By M. M. Afrah
is how American author, Blaine Harden, in his book,
"Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent,"
sees African leaders this way: "If you took a quarter
century of his excellencies the African leaders and tossed
them in a blender, you would come up with a Big Man who
looks like this: His face is on the money. His photograph
hangs in every office in his realm. His ministers wear
gold pins with tiny photographs of Him on the lapels of
their tailored pin-stripped suits.
names streets, football stadiums, hospitals and universities
after himself. He carries a silver inlaid ivory mace or
a fly whisk or a chiefly stool.
insists on being called ' doctor' or 'conqueror',
or 'teacher of the revolution', or the 'big
elephant' or 'the number one peasant' or 'the
every pronouncement is reported on the front page. He
sleeps with the wives and daughters of powerful men in
shuffles ministers without warning, paralyzing policy
decisions as he undercuts pretenders to his throne. He
scapegoats minorities to shore up support.
rigs elections. He emasculates the courts. He cows the
Press. He stifles academia. He goes to church.
off- the-cuff remarks have the power of law. He demands
thunderous applause from the legislatures when ordering
far-reaching changes in the constitution.
blesses his home region with highways, schools, hospitals,
housing projects, irrigation schemes and Presidential
"He awards competitive, overprized contracts to foreign
companies which grant him
manipulates price and import controls to weaken profitable
businesses and leave them vulnerable to take over at bargain
prices by his business associates.
"He affects a commitment to free-market economic
reforms to secure multi-million dollar loans and grants
from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. He
espouses the political philosophy of whatever foreign
government gives him the most money.
is -and makes sure that he is known to be-the richest
in the country. He buys off rivals by passing out envelopes
of cash or import licenses or government land.
"He questions the patriotism of those he cannot buy,
accusing them of corruption or charging them of serving
with foreign masters. His enemies are "harassed"
by " youth wingers" from the ruling party.
"His enemies are detained or exiled, humiliated or
bankrupted, or tortured or killed. He uses the resources
of the state to feed a cult of personality that defines
him as incorruptible, all-knowing, physically strong,
and kind to children.
"His cult equates his personal well-being with the
well-being of the state."
where does Somali leaders fit into Mr. Harden's definition
of African leaders? Mr. Harden omitted to mention the
good sides of some African leaders, including Aden
Abdulle Osman, Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela,
and until recently Kenneth Kaunda and Daniel
arap Moi who conceded defeat in elections described
as fair and free by independent observers from the Commonwealth.
good example of orderly transfer of power is Adan Abdulla
Osman, Somalia's first President at independence in 1960
who was defeated by his opponent. During the election
campaign, an umbrella of suspicion and rumours by vocal
minority aimed at unseating him prevailed in the country
in those days. Soft spoken and charismatic, he always
meant what he said and never minced his words. He patiently
spoke how the country will engulf in unending bloodshed
if the petty politicians continued to jostle for power.
Needless to say, his prophecy came true.
congratulated Abdirashid after a frenzied election
campaign. He then loosened his tie, rolled up sleeves
and went to the land, farming.
his Presidency, almost everybody made him look zombie,
but had survived. Now in his 80s he is very much alive
and kicking. Today he refuses to talk politics-the murky
Somali politics. It is not something he remembers with
affection. He is a farmer of first category. He clearly
prefers that way. He gave himself to this obligation and
has no nostalgia for his years in politics and later in
Villa Somalia. He broke his code of silence only once,
saying Somalia has become a country of blood path, warlords,
shameful blackmail, kidnapping, clan worshipping and guns.
It is a scene from hell.
other African heads of state, Aden had no Swiss bank account
or villas to rent to foreign diplomats.
Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was assassinated in the town
of Las Anod by one of his own bodyguards and a clansman
during a visit, which caused much grief in the country.
Barely five days later, in October 1969, Major-General
Mohamed Siyad Barre came to power in a bloodless military
General, who died in exile in Nigeria, ruled Somalia with
an iron fist for almost 22 years. When he seized power
he pledged to preserve democracy and outlaw tribalism,
but his years in power saw a failed dalliance with Scientific
Socialism with the blessing of the Kremlin, a disastrous
war with Ethiopia in 1977, economic stagnation and countrywide
rebellion against his regime.
by rebels from his palace in Mogadishu in 1991, General
Barre was forced out of stronghold in Garba-harey, Southwest,
he fled first to Kenya with his supporters and his huge
family before finding asylum in Nigeria in May 1992 where
he died of cancer.
only lasting legacy is the introduction of Latin script
(which religious zealots called Laadiin) and promoted
Somali as the official language in place of Arabic, English
many blame him for fanning the clan rivalries, which saw
Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Mohamed Farah Aideed mobilize
their forces, making the capital look like post-war Berlin.
The rest is history.
Mr. Harden is talking about Africa at a time when people
like Mohamed Siyad Barre, Dr. Hastings Banda-who called
himself "Life President", Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku
and other authoritarians, such as Colonel Mengistu Haile
Mariam and Idi Amin Dada, single-handedly ruled their
realms with iron first. In addition, because of the Cold
War it suited the West and the Kremlin perfectly well,
and for good reason. They supplied weapons and economic
aid to their protégés, and signed lopsided
treaties of friendship and cooperation with them to keep
them in power.
of these dictators tortured and killed, and withheld and
manipulated food aid during Africa's periodic drought,
to suppress dissent. Millions of people died in this way,
while the dictators smiled all the way to their foreign
Harden's blend of African leaders may probably come out
with some Western leaders as well, past or present and
that some of his accusations against African leaders are
rampant in the so-called Western democracies. Where were
Mr. Harden and his ilk when Hitler's Nazi Germany, Mussolini
of fascist Italy and dictator Franco of Spain wreaked
unbelievable devastations and wholesale massacre in Western
Europe? If contemporary events are to go by, African people
ditched all the dictators mentioned by Mr. Branden in
his book and a new era of one-person one vote has dawned
for many of them nowadays, and there is no going back.
Evidently, Mr. Branden and some of his fellow scribes
are out of touch.
By M. M. Afrah©2005
Afrah is on vacation and book promotion on the side, and
is expected to return during the summer)