Africans Still Stuck in the Colonial Past

Published on 12th January 2010

It is close to 50 years since the British left us to determine our socio-economic and political progress. At the time of independence our country was at par with the Asian tigers such as Singapore and Malaysia in development. Today these countries are 100 years ahead of us in development. What happened to Kenya?


There are many reasons one could give, but one stands out clearly: leadership. In matters of societal progress, natural endowment of resources such as gold, oil, copper, good soil, rivers among others cannot be a substitute to having an effective leadership. Our past and present leadership is characterized by individuals who were socialized in colonialism. Colonialism’s main thrust was domination of natives. Colonialists first dominated the Africans politically and used that political domination to influence our economics and social affairs. Once they dismantled the African’s way of socio-political organization, they had us captive. They embarked on the mission to exploit and repatriate the loot to their motherland.


Forget those nonsensical arguments that the Whites colonized Africa so as to civilize Africans. What is civilization? Is not civilization another name for culture? Didn’t we have our own culture? Isn’t ethnocentrism to consider one’s own culture superior to another’s? Isn’t this kind of thinking that drove us to slash each other with machetes? Who needs that kind of civilization? The British’s sole mission of colonization was to exploit our human and natural resources to enrich themselves and their mother country.


Moving on to our discussion on leadership, don’t our leaders exhibit behaviour similar to the colonialists? Isn’t their mission for leadership closely related to the colonization mission?


First, like colonialists, these leaders have inflated egos. They think that they are the best amongst us and know what is good for all of us. Do you read a similarity to the white’s racist thinking? Our leaders seek office to acquire riches; first themselves and then their friends, and all these take place at the expense of the dominated.


During colonial times, the Africans were dominated and forced to work in plantations of coffee, tea, sisal, pyrethrum for small pay so that they could pay tax to the colonial government. The Africans who were forced to grow coffee and tea  were not even given a chance to decide what price to sell the coffee or tea to the white man.


Let us relate this to our today. The characters that took over leadership from the British at independence today continue the same economic policies of exploitation. They are the middlemen selling coffee and tea abroad at exploitative prices. The coffee and tea workers continue to pay tax from their meagre earnings from the coffee farm. In colonial times our people paid taxes to support the largesse of the white governor and today with our black governor, that is the story. 


During elections, leaders come together and divide us into different tribes and assign themselves who will be the governor of which region. Isn’t that what happened during the  Berlin conference when the Europeans decided that instead of coming to wrestle each other and display their barbaric and savage behaviour before a black man, they would share Africa quietly and then collaborate in exploitation of resources therein as long as no one crosses the border of the other? The same thing happens with our leadership.


Why is all this happening unmitigated? How can we stop it?


To start with, we must realize the irreplaceable role leadership plays in the development of any society. It is the leaders who manage the human and natural resource for the good of all. When you have people who think they are God’s gift to the people, they are the best and they must lead you then you have a problem; When you have leadership that divides you into ethnic cocoons so as to rule you, you have a problem. When you have selfish people presiding over distribution of national resources at your expense, then there is a problem. When you have leaders whose worldview was socialized in the colonial mentality of exploiting the masses then there is a BIG problem. When you have people who are in their diminishing return years making decisions that they won’t live to see their impact, then you have a deep problem.


The current leadership has individuals who grew up in the tutelage of either former president Kenyatta or Moi. We all agree that our problems started with Kenyatta’s leadership. It was worsened by Mo’s leadership. Doesn’t that just mean that all these people laying claim on the 2012 presidency are full of primitive leadership style of Kenyatta and Moi? If they did not advice Kenyatta or Moi on how to organize society better when they were cabinet ministers, what has happened to them to be good leaders today? Why do we recycle these characters?


It is a fact that countries that have had highest democratic turnovers of leaders enjoy high development. Some of the ministers today were in cabinet when President Obama was a toddler. Isn’t it inhuman on the side of young people to have these wazees persevering jetlags to represent us in international missions?


The world today moves on the gears of technology and most of these oldies cannot even send a text message. Not long from today, the United Nations Assembly will be done through teleconference. How will these non- techno savvy individuals survive?


We need a leadership that has a well thought ideology to organize us politically so as to realize our economic and social dreams. Let me emphasise that we must get it right politically for us to realize our economics and then followed by social tidings. Ideology is the framework for organizing the society and that is what we don’t have.


The leaders we have are ideologically barren. The ideology we require is one that will give each person opportunity to play their rightful role in developing Africa. That ideology must ensure that all of us gets returns from our input and no one puts in less and gets more or everything. Therefore, why can’t we Africans think seriously about this leadership subject to give ourselves a leadership we deserve.


By George Nyongesa

Former Chair, Bunge la Mwananchi.

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