The late Pastor Myles Munroe taught that the significance of the race is not in the start, but the finish. Winners are not known for having been part of the start of the race, but for finishing well, in time and ahead of the rest of all who were part of the start. It is all in how the race is finished. Many Afrikan leaders in post-colonial Afrika started off with remarkable thrusts to change things, both in terms of the internal politics as well as on the international stage.
Practically every Afrikan leader upon assumption of post-colonial leadership had something to say about where the world, especially the western world, was going wrong in so far as Afrika was concerned. There have been different modes by which new Afrikan leaders attempted to assert themselves as different from the rest by sounding tough to the western world on the one hand, and appearing heroic and populist to their people on the other. Even bad ones like Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko had something profound when they came to power, such that they inspired some confidence in their own people if not the rest of the Afrikan news readers. When Mobutu introduced the philosophy of Authenticite Africaine (African Authenticity) he outlawed western music and western neckties and women’s short skirts. When Idi Amin ordered western diplomats based in Kampala to carry him to his office, he was hailed to be doing the right thing by humiliating ‘former enemies’.
In gauging appreciatively the trajectory of President Hage Geingob’s mark on the Afrikan continent and beyond, it is important to go backwards and trace the steps Afrikan leaders have traversed by doing the same things that he is doing, so that we are sane in appreciating what he is attempting to do and be realistic about how far he can go, in order to support him whether he succeeds or fails. There is a syndrome about and with Afrikan leaders that seems to repeat itself and it is that they start terribly well but finish horribly badly. In spite of the good beginnings that we must thank a few Afrikan leaders for, we must bear in mind and with respect to the good attempts, that Afrika remains stagnant in paradigms mainly because (a) Afrikan leaders try too hard to impress the rest of the world that they care for their people when in fact they are themselves the burden on the meagre resources their countries have; (b) Afrikan leaders cry poverty when they are with the western countries they compete against with their over-the-top lavish pomp and ceremony styles they wallow in as Heads of State, at the expense of national development; (c) they all speak for all of Afrika whereas they do not have the mandate to speak on behalf of the rest of Afrika who are not affected by their conduct, good or bad; and (d) Afrikan leaders in power do things that are more for their own glory rather than what is good for their people. For instance Western leaders speak for their countries and account to their constituencies and not their continent or race. Yet when these leaders fail they fail on their own, and not on behalf of Afrika!
President Hage Geingob made very impressive international statements on three major occasions since he took over the reins of the Namibian State. First, with his first appearance at the African Union in Addis Ababa on 13 July 2015, he made a strong plea that small states such as Namibia ought not to be considered as upper middle-income countries, but rather very poor so that they can qualify for foreign aid and international soft loans. Second, when receiving the African Leadership award of the Seventh African Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. on 18 September 2015, he spoke these words: ‘The Africa of today is an Africa which is witnessing the rise of accountable leaders who embrace democracy. It is an Africa which has risen and is on the march towards a better future … An Africa which has shed the skin of yesteryear and has taken on a new skin, ready to leapfrog to higher heights.
Therefore I am here to say, Africa has risen, Africa is on the march, Africa’s time is now’. Third, in his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015, President Geingob implored his fellow world leaders by saying: ‘Additional financial resources, foreign direct investment, official development assistance, as well as public and private finance, remain major sources of financing for poverty eradication and development.’ Geingob concluded his address by urging his peers to demonstrate the necessary political will and leadership to implement the post-2015 development agenda right away. The Namibian Head of State emphasized, “It is our duty as leaders to do the right thing and address the issue of poverty eradication to ensure that no one is left behind. This is the best legacy we can collectively bequeath to prosperity.”
What President Geingob said is absolutely right and appropriate, but the idea of a New Afrika is neither new nor unique, but is part of Afrikan politics post-colonial. Virtually everything significant Afrikan leader said something correct, necessary and appropriate for Afrikans not only in Afrika, but across the diaspora. The attempt to reinvent the wheel is part of Afrikan post-colonial leadership, for better or for worse! Here are a few examples in the lineage of Afrikan leaders who preached Afrika’s new beginning before, in one fashion or another:
• In 1906, a black South African student by the name of Pixley ka-Isaka Seme made a powerful speech at Columbia University in New York entitled The Regeneration of Africa. Seme later became the first Secretary General of the African National Congress of South Africa and the 5th President of that Organization from 1930 through 1936.
• In 1947, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe wrote about The Emergent Africa while a student in America as he developed influence in the West African freedom movement, such that he became the first President of Nigeria. He was overthrown by the military and not much came out of his emergent Africa. Nigeria remains stuck in the quagmire of change without change.
• Francis Kwame Nkrumah grew his teeth in African politics at Lincoln University and preached: Seek ye first political independence, the rest will be added unto it. Political independence came alright, but very little else was added and we are practically still where Nkrumah left us. Nkrumah was bold enough to teach that Africans had to be left alone to manage and mismanage their own affairs. We have done pretty well with mismanaging, not so much with managing for the sake of the majority of Afrika’s dwellers.
• Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt was a towering champion of African nationalism as opposed to Arab nationalism that Egypt has come to symbolize. He saw Afrika’s future in the unity of Afrikans and in their commitment to interact and trade with another for the pusoses of a stronger Afrika.
• Kenneth David Kaunda of Zambia’s commitment to Afrika’s welfare is beyond reproach; Kaunda used the meagre resources of Zambia to support, through subtle diplomacy and other means, the liberation movements, such as SWAPO. Kaunda spearhead many Frontline States towards the goal of black majority rule in Afrika, leading to a climate that caused him to be unseated in 1992 by a labour movement demanding change after Kaunda served Zambia for 30 years.
• On 30 June, 1960, Patrice Lumumba proclaimed in very bold terms the Republic of the Congo with the words: “We are not alone. Africa, Asia, and free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese. We are going to show the world what the Black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the centre of the sun’s radiance for all of Africa. We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble. We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.” Six months after Lumumba declared these words, on 17 January 1961, he was assassinated after he was removed from power shamefully—by his own people.
• On 11th January 1976, at an extraordinary meeting of the OAU, Nigeria’s Murtala Ramat Mohammed delivered a speech, Africa has come of Age. He was killed 34 days after making that famous speech, and Nigeria remains in terrible perpetual turmoil.
• Thomas Sankara, the gallant leader of the Burkina Faso Revolution, 1983-1987, was crystal clear about what his impoverished nation needed in order to pull themselves up from their bootstraps and introduced serious socio-economic reforms that led to his shameful assassination by his most trusted lieutenants in command on 15 October 1987.
• In June 1997, the then South African Deputy President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki unleashed the New African Renaissance at a business conference in Virginia, USA, when he said: ‘As Africans, we are moved that the world concedes that miracles of this order can come out of Africa, an Africa which in the eyes of the same world is home to an unending spiral of anarchy and chaos, at whose unknown end is a dark pith of an utter, a complete and unfathomable human disaster. Out of this same Africa, a new star of hope has risen …. As Africans, we have a vision, a hope, a prayer about what will come in the end. Those who have eyes to see, let them see. The African Renaissance is upon us. As we peer through the looking glass darkly, this may not be obvious. But it is upon us.’
President Mbeki was removed from power on 22 September 2008 by his own people.
Ubuntu has come and gone. The African authenticity has come and gone. The Renaissance has come and gone. What is important for us in Namibia is to know and appreciate that this is not the first time an Afrikan leader is speaking about a ‘New Afrika’. Afrika has been there before, many times, yet Afrika remains caught up in the cobweb of survival and beggar politics.
In all fairness, Namibia is too small a player on the world scale to make a dent in the life of Afrika. Bigger and stronger countries tried and failed terribly. The best legacy President Geingob can leave on the world scale is through what he does here at home to improve the conditions of the Namibian people in their daily battles against poverty.
The best he can do to have a legacy internationally is here by reducing the gap between the rich and the poor and by making the government bureaucracy lean, less costly and more responsive to the needs of the people. Tangible efforts towards these goals will give him a place outside of Namibia. The Achilles heel for how Geingob will be remembered is what he does to change the way government works in Namibia. If he can overhaul the education system by putting it in the hands of educationists who are developmental than political, improve the healthcare system, beef up safety and security for all people in Namibia, utilize the little wealth and expertise the country has instead of looking after comrades, and to develop the nation – while he can. The newness of Afrika is neither here nor there. There is only new hope and maybe new energy. The hopelessness is still there. The abuse of power is still there. The mismanagement of resources on government bureaucracies is still there for all to see. Afrikan leadership self-righteousness, greed, bangpraatpolitiek and the disease of patronage are the same they were at the turn of the century, namely, the cry for hope and the belief that someday life will be different. The only things that are different are the persons who say the things the world hears about Afrika. And one can understand why they hear these things with cynicism and roll their eyes in wonderment. Hence Professor Ali Mazrui argued that some Afrikan countries need to be recolonized, and there are many people in West Afrika who ask the question: When will this independence be over?