titles and accolades. Any time a politician’s name in print is preceded by any of the following “His Excellency, Sheikh, Professor, Al haji, Honorable, Dr. or Chief” you know you are dealing with Homo sapiens called African politicians and always invariably a bunch of nincompoops! They always go out seeking those titles. Some go to this outfit in Raleigh North Carolina called American Biographical Institute and purchase the awards. Some pay unscrupulous colleges to award them undeserved honorary doctorate degrees. If nobody confers those awards on them, African politicians confer accolades on themselves like the late dictator Mobutu did. In 1972, Joseph-Desiré Mobutu renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga ("The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake."

African politicians are notoriously corrupt. The African politician can be a faceless bureaucrat sitting in a city, town or village office. The location does not make a difference. The African politician still exerts a lot of influence and power. If you need a service that falls within his purview of influence, you have to pay bribe or give the African politician a “dash.” Bribes can be in the form of money, goat or sheep or cow. The sophisticated corrupt African politician starts playing in the big leagues of massive corruption when he opens a Swiss account and hides his loot. I mean a big loot. His account balance at the Swiss bank is always in the millions of dollars. African politicians love the good things of life and the good life can’t be sustained only on their salaries. So, they resort to stealing. It’s only in Africa that a politician making less than $70,000 can afford to build a million dollar mansion without a mortgage. Politics is a lucrative business in Africa. Just look around you. You have your own story of rags to riches corrupt African politician living near you. It’s only in Africa that politicians can sue the State for millions of dollars for breach of contract, when the state had no contract with the politician.

African politicians are adept in creating problems and then they start charging fees in other to help you surmount the problem they created in the first place. African politicians don’t know how to draft laws. When African politicians try to draft a legislation, it is riddled with loopholes so much so that you will have to pay him bribe to assist you navigate the byzantine laws they passed in the first place. African politicians create problems and then blame others for the problem. When the African politician can’t blame anybody, there is always colonialism or imperialism and lately global events to blame for the problems of their own making. When African politicians do not have anybody to blame, they create one out of thin air. Recently, in a span of one month, politicians in Ghana, have blamed fuel shortages in Accra on the weather phenomenon called the polar vortex, blamed Ghana’s poverty on climate change and the cedi volatility on high rise buildings in Accra, dwarfs, voodoos or juju. Astonishingly, one politician blamed the current economic crises in Ghana on the biblical end times. Folks, the battle of Armageddon is already being fought on the shores of Ghana.

Africa indeed is a cesspool, only the scum gets to the top. How on earth could such scumbags be at the helm of affairs? Why do we let them get away with this? Why do we allow the African politician to do nothing in four years about the promises he gave the last time around and still re-elect him to power? Because we are gullible. All it takes are cans of sardines and corned beef and bags of rice and we vote and return corrupt and inept politicians to power over and over again. Are Africans stupid? An African-American pastor from Harlem, Dr. Manning thinks so. Just listen to Dr. Manning on for his scathing attacks on the black man. Just google his name and search Dr. Manning on South Africa.

African politicians have gained notoriety for crass ineptitude. Anytime the African politician does not know how to solve a problem, he holds a press conference or appoints a commission and then utters the infamous words of ineptitude “we are looking into it.” Once those infamous words are uttered, that’s the last time you will hear anything being done about the problem. Why? Because all African politicians conveniently have selective amnesia when it comes to fulfilling promises.

Every African politician says he is against corruption. Yet, corruption is pervasive on the continent. Have you ever wondered why the African politician is against corruption yet corruption is so rampant on the continent? The answer is simple. The African politician is busily stealing from the national coffers so that he can sustain his good life. An African politician who is still in power won’t accept the fact that corruption is occurring under his watch. When out of power, the African politician assumes the holier than thou tincture and blames every politician except himself as the epitome of corruption.

African politicians don’t know how to plan or to budget so they become global beggars. There is a saying that “you cut your coat according to the size of your cloth.” The African politician has never heard of that saying. So the African politician’s budget always has a foreign aid component. Every African country’s budget has a line item for foreign aid. The African politician does not know how to rely on the country’s resources to budget and he is always begging for foreign aid to balance the budget. Anytime an African politician meets a foreign dignitary who is not an African, the African politician’s first sentence is “help us to……..” They are always begging for help. What a shame!

African politicians love junketing and its concomitant per-diem. They never miss a chance to travel to Washington, London, Rome, Geneva, Vienna, and Dubai for conferences and useless meetings when a mid-level official could represent the country. African politicians are the butt of jokes for their foreign travels. In December 1993, then Senator Ernest F. Hollings Democrat from South Carolina compared African leaders to cannibals. He said, "Everybody likes to go to Geneva. I used to do it for the Law of the Sea conferences and you'd find these potentates from down in Africa, you know, rather than eating each other, they'd just come up and get a good square meal in Geneva."

African politicians are notorious for issuing “unfunded mandates.” His Excellency or Chief will issue a mandate like “drain all the gutters in the land or else.” Have you ever wondered, why in spite of the threat nothing happens? The answer is simple, His Excellency, Professor, Chief, Alhaji does not know where the money will be coming from to drain the gutters. They think that the more unfunded mandates they issue, the more their gullible citizenry will think that they are working hard.

The African politician is notorious for bombastic promises that can never be fulfilled. If you live in Africa now, just cast your eyes around and look at the roads near where you live. If you are lucky to have roads, the one near you is in a terrible state of disrepair for lack of maintenance. Yet, every day on TV and radio, you hear Honorable Chief Minister or His Excellency announcing a multi-million plan to build a new road network somewhere. Don’t you think it will be better for the African politician do declare a moratorium on all new road construction, until the current dilapidated roads are fixed and those roads still under construction that were started years ago are completed? Aren’t Africans tired of travelling on fair weather roads?

Every African politician speaks about self-reliance. Woefully, in the post-independence decades, there has been a trend away from national autarky toward greater global dependence and increased domestic vulnerability to external events. Since independence, Africa’s ticker tape of vicissitudes has stretched unabated: crushing external debt, sky-high unemployment, a worsening standard of living, pervasive crime, crumbling infrastructure and an unhealthy brain drain of professionals and middle-class Africans who have moved to places like England, South Africa and United States.

African politicians love to exercise control over everything and hate to decentralize. So they appoint teachers, policemen, firemen, librarians, social workers, district and municipal executives all from the capital. Then they wonder why Africa is in such a mess. The politician can’t keep up with sanitation problems in the capital city, yet he will promise a new state of the art waste management system for your village. There is an Akan proverb that says if a naked man promises you clothing, find out the meaning of his name. If he had clothing somewhere, why is he naked?

The issues I’m raising here are not akin to one country only. No, you are dead wrong! I’ve been to most of the countries in West Africa. They are all the same. All over Africa, what we have are dissilient governments, generationally fractured and propped up by an incongruously inept novices and soi-disant egalitarians who so far have proved that they are not up to the task of rescuing the continent from the conundrum it finds itself in. Africa is blessed with huge reserves of the world’s strategic minerals of chromium (80%), cobalt (59%), Manganese (53%) and Platinum (89%). We also have diamond, gold, petroleum, uranium and bauxite. Yet, we are poor. This is all because since independence, African politicians have continually pillaged the continent’s resources and stashed their ill-gotten wealth in secret Swiss bank accounts. In the bygone years, it was commonplace to see African politicians connecting flights in Geneva. Now, it is Dubai. Why Dubai? It is the new destination of choice for offshore banking and extravagant shopping trips.

African politicians are notorious for arbitrary and capricious exercise of ill-defined powers. Their word is the law. The African politician can order the arrest and detention of any citizen based on the politician’s whims and caprices and nobody dare challenge him or he will call you out as not “his co-equal, tweaa!”

African politicians know only one way of settling disputes, only through the force of arms. This explains why everywhere you look in Africa, there is a conflict. Western Sahara, Libya, Egypt, South Sudan, Mali, Chad, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Uganda are all embroiled in conflicts.

Unscrupulous African politicians always know how to exploit the wretchedness of fellow Africans in war torn countries. Any time you hear that African troops have been sent on a peace mission to another country, you know an African politician somewhere has hit pay dirt. They always find ways to siphon off money into their private accounts, money donated by the West and meant for the poor troops. Do you think African politicians volunteer troops to conflict zones because they love peace? Hell no! It’s another opportunity to make a quick buck. The soldiers on these peace missions only get a tiny fraction of the monies allotted by the West. The African politician’s favorite excuse is, we will use a large portion of the money to revamp the military and police back home. You know that’s a euphemism for diverting the money into his personal account.

Are all Africans including this writer fools? If not, why do we allow African politicians to continue doing what they do? Most importantly, why do we continue to return them to power in election after election? An African politician once raped an HIV patient and believed showering after the rape could prevent HIV infection, another African politician claimed to have found a cure for AIDS, one African politician once declared himself, emperor for life and another said HIV could not cause AIDS.

We need to examine the mind of the African politician and determine if there is something inherently wrong with him. African politicians while in power do nothing to improve the health care delivery system in their own countries. They are always going overseas for medical checkups. Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has become the destination of choice for medical tourism. In case of medical emergency, African politicians suffer the consequences of their own neglect and die an ignominious death. If they would spend a fraction of the country’s money and build first class hospitals in their own countries, some politicians will still be alive today. Unfortunately, they pay the ultimate price for their own stupidity. The death toll for former politicians is even higher when out of office because the state’s resources are no longer at their disposal to send them overseas for treatment. What’s wrong with the mind of the African politician? All they know is arrest my opponent and put him in jail. Most importantly, they know how to splurge on the good things of life in and out of office with looted money.

Baffour Ennin Washington, DC

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