The true African patriots

April 5th, 2009 | by addis portal |

They are regarded African heroes; people responsible for ridding Africa from the shackles of colonialism and setting the path for Africans to determine their own destinies.

Starting this Sunday, at 6:00pm, M-Net will be running a seven series documentary film om Mnet 101 entitled Great Africans, profiling the lives of Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela and Haile Selassie.

What they did for Africa is regarded by Africans and the world at large as patriotic. It was, among other attributes, their unshakeable devotion to the emancipation of their people and the heavy price they paid for it, with the likes of Lumumba paying with his life, which earned them the right to be referred to by many as patriotic.

And when one looks at the odds both internal and external that they faced, with the likes of Haile Selassie having to fend off an Italian invasion of his country with hunting rifles against the Italian MIGS that not only sprayed rapid bullets, but dropped chemical bombs; or Nelson Mandela having to spend most of his youth and a large part of his adult life behind bars – the true picture of their patriotism for their people and Africa as a continent is truly illuminated.

Today’s Africa though, is quite a different land from the one its patriots fought tooth and nail for. Thomas Sankara’s Burkina Faso according to the United Nations Development Report, is ranked as the country with the lowest level of literacy in the world, while Lumumba’s DRC is a dormant volcano, which some years ago erupted into what the United Nations called “the World’s deadliest war since WWII” claiming over 5 million of its citizens; and Madiba’s South Africa, though still a success, has of late shown glimpses of chaos, with the ruling ANC already involved in power struggles!

But whereas the documentary Great Africans highlights the indelible mark the likes of Selassie and co left on Africa, some critics have argued that some of the so-called great African leaders were as responsible for Africa’s woes as any party that has been accused of Africa’s ills. Their economic policies and political naivety crippled their countries, leading to catastrophic consequences.

Take Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first president and founding father of Tanzania. Considered a political philosopher by many, Nyerere in 1967 outlined his plans to turn Tanzania into a socialist and self-supporting state, which some termed as “African Socialism”. However his so-called “African Socialism” was to prove disastrous in the rural areas, where his “Ujama” community-based farming collectives met with resistance from farmers, leading to a substantial decline in production.

Long after his retirement, Nyerere conceded that socialism had failed in Tanzania and although he never apologised for his disastrous experiment of agricultural socialism, his admittance of failure was evidence of the acknowledgement that his economic policies were ultimately disastrous.

And although Nyerere made great strides in spreading health care and education, these were always at the mercy of economic conditions which kept his country dangerously short of resources. In the end, the state to which the agricultural economy of Tanzania had been reduced made Nyerere seem, at the end of his 23-year stewardship of the country, like an ineffective figure in practical terms, tarnishing his once-saintly image.

With just a primary education, Patrice Emery Lumumba emerged as one of the most vocal critics of colonialism in the Republic of Congo, leading to his being appointed the first legally elected prime minister of Congo.

But critics claim Lumumba’s political legacy though proud is questionable, with some claiming that the charismatic orator actually had very few positives in his short term of office, all due to his failure to fully grasp the political drama of epic proportions that was brewing around him; set in motion by the Belgians and Americans, which eventually cost him his life.

According to the Pan-Africanist American writer and historian, the late John Henrik Clarke, in his obituary of Patrice Lumumba, he claimed that Lumumba “lacked experience in explaining, organising and administering such a vast state like Congo”, leading to some catastrophic political mistakes by the charismatic Lumumba that caused his downfall.

According to the historian, one of Lumumba’s mistakes was his failure to be kind or courteous to the Belgians during the independence ceremony. In his speech that day, he for example announced too many of his future plans which included uniting of Congo and giving both political and military assistance to Angola, a country which at that time was still under European rule. “By announcing all these plans, Lumumba failed to realise that he had crossed the path of the unseen power manipulators who wanted to control Congo economically even if they were willing to let Lumumba control it politically,” says Clarke. In other words, he didn’t play his political cards right.

Also, Lumumba exhibited his political naivety on the international scene in his dealings with the United Nations. According to the Pan-Africanist writer Clarke, Lumumba had no steady policy towards the UN, confusing both his friends and enemies alike.

When the disintegration of his country reached dangerous proportions, Lumumba asked for military aid from the UN, which he got. But on realising that the UN troops could not be used as a private army to put down his enemies, he became disenchanted with their presence, turning to the Soviet Union for help.

By the time he was killed, Lumumba had quarrelled with every leading politician in Congo and his erratic behaviour had cost him friends within the African and international leaders. But to his supporters, Lumumba and most of the post-colonial leaders, a few mistakes aside, cannot be denied the honour of being labelled great African patriots.

Haile Selassie, though revered my many, had some critics too. In 1972, there was famine in Wollo, a town in the northern eastern part of Ethiopia, which run for two years, killing an estimated 200,000 Ethiopians.

This famine was brought to the world’s attention by the BBC journalist Jonathon Dimbleby, who made a documentary about it. But what infuriated many Ethiopians were the reports that Haile Selassie never knew about the famine and only found out about it after the documentary, making the Emperor appear ignorant of what happened in his country.

As for their predecessors the likes of Museveni, and Gaddafi, who are using the term patriotism as a tool to galvanise their populace into loving their country and sacrificing their all for it, the jury is still out about their real intentions of evoking the spirit of patriotism amongst their populace.

But going with the evidence at hand, with the likes of Mugabe preaching how “Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans”, yet showing scant feeling for his countrymen whose suffering is well documented; or Museveni’s latest preaching of patriotism, which attempt has been parodied by many as a case of preaching water yet drinking wine, today’s crop of African leaders stand accused of being mere masqueraders on the regional and political stage as defenders of patriotism, the reality being a continent being ravished by corruption, nepotism, illiteracy, human rights abuses etc.

Tit bits about great African patriots
In 1955, Patrice Lumumba was arrested for embezzlement of post office funds amounting to $2,200. He was released after refunding the money.
Thomas Sankara had an all-women motorcycle personal guard. He is also credited for having introduced the first supermarket in Burkina Faso’s capital, Quagadougou, by converting an army-provisioning store into a supermarket open to everyone.

Julius Nyerere is credited for having personally translated the famous William Shakespeare plays Julius Caesar and Merchant of Venice into Swahili, Julius Caesar becoming Julius Kaisari and Merchant of Venice, Mabepari Wa Venisi.

Haile Selassie is worshipped as the god incarnate among followers of the Rastafari Movement. Rastafarians believe Selassie will lead the people of Africa and the African Diaspora to freedom – they believe Haile Selassie is still alive!

In his retirement, Kwame Nkrumah was so frightened of being poisoned by Western intelligence agencies that he hoarded food in his bedroom.

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