I adore Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic Uganda, that much-tarnished Pearl of Africa. Do I see shocked expressions, cynical smiles, disbelief? I declare that gold is still gold, even if blighted by a little rust! Nothing that a little brasso and elbow grease cannot cure, restoring its fundamental nature, its lustre!
President Museveni, a much younger slimmer version with more hair and less tummy, who preferred battle fatigues to ill-fitting business suits, who wore headgear considerably less ridiculous than a broad stetson; one not as yet quite used to being Your Excellency, having been in power for just six months, made an incredible speech on Tuesday the 29th of July 1986 at the 22nd Ordinary Summit of the Organisation of African Unity in Addis Ababa. He stood before the gathered continental potentates, reclining in various states of twitchy arrogance, somnolence, senility, and insouciant imbecility, and in sonorous tones declared:
Over a period of 20 years, three quarters of a million of Ugandans perished at the hands of governments that should have protected their life …I must state that Ugandans were unhappy and felt a deep sense of betrayal that most of Africa kept silent while tyrants killed them. The reason for not condemning such massive crimes has, supposedly, been the desire not to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state, in accordance with the Charters of OAU and the UN. We do not accept this reasoning because in the same charters, there are explicit laws that enunciate the sanctity and inviolability of human life. While we accept and recognise the validity of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a member state, we strongly hold that this should not be used as a cloak to shield genocide from just censure. African silence in the face of such gross abuses, we should realise, produces results prejudicial to our just goals … undermines our moral authority to condemn the excess of others….Tyranny is colour-blind and should be no less reprehensible because it is perpetrated by one of our kind.
Of course he did not receive a standing ovation and wild cheers from his audience… octogenarians tend to get fidgety at the mention of toothless gums! But in all the free countries of the world there was a collective telepathic “Tell them!” while in the countries ruled by his fellow heads of state, there was a furtive looking-around, lest state security agents judge that you are enjoying the speech a little too much, or subscribe to the sacrilegious ideas espoused therein!
So where am I going with this? Stay with me just a little while longer – and I might just begin to make sense. I recall the great liberator Yoweri because of yet another fellow with a sonorous voice, a bad accent, bushy eyebrows and a secretive smile – one Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Today he made an unremarkable statement, in the class of the sun shall rise in the east and set in the west, there will be light in the day and darkness at night! And yet, due to the breathtaking foolishness that suffocates our continent, his innocuous utterings (maybe even mutterings!) have been elevated into profound newsworthy material. All he said was: Being African is not an alibi to kill Africans. Surely, that is obvious, isn’t it? That does not need saying, does it? And if perchance it does get said, should it not be met with politely disguised boredom, a droopy-eyed lack of interest? I say a resounding NO, because he made this statement at the United Nations in New York, and because he also said: In this building, the world … ignored the Rwandan genocide …
His statement cannot be dismissed offhand because in Africa, confirmed savages that we are, we have the inalienable right to hack our brethren with machetes, incinerate them in their churches and homes, bludgeon them and their children, eviscerate their pregnant wives lest they bring forth more of the same, and sever their private parts that they may ascend from being boys into being men as they bleed to death! Given our inherent right to violate their bodies, we naturally also have the right to evict them from “our land”, to irrecoverably damage their investment in property – built on “our” resources, to reclaim that which they unfairly ate because “their man” was in charge; ruin their livelihoods by evicting them from jobs that they won “unfairly”, or deny them appointments because they already had their turn to eat; the right to decline to pay rent on premises that we occupy because they grabbed them anyway and they are already rich enough! And having done all this, being the special people that we are, we can then forgive each other – surely “peace” and “reconciliation” are more important than being held to account, more important than justice? Isn’t it obvious that we can have reconciliation without the necessity of truth and justice? But again, being physically far from the Motherland may have clouded my judgement, numbed my understanding!
Allow me to quote my hero Museveni again, this time on dealing with the perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide, from a speech at the Conflict in Africa Conference, Arusha, Tanzania, as reported in New Vision, 11th February 1998: The international community must hand them over – and the sooner the better. The crime was capital and the punishment must be capital! Definitely a firm believer in crime and punishment, and the one matching the other! And to his credit, he did not insist on the lifting of the warrants of arrest against Joseph Kony of the Lunatics (!) Resistance Army to guarantee peace in Northern Uganda!
Friends, Kenyans, Countrymen – to paraphrase many great sages, you cannot appease evil, you cannot negotiate with it, you confront it, you defeat it, you crush it! We will be in great error if we imagine that a peace or harmony built on the expedient exigencies of the moment will be sustainable – the fact that scab covers the wound does not mean it is healed! For true healing, we must rip off the scab, however painful, and dig into the putrefaction beneath. We must subject ourselves to a national debridement – the removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue to improve the healing potential of the remaining healthy tissue. We must hearken to the words of Benjamin Franklin: They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety!
But how do we achieve this, you may ask? The primary disease is politics as usual, and the vector that transmits and sustains that disease is our collective ignorance. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be! It is the willful ignorance that fuels our tribal biases, it is the ignorance that leads us to believe the unbelievable because our Tribal Aristocracy says it is so, it is the crass stupidity that leads us to believe that our nation actually has 40-plus tribes – not just two, the haves and the have-nots, the wenye-nchi and the wana-nchi, the eaters and the eaten! It is the amazing self-delusion that builds in our minds a land of milk and honey, achievable immediately upon the election of our ethnic overlords to top national office! It is the ignorance that begets fear, a fear that will not let us try something different, deliver a national game-changer, by sweeping aside the entire leprous motley crew and giving ourselves a fresh start! It is the myopic ignorance that leads us to believe that “sovereignty” and “independence” are values that are above justice and accountability, and that we – a nation that can neither feed itself nor domestically fund its development – can actually legitimately complain about “foreign interference”!
I again cite Rwanda, and the words of one of my all-time favourite authors, Nobel Literature Laureate, Wole Soyinka, quoted in the Los Angeles Times of 11th May 1994: The horror of Rwanda is too high a price to pay for a very vaporous and whimsical notion of what constitutes inviolable territorial boundaries… Of course the African Union has been the most ardent defender of our sovereignty, alongside that of our fellow independent states on the continent, such as Libya. In describing the role of the AU’s predecessor club in the matter of Rwanda, Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, in the work Africa in Chaos (1998) observes: The Organisation of African Unity was nowhere to be found … during the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, the OAU was furiously doing the watusi in Addis Ababa! For the un-initiated, the watusi was the second-most popular dance craze in the 1960s in the United States, after the twist. Its name derives from the Watutsi, the primary victims of the genocide!
Koffi Anan, our saviour, the then Undersecretary-General of the United Nations observed: If the pictures of tens of thousands of human bodies being gnawed on by dogs do not wake us out of our apathy, I do not know what will!
We have instead chosen the path of appeasement – lest “the fragile peace” be broken! Brethren, remember the words of Winston Churchill, in rejecting suggestions that he should negotiate with the evil that was Nazism and Hitler: An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last!
But again, I am Kenyan – and perhaps these too are delusional rumblings: I know my country, and I know my people! Whether it be December 2012, or March 2013, we shall sit up all night and, with extreme tension and apprehension, watch the results roll in – and mourn as our tribe is “finished” or rejoice as our tribe is elected! And we shall then go out and slaughter livestock, or each other, to celebrate or mourn, in equal measure, the perpetuation of the hegemony of Ali Baba and the 15, 20 or even 40 thieves! And we shall continue to complain…. and wallow in blissful ignorance!