Dance of the Forests

Carnet Hebdo

It must undoubtedly be an encouraging sign for many of people in the African continent to see that high-profile politicians are not above the law.

Three weeks ago Karim Wade, son of former the President of Senegal, was arrested and sued for illicit enrichment. Yet major reforms and inroads were carried out in education, health, public infrastructure and economic policies during Abdoulaye Wade’s term of office from 2000 to 2012, which was a complete break with 40 years of socialism.

However, in the course of time, the effects of unbridled liberalism impacted on the lives of citizens giving rise to huge disparities in income, rising costs of living and widespread unemployment. Worse, the President cancelled elections and adjourned Parliament at will, and single-handedly took decisions on major issues without consulting opponents and public opinion. Commentators refer to his ‘reign’ on account of the autocratic and monarchical inclination that characterized his way of handling the country’s affairs. His son served as a minister under his rule, and apparently, served himself well if we go by press reports.

Egypt‘s former President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced on Wednesday to three years for embezzlement of public funds. Guilty or not, the fact is that ministers can be dragged to Court for wrongdoings in the African continent, and other countries in the region including small islands had better learn a lesson or two from Senegal.

The dream of populations in post-colonial societies began to unravel when they started realising that the new leaders who had stepped into the shoes of former colonial masters were drifting away from the noble task that had been entrusted to them, that of managing the country’s affairs, to instead feather their own nests, promote self-interest and satisfy the greed of relatives, friends and cronies. The feudal mindset which consists in considering a country and its people as the private property of the governing body is still prevalent in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and so-called democratic islands.

Before Independence, a group of future Nigerian leaders were visiting students at Leeds University. One of the students was Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s famous intellectual and writer. After meeting them and listening to their discourse, young Soyinka sensed that the destiny of Nigeria could not be trusted to these people, he stated later.

Responding to the request of the new government for writing a play on the occasion of Independence, he wrote ‘Dance of the Forests’ — a play which infuriated the elite and incensed the erstwhile leaders. Why? They were corrupt but not stupid. They understood Soyinka’s thoughts and message: the past was not glorious, past evils hold a firm grip on the present and Independence does not herald a golden era. In other words: dismiss illusions about a mythical past, do not harbour illusions about better governance by ‘our own people’. Subsequently the writer had to leave Nigeria and live in exile.

Soyinka skilfully used metaphors to convey his thoughts. The first scene opens in a forest with a dead man and a dead woman rising from the ground with a suitcase in their hands, bewildered and lost, looking for someone to take their ‘case’. The forest represents the original abode of mankind, the people rising from the realm of the dead stand for the past, and their ‘case’ alludes to the burden of evils that accompanies them in the present. The half-born child tossed around from one character to another during a ritual around a fire is the most powerful metaphor which epitomizes the newly-created state claimed by different rival political parties and ethnic groups as their own property.

Even Demoke, the artist, who carves out totems in trees, is corrupt. He cannot admit that his apprentice is smarter than him, and while the latter reaches the top of the tree to carry on his work, Demoke slyly murders him by pulling down his leg out of jealousy, and letting him crash to the ground. All this is full of meaning for anyone who cares to understand.

Ethnic strife, divisions and the thirst for power which led to the Biafran War confirm the writer’s pessimism and wariness as regards the commitment to the country’s welfare of those at the helm of power.

Societies that have risen from the status of the half-born child in half-baked democracies are still fondly and stupidly believed to be wallowing in a state of infancy by the ruling class. Considered as retarded infants, the people are not consulted with respect to major reforms in the country. Right now, one may ask: How will the advent of a French-style Second Republic impact positively on the lives of citizens in Mauritius? Whose life is it going to change exactly? What is wrong with keeping on with the present Westminster model? It should matter to us whether a Second Republic will make politicians accountable to the population. If not, what’s the big deal about it?

In a small society where certain arms of the State are perceived to be relatives, friends and cronies, politicians unscrupulously consider themselves as Untouchables. Investigating agents of the State are paid from public coffers to have one and all respect the law; and they are not themselves above the law. Apart from very rare cases of conflict of interests involving politicians, if warranted there must be no hesitation to enquire into the illicit enrichment of anybody — politician or otherwise – if only to demonstrate that all citizens are equal before the law.

Post-colonial societies are replete with leaders who take grandstanding postures against colonialism in their rhetoric, and once in power they rob their country’s hard-earned money and rush to the country of former colonial masters to buy luxurious villas, apartment blocks, mansions overlooking lakes, luxury cars, not to mention the money stashed away in Swiss banks. How many briefcases full of bank notes obtained as ‘gifts’ from big businesses travel between Singapore, London and Paris in the hands of politicians and their lackeys are not known to the public.

From 1968 to 2014, has there been any illicit enrichment of politicians in Mauritius? Perhaps that should be a serious priority before the next elections for any truth-seeking journalist or historian to inquire into rather than waste the country’s time with a Second Republic. It is high time a public platform demanded transparency and a higher set of principles in the governance of the country and not content themselves with half-truths, which would keep the population at the level of the half-born child, in a permanent state of immaturity and infancy.

Over here, the mainstream press and a few editorialists are largely responsible for building up the image of politicians and presenting them as leaders with so-called ‘charisma’, and hence they go down in public opinion as being irreplaceable semi-gods. People end up believing that the cloak of prime ministership befits only two or three people. Which is totally false, of course.

In 1992, after the outcry raised by Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax which forced her to resign, the name of Tony Blair hardly began to appear in the press. And yet, he soon became the Prime Minister. So did others who did not hog press headlines until the day they presented their candidature. Obama was hardly talked about before his famous speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial when he officially announced his candidature for presidency in 2006. Manuel Valls was discreetly walking a few metres behind Segolene Royal during the latter’s presidency campaign in 2007. So how do you define charisma and ability?

Let us hope that Narendra Modi’s election in India sends the bells tolling for dynastic politics and puts an end to the political career of worthless brats, sons and daughters of half-baked politicians, impostors, self-proclaimed architects of the nation’s prosperity not only in India but in other countries too. Otherwise, we might be plagued with the same breed and names decades after decades. He respectfully knelt down and touched the step to the entrance of the Parliament, thanking the democratic system of India for allowing a poor man’s son to become Prime Minister. In his first address to the electorate in Varanasi, the meaning and duty of Sarkar was skilfully repeated as a leitmotiv to convey his determination to bring efficient and clean governance to the country. It remains to be seen to what extent the slogan Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas will materialize in the near future.


* Published in print edition on 23 May 2014

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