Letters from TZ

‘We the people’ doesn’t mean much in Africa

There was a television advertisement a few years back that featured children who spoke about what they wanted to be when they grew up. I don’t remember who the advertiser was – I think it was a bank or a cooperative society – but I will always remember the children. They were full of expectation, as they looked directly into the camera and spoke with a confidence borne of childish naiveté. “When I grow up I want to be a doctor,” one child said. “When I grow up I want to be a farmer,” said another. “When I grow up I want to be a policewoman,” said an adorable little girl who didn’t look like she had the gumption to direct traffic or the inclination to ask for a bribe.

Those children are probably all grown up now. Sometimes, when the advertisement comes to mind, I think about them and wonder where they ended up. Did they do what they said they would or did they fall by the wayside? It was interesting to note at the time that none of them wanted to grow up and be a leader, almost as if they realised that being a leader is a character trait, not a profession. But even then, did any of them end up in politics? Are any of them walking around with their chests puffed out because they occupy an office that accords them respect they do not deserve?

It baffles me no end how press people insist on referring to members of Parliament, ministers and such as ‘leaders’? By whose standards do they fit the bill of leadership? Does a leader merit the title simply because he or she has followers? If that were the case, everyone on Twitter would run for office.

Incidentally, it was on Twitter that I first began to hear murmurs about an American named Ted Nugent. He has been in the news a lot lately for his verbal attacks on President Obama. His latest comments were so vicious that the Secret Service has asked him to present himself for questioning. The musician turned conservative activist was quoted as calling the Obama Administration “evil” and “America-hating”. He went on to encourage voters (while addressing a convention organised by the National Rifle Association) “to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November”. Many have called him out for being a rabble-rousing racist, but others have taken issue with the declining respect Americans have for both their President and his office.

One writer who works for the US News World & Report bemoaned a culture that no longer defers to authority. “Although I’m not that old a [woman] yet, I am seeing a growing number of Americans disrespect not only the man in the Oval Office, but the office of the president. It seems the older I get, the less respect Americans have for our commander in chief. Some will say this is just Nugent being a loudmouth…but when will the use of such language stop? And the disrespect!” Leslie Marshall said.

Whatever your views may be on the ‘leader of the free world’, and despite being at an all-time popularity low around the world, the office of the American president still commands much respect. Usually, the occupant is respectable too, although oftentimes he is not. But no matter which conspiracy theory is doing the rounds about the current White House tenant, as long as Americans have a road system that works, water in their taps, lights that stay on and basic education, he deserves respect.

Here in Africa, it’s the people who deserve respect. ‘We the people’ are little more than a human doormat that our ‘leaders’ wipe their feet on. We continue to labour under the misapprehension that they care about us when the fact of the matter is, they don’t. In Africa, the ‘leaders’ insult the people, not the other way around. We sit there and listen patiently as presidents bandy about insults under the guise of comedy, calling us mavi ya kuku (chicken faeces) and pumbavu (imbeciles), as if that were the natural order of things.

Which is why I was surprised to read this headline on Thursday: TZ milked dry as ministers watch: MPs. The text went on to explain how “emotionally charged MPs launched fierce criticism of the government [on Tuesday] charging Government ministers with perpetrating corruption”. The legislators complained about the massive looting of public coffers under the watchful and complicit eye of government they claimed. I wondered if there was a full moon, or if it was April first, in the end concluding that the Mayans were right, and this is the year that modern civilisation will collapse. Such momentous acts of empathy could only occur in the end times, surely.