Barring a few exceptions, in most post-colonial societies one common point people used to share, and unfortunately, still share is the feeling of shame and betrayal about the twisted road of corruption that leaders set their countries on once they stepped into the shoes of former colonizers.
From Africa, Latin America, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia to the small islands, the dream was of progress and advancement at all levels – economic, political and cultural – for the general welfare of their people. The deception of the people is in the way they shake their head, feeling ashamed and helpless. It is as if the hope and expectations sparked by independence movements vanished into thin air and the ideals set by outstanding leaders of high calibre who initiated those movements were trampled upon by their successors.
Some solace though was derived from the worship of national icons whose names came up in conversations – Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Bourguiba, Gandhi, Lumumba, Senghor and others, who gave them pride and hope. While some of their brethren scanned the horizon, packed up and boarded the first plane that could fly them off to blessed lands of opportunities, others stayed behind and waited patiently for the light to show up at the end of the tunnel in their dear homelands that were classified into such categories as ‘developing world’ or ‘Third World’ in the self-confident discourse of powerful and influential developed countries.
This is not what we wanted. ‘We’ means ‘we the people’ and ‘this’ refers to the quagmire their countries were stuck in for decades after decolonisation. Of course, nobody wanted that to happen in Algeria, Ethiopia, Togo, Mexico, Argentina, Tunisia, Haiti, Morocco, Gabon and other smaller countries. But it did happen – the economic stagnation, corruption, looting of resources and public coffers, self-enrichment of elected representatives of the people and the decay of institutions.
Any right-minded African will tell you that the underdevelopment of Africa was mostly due to the inefficiency of corrupt rulers who perpetuated the rapacity of their former colonial masters for their own clannish benefit. They ruled their country and dreamt of purchasing villas in France, apartments in London and heavy bank accounts in Swiss banks funded by bribes, ‘commissions’, generous and hefty rewards for easing business and signing contracts and so on.
The former colonial powers knew the weaknesses of the would-be leaders and shrewdly manipulated them into signing agreements which mainly suited western interests. They knew who would respond to flattery, who could unscrupulously trade off their own people and even their lands in return for personal gain.
How did Israel manage to transform desert lands into an oasis of prosperity? Political will, visionary leaders, technology, ambition and a sense of responsibility. Above all, a strong identity that unites its people and one of the highest IQs in the world for several reasons. Elsewhere, the caricature of mimicry and the thirst for grandeur was no doubt the grotesque enthronement of Bokassa as Emperor in 1976.
All this is past history now, one may say. From Venezuela, Brazil, Senegal, Indonesia, and India to Ghana, most of them have climbed the ladder to become classified as either ‘developing’ or ’emerging’. They are no longer relegated to the waiting room of history by the great powers that have started opening their doors to let them join the club of developed nations. Even their cultural productions and literature are no longer confined in the waiting room awaiting recognition by more enlightened countries.
What progress! Well, not exactly. We are still pondering over brain chemistry and the way it engenders greed in rulers who find themselves in a position of overlordship. Or should we rather say: what is the life span of that irresistible thirst for acquiring more and more riches? Small wonder that Mo Ibrahim, Sudanese-British mobile telecommunication billionaire, crusaded to promote good governance in Sub-Saharan Africa and offered $5 m to leaders who get rid of corruption and work for the general uplift of their countries.
Underlying the façade of modern institutions and the rule of law, retrograde mindsets still show up in the way elected bodies relate to the country and the people notwithstanding economic progress and international awards to ministers, big companies, hotel groups with record turnovers. It is the way they relate or cling to power as hereditary monarchs.
‘They’ refers to those who operate in the public and corporate nexus. In the fist case, there is a propensity to regard the country as their private property and the population as subjects they are not accountable to. Incompetence struts around as virtue. Law-abiding citizens are harassed and molested by the police upon orders from higher spheres.
Criminals get away with a few years in jail, while petty gandia peddlers who try to get some money to build a house are sent up for 20 years. Governance and policies are redefined as keeping the bosses, their friends and families happy. Every single instance of violation and defiance of the law ranging from the basic ones like breaking traffic rules, illegal hawking on pavements and in the streets, the feeling of impunity going up to murder and financial scams can be traced back to the abdication by the State of its primary duty of clean governance.
In the second case, wildcat capitalism is a blessing for both the corporate world and the governing bodies irrespective of political parties including those who are impatiently waiting for their turn to take over. Instead of trickling down to the masses, the juice is filling up and overflowing to the heads of big companies thanks to a policy of low wages for workers. The hotel industry is one glaring example.
While 18 to 34-year olds in developed western countries are scanning the horizons for better job prospects elsewhere and packing up to fly to former colonies and emerging economies, others are still dreaming of being considered as mature citizens and getting rid of corrupt mindsets which confine them in the waiting room where they are occasionally lured by Faustian bargains and served briani, macaroni and such stuff to contain their impatience for better days.
* Published in print edition on 29 November 2013