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By M. M. Afrah

This 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.

"He names streets, football stadiums, hospitals and universities after himself. He carries a silver inlaid ivory mace or a fly whisk or a chiefly stool.

"He insists on being called ' doctor' or 'conqueror', or 'teacher of the revolution', or the 'big elephant' or 'the number one peasant' or 'the national miracle'…

"His every pronouncement is reported on the front page. He sleeps with the wives and daughters of powerful men in his government.

"He shuffles ministers without warning, paralyzing policy decisions as he undercuts pretenders to his throne. He scapegoats minorities to shore up support.

"He rigs elections. He emasculates the courts. He cows the Press. He stifles academia. He goes to church.

"His off- the-cuff remarks have the power of law. He demands thunderous applause from the legislatures when ordering far-reaching changes in the constitution.

"He blesses his home region with highways, schools, hospitals, housing projects, irrigation schemes and Presidential mansion.
"He awards competitive, overprized contracts to foreign companies which grant him…large kickbacks.

"He 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.

"He 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."

Now, 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.

Another 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.

Aden congratulated Abdirashid after a frenzied election campaign. He then loosened his tie, rolled up sleeves and went to the land, farming.

During 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.

Unlike other African heads of state, Aden had no Swiss bank account or villas to rent to foreign diplomats.

President 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 coup.

The 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.

Driven 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.

His 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 and Italian.

Today, 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.

Probably 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.

Many 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 banks.

Mr. 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

(Mr. Afrah is on vacation and book promotion on the side, and is expected to return during the summer)
The Webmaster.

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