The Conundrum of Great Pretenders By: Natnael F. Alemayehu
African leaders of our generation have been famed for their brutality, genocidal rule, and irreversible distinctiveness. Aside from the few leaders who chose to evacuate their position or were regrettably assassinated, Africa does not have a great list of nationalist leaders. In Africa’s post colonialism history, there have been three types of national leaders. First, there are elected leaders; these are leaders chosen by the people to be their representatives in government. Second, there are the selected leaders; they forcefully select and elect themselves into power. Third, there are the Kings of Kings; these are the leaders who might have come to power by the vote of the people or forcefully through violence but then, after testing their power for a few years, pronounce themselves “Leader for Life”, “President for Life”, “King of Kings”, or some such title. Even in modern times of information and global education, African leaders find a way to ignore their people, destroy free speech, and lust over power.
Today, however, Africa is left with only two types of leaders: The political leaders who bribe or force (or both) their way into power, who are the puppets of the West, waiting for a handout every time they sell their own national resources, destroy national assets and devastate the culture of their people, and those who have knighted themselves the “divine leaders” for life, who are the darlings of Western nations and are disconnected from their people, investing in Western companies while their economy suffers, stealing everything and anything they can and through their selfishness and hypocrisy, unknowingly allowing the West to manipulate them into thinking they are untouchable.
But there is one characteristic they all posses, which has been neglected for far too long when questioning the legacy of African leaders: They are bad actors and great pretenders, which is why they are easy to manipulate and overthrow given the right circumstances. When they come into power, they use brutal force; they destroy all opposition, especially intellectual opponents. They control the armed forces and brainwash the masses by convincing them that without their leadership the nation will ascend into social destruction, and they are the only hope. They destroy any type of educational structure the nation might have had while they educate their own kids overseas and brainwash the youth of the nation.
They pretend to be democratic but oppress their own people. They pretend to be socialists but accumulate all the wealth they can. They knight themselves kings for life, and steal everything from their own people. They are even unable to think for themselves, so they enlist Western institutions and corporations to ideologically and physically construct the country, while they pretend to rule. Some leaders have come and gone without learning and bettering themselves, let alone the nation.
The problem is they don’t want to do the work of building a nation. They wouldn’t know how. We need Ethiopian solutions to Ethiopia’s problems, Kenyan solutions to Kenya’s problems, and so on, in turn building a continental solution. We will never solve African’s problems with Western solutions. Political, social, or economic Western ideals are not for Africa. These leaders don’t have the mind, the heart, or the will to bring the people of their respective nations together to solve problems because they are only pretending to rule. Real problems are the enemy of pretenders; they don’t know what to do—which leads to their eventual catastrophic end.
When a new dawn rises and the populous realizes the scheme, these leaders have no choice but to use the army as their own personal cavalry or arm their paid supporters. If all else fails and they are still alive after a civil war, for which they alone are responsible, they and their family, with their billion dollars’ worth of assets and foreign investments, head to a neighbouring dictator’s palace.
African leaders are rarely remembered for the good they have done—because when it’s all over, they themselves don’t know what they did. They copied a political system from a different country and tried to shove it into the minds of the people. When the people did not understand, these leaders used force. When force did not work, they manipulated, lied, and, if that didn’t work, they killed those who opposed their ideas. They paid off those who were selfish and brain dead. They did not need a plan B or problem solving mechanisms because they themselves were the problem. Those who followed these dictators tried a new system with a different political belief, but the outcome was the same: They were left in chaos. Every African nation has at least two leaders who have followed in this system of trying to copy a Western political manifest only to turn the nation into a totalitarian state.
As our ancestors have told us, “It is darkest just before the dawn”, and we are witnessing a dawn as we awake to new ideas and a new realization of our nation. I understand our unity and urgency for a revolution. I wish for it, far more than my own existence. But we must also acknowledge the realities and outcomes of the current uprisings in other countries. We must not simply follow a trend but set our own goals and plan our own agenda for the unknowns of CHANGE, to follow. Uprisings and the change of this administration are not all that are needed. The revolution must be to change the system and start a new system of governance and social interactions within the country. We must begin the conversation with the word WE to include the people of the entire nation and not just a few who belong to a certain tribe, group, or background.
Anger is not a resolution, but a means to ignite the fire of revolution.
I see the anger and urgency for change in most of our community. Do not have me mistaken; I am as angry, as furious, and as ready for change as any one of my brothers and sisters. But we must not speak carelessly and instigate rebellion without proactively evaluating the sacrifice and outcome for each individual. Asking for unity is simply a question; actually uniting is progress towards a solution. Let us begin to lookout for one another so that the new dawn is not wasted in the name of hatred and divisiveness.
The New Leaders of Ethiopia [Africa]
History is the greatest teacher. We must learn from the mistakes of those who came before us. We must use their mistakes to better our decisions going forward. The interest of the people has to be the nation’s interest and the nation’s interest has to be that of the people. We have the minds and the physical ability to construct a nation for the people. We must first study the conditions and realities of the nation to socially and economically reform the nation to benefit the majority. We must not emulate or pretend to emulate what has already been done. We do not have to pretend to look like a different nation or live up to the expectations of an international entity. We must rid ourselves of our inferiority complex and begin to build an inclusive stage for a nation of the people rather than of foreign interests.
The American Influence
Americans love actors, as exemplified by their presidential popularity contest every four years. They also have a thirst for pretenders, especially in the Third World. Pretenders follow; they are not leaders. Americans don’t want leaders in the nations they exploit; it’s too much work. I am not proposing that the next group of leaders shut down the American Embassy and expel all American citizens. I am, however, warning that if we continue to construct our nation on the advice and recommendations of Western institutions and corporations, we will fall prey to the trap that holds the continent in its shackles. We need African thinkers and African ideas for African nations.
American Foreign Policy and Those Who Fall Prey [Interest for the Nation]
Although it is morally artificial and socially venomous, there is something to be learned and admired from the American foreign policy. The nation’s foreign policy is driven by one ideological mantra, “The American interest”. Even if you have done nothing wrong to affect their interest, they will use “the interest” to take what they want (e.g., Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, many African and South American nations). “The American interest” is a free worldwide visa, a license to kill civilians, destroy communities, and exchange good leaders for corrupt dictators.
Where is Ethiopia on the lists of “foreign policy” and “American interests”? Ethiopia is in the top half of the first list and somewhere in the middle of the other. But there is an interesting case to be made by Americans when looking at their foreign policy towards Ethiopia. They fear one thing: An Ethiopian leader who stands for the people. In the eyes of American foreign policy, Geographically Ethiopia is considered a great ally and friend in a troubled region, with a corrupt leader—one America can influence and manipulate. On the other hand, a leader whose priority is the nation and its people would become a problem. This leader or group would not let Ethiopian soldiers be used in neighbouring countries to advance the American agenda, or use our airports as landing strips for American war jets, or use our land to torture and kill our brothers and sisters from neighbouring countries; this would be a problem for the continuation of the current American foreign policy.
If they wanted Meles out, it wouldn’t have taken long. He is what they want. A leader who believes he is a politician, an economist, a man of the people, “a leader of the times”, etc. Individuals who think of themselves that arrogantly are psychologically weak and easy to manipulate. Leaders like Meles do not understand the power, the strength of a people because they are not intellectually capable of modernizing their ideas. They use old ideas to invoke new systems. They are old dogs, trying to teach a trick, which they themselves are unable to grasp. Hence, the country is in shambles, without effective governance, adequate social infrastructure, or a functioning economy. Isn’t it funny that, in country, which grew 11% in the last fiscal year (and in double digits annually), we have commodity price caps, constant power shortages in major cities, inadequate telephone service through out the entire nation and most of all hunger and famine the administration continues to reject.
Meles is the American dream—a man who pays his enforcers well and silences the people (with American supplied weapons); a man who believes in globalization, sells everything in the country but buys nothing in return; a power-hungry, self-loving dictator. If you were America, would you just give him up easily? Be honest.
Americans believe they must continue their presence in the zone. If the leaders, who follow this regime, disturb current arrangements, they better have the support of the people, because the Americans are ready to put another leader like Meles Zenawi. You can kill the people, destroy their resources and steal from them; the one thing you cannot destroy is the will of the people. They will stand up and defend the country if they are led by true leaders who believe in the country as much as the people. We need the people, not America. America or American politicians don’t care about Ethiopia or Ethiopian lives—at least, not until the event affects American interests.
This is what we must not become.
We have started the national development race a bit late, but no one runs long distance like Ethiopians. Let us not be afraid to actually think, debate, and construct our nation from within. Ethiopia is ours to save, not theirs to destroy. There is no better time than now to begin the dialogue of Ethiopian ideas and continue with national constructive action. Let us stop pretending and become a society built on action. We have pretended for far too long, and look where it has gotten us: Nowhere.