Opinion: Xenophobia, Robert Mugabe and other stories.

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Okenyi Kenechi

Robert Mugabe’s death on Friday sparked yet another robust discussions on leadership, politics, and economics in Africa.

There has been sharp division on the type of legacy that the late leader would be remembered for. These contrary opinions are welcome as they would shape minds and contribute to the political discourse towards a new Africa.

Mugabe was forced out of power in 2017 but not before leaving his country in tatters and virtually with no currency – thanks to the sanctions by the West following his land reclamation policy which, to be fair to him, he was forced to carry out do due to failure of the British and American governments to pay the agreed compensation on land the white Zimbabweans forcefully seized from the blacks.

Mugabe’s undoing was staying longer in power than necessary, thereby losing focus on the reason he was there in the first place. He had also failed to groom successors who share his vision of Pan-Africanism. The comfort attached to power by African leaders is the reason why the continent is a beehive of poverty, diseases, illiteracy and other indices pointing to underdevelopment. There is no sense of urgency attached to leadership in Africa, no competition to perform – just comfort. That is, perhaps, why a president would choose not to have a cabinet months after swearing-in, and there is no outrage, just quiet sniggering from people who should know better. Bad leadership has dire consequences and has resulted in the rising cases of xenophobia in South Africa. And despite claims that black South Africans are now in leadership positions, apartheid is still a religion there.

Like I have argued before, apartheid never died in South Africa. It merely took an economic turn which has shown not to be different from the segregation orchestrated by the Boers who reluctantly relinquished power in the early 90s. The economic exclusion of the blacks in the country forced them into a victim mentality, not against the people who excluded them but against those who they think are in the country to take from them.

But had Mandela reclaimed lands from the whites, would their case be same as that of Zimbabwe or different?

While the blacks lay claims to leadership of South Africa, the whites control the economy, education and other critical sectors of the country. The effect: Citizens who are poor in the midst of plenty, lack proper knowledge, prone to drugs abuse; those who think people who run small and medium enterprises are the problems and not those who control 80% of the land, mining rights, MNCs, etc.

Having followed reactions from the political elites of the country since the issue of xenophobia or a more practical term “Afrophobia” caught continental attention, Black South Africans, especially the elderly ones like to brag about fighting apartheid to liberate the country but they are not telling the truth. They the elites mostly freed themselves and their families. They have also basked on these stories to remain in power, but to what end? The economy of the country is still mostly in the hands of those who they fought to be liberated from.

All over the continent, those who fought for the independence of their countries have leveraged on that to stay in power indefinitely. This is mostly the mistakes of black freedom Fighters. From Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea to Togo down to Rwanda and Uganda, it is the same story of looting the resources of the people, pauperizing them, killing and forcing dissenters into exile and claiming eternal rights over leadership positions because they allegedly fought for it.

Every day, the Nigerian youths are bamboozled with the same story by these ageing block: “Our hard-fought democracy” or the obtuse “We fought the civil war to keep the country together”. My response to such claims, shallow as they are, has always been “to what end? Is the country not better balkanized than the sorry state we are in? Isn’t the country that they claim to have fought for a laughing stock in the committee of nations with no rule, increasing poverty, joblessness et cetera?

Many of the people who fought the civil war 50 years ago have capitalized on the strength of their stories to remain in power. To them, power belongs to them because they fought a battle they won with external help. And when I talk about power, I mean both economic and political powers, oil blocks et al. Those who have benefited from the consequences of their actions have been direct family members and other cronies. It has not translated into laws that will ensure equal opportunities and rights.

Same goes for those who allegedly fought the military occupiers who fought the civil war. The NADECO boys have taken over powers in some areas and are in bed with the same people whom they allegedly fought to hand over power to the civilian government. They are also comfortable with the 1999 Constitution, which is the biggest stumbling block to Nigeria’s development.

In all, Nigeria is getting worse. And as the old brigades are dying, new landlords armed with history are taking over. Their knowledge of history, if you care to know, is not for the advancement of the democracy they preach but is used to pitch one ethnic group against each other for their political expediency. That is Mandela’s mistake. That was Mugabe’s mistake, and that is why in 2019, black South Africans still think that Nigerians are the reasons they are not getting jobs.

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