Monday, November 04, 2013

'Idolising leaders is bad fellowship'
By Editor
Mon 14 Oct. 2013, 14:00 CAT

Dr Dela Adadevoh, the international chairperson for the African Forum on Religion and Government, says there is need to stop idolising leaders as the trend discourages diverse opinions.

"We need to stop a trend where women sing for leaders whenever they are leaving or arriving at airports. Idolising leaders is bad fellowship," says Dr Adadevoh.

We don't know if singing and dancing for leaders whenever they are leaving or arriving at airports is really such a bad thing. But we are certain that idolising leaders is a bad practice.

We seem to be really stuck in a culture of over-zealous worship of leaders, a culture which would look primitive in the eyes of our ancestors. As a result of this, our modern African societies have established a reputation for intolerance that is difficult to match.
This over-zealous worship of leaders, as Dr Adadevoh correctly observes, has led to our people being discouraged from having diverse opinions. When you idolise leaders, they can never be questioned or criticised by any citizen.

And sometimes we forget that our political leaders are not aristocrats, monarchs but elected representatives of the people. We so often try to equate our political leaders to kings or chiefs. They are not kings or chiefs. These are elected servants of the people. Kings or chiefs are not servants of the people - they are masters of the people. But even in our traditional society, kings or chiefs used to be criticised openly.

When people say that it is alien to our culture or custom or tradition to criticise leaders, they forget that in our traditional past, even chiefs or kings were the subject of satirical orations, through poetry and ribaldry. Even the ruthless Zulu king, Shaka, could be criticised openly. Now, try and criticise our politicians and see what happens to you in the newspapers, on radio and television. The following day, party cadres will surround your premises, demanding your blood.

And yet we are fond of justifying the way we govern ourselves and administer our affairs on our ancestral traditions! So, on the one hand, we proclaim that we are democrats and traditionalists and yet we do not know what the real Africans who lived before us practiced! This, we say, in the mistaken belief that it is alien - western - to have freedom of expression and criticism.

To date, people are dissuaded from criticism in several ways. First, the rulers make loud pronouncements against critics and criticism - calling the critics all sorts of names and accusing them of all sorts of things. Should this fail, African politicians resort to harassment and intimidation. Harassment takes many forms.

This is the legacy of post-colonial African power politics on most of our continent. No one will ever be embarrassed on our behalf except the familiar hypocritical rebels.

Where are our independent thinkers in our politics? They have been hammered to dust and pulp. Our leaders, relying on the might at their disposal, believe in themselves and the uprightness of their vision only.

Our societies have very few thinkers. History always tells us the greatest nations respected their thinkers. True, tyrants all over the world and throughout history have always been terrified by men of ideas, but ultimately more tolerant societies parted ways with their politicians and endorsed the contributions of their geniuses. When our future generations ask themselves who the greatest thinkers were at this stage of our history, what will they find? We are afraid they may come up with none. If they should see an amorphous mass of mediocrity ruled by fear of being thought different and in so doing subversive, it should not surprise us.

What we are striving to say is that African nations should take pride in their critics. Until we can allow our people the fullest and unencumbered expression in art, writing, sport and politics, we are in danger of teaching them a very simplified version of this complex universe. Very few African leaders however educated or intelligent they may appear to be in their suits or kentes can differentiate between a critic and a traitor. In popular philosophy, they say, "That is the way of Africa." That is, tyrannical rulers and uncritical people. Thus, critics and citizens, those rumour-mongering citizens can be intimidated by mobilised crowds of cadres high on dagga and intoxicated with alcohol and with a bit of money in their pockets paid to them. To agree with everything they say is divine, but to disagree is a crime. All critics inside or outside the party or government must be crushed!

Thus, before the people realise it, their hard-won independence spans one tyranny after another, prying on the original commitment of the masses. All the leaders become demi-gods of wrath. In this way, Africans are over-governed by petty-minded politicians obsessed with idolised visions of themselves.

Here, there is a mistaken notion that the "brawn class" rather than the "brain class" will rule the future of mankind, not the latter, nor a combined force of the two.

Yet history tells us that the greatest epochs in mankind's weary journey are characterised, not by subjugation of the intellect nor downgrading of thinkers and critics. On the contrary, the Greeks gave us Herodotus, the historian, Hippocrates, the doctor and Homer, the poet. Go to Rome, and see what democracy produced in the arts and sciences. Move to the more recent times and see the renaissance of the French revolution. Ironically, we take the greatest pleasure in admiring these eras and forget that the one real challenge they offer us perpetually is the development of sound minds, not the destruction of reason and intellect for the mistaken fear of losing power.

Africans have picked one ideology after another - a good thing. However, no one African leader has sought to marry his borrowed ideology with the political, social and moral ideologies of his ancestors. From their ancestors, they borrow convenient clich├ęs, not the substance, to bolster their eternal hunger for power, while from foreign countries they borrow a dry programme, useful only to win an election. There is no place for critics, thinkers in this scheme, for too many questions spoil the party.

Africa has certainly not learnt from history. Name a single country that does not harass its budding thinkers of integrity. Shamefully all over our continent, our politicians are anxious to reduce all people to an obsequious mass: oppressed, mutilated, hungry and terrified. A continent of weeping.

As we have stated before, until African politicians redress the imbalance between selfish pursuit of power and concern for the lives they are elected to protect, between arrogance and self-respect and humility, between intolerance and mutual tolerance, Africa will forever be mark-timing or marching backwards in very long strides.

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