A letter to Dr Kwame Nkrumah
Dear Dr Kwame Nkrumah
I offer you my fraternal salutations. I hope this letter finds you well. Forgive me your Excellency if that latter assertion seems odd to you, I come from an upbringing that instilled the belief in me that those who pass on are still with us in spirit. Although I do not know of the conditions in which you dwell, I hope my sentiments still bear reference. April is a month that symbolizes great sorrow for Africa, because you departed from this life on the 27th of April 1972. With the realisation that we are now in the month of April, I felt it necessary to bestow upon you a letter. In my recollection of you, I am reminded of a poem Nkosi Albert Luthuli loved dearly written by Henry Longfellow titled “A Psalm of Life”:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and ship-wretched brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
I ponder at times of what footprints my generation will leave behind in the sand of time. Frantz Fanon did advise that “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” We have not discovered our generational mandate nor do I think we are moving closer to its discovery. Although some may argue otherwise.
I write this letter Kwame to seek counsel as a young man dwelling in contemporary Africa without any sense of what his generational mandate or purpose is. Forgive me for calling you by your first name, this is my way of breaking the barrier of the old to the new. I want to have a personal conversation with you, one that is not restrained by the constraints of cultural conformities.
After the 27th of April 1994, we were told that we were free, that we had gained our right not to be oppressed, our right to be considered as a people in our native land. Every morning when I wake up I take a glance at my surrounding. I see a community living in the same poor conditions as the apartheid times, I then ask myself is this the freedom mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers were fighting for? Walking along the streets, I see a mother without a shelter to sleep, tears rolling down her face like streams of water as she realises that she cannot even feed her children, as I continue to walk saddened down the street, I see a crippled man begging for the mercy of those passing by. Is this the freedom that Mother Africa was promised?
I must be frank with you Kwame this letter is not a pleasing one. Africa is in the mist of calamity. Nelson Mandela in his autobiography wrote “The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road… The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.” Indeed the difficult road has emerged;
1) African leadership
I think the Bible verse in Matthew captures it holistically by saying “by their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” The fruits that contemporary African leaders have produced are bitter. Most leaders along with their families are looting the resources of their countries, and spearheading genocides and massacres on the very people they are suppose to serve.
In Kenya, members of parliament have awarded themselves an annual salary of US$100 000 in a country with an income per capita of US$1700, yet the country is in the midst of austerity measures. The President of Malawi Joyce Banda had to fire her entire cabinet amid corruption scandal, I am also bereaved to have to share with you that my own President, Mr Jacob Zuma is alleged to have built himself a house worth about R246 million amid the growing inequalities between the haves and the have-not in the country.
African leaders further lack a united vision, the stagnant African Union can attest to that. It has done nothing of real substance to emancipate Africa from exploitation. Africa leaders fail to realise that their cooperation does not arise out of choice but necessity. We were not oppressed and exploited as mere countries, colonialism was a system applied on a people as a whole-the Africans.
Sometimes Kwame, I have reservations about democracy. It presumes that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. Measures should be put in place to ensure that only those that are fit to hold office are allowed candidacy.
African leadership struggles to stimulate and retain its biggest resource-the people: The people are tired of maladministration and corrupt leadership. We live in unnecessary hopelessness, poverty and death from preventable diseases. We run to the West after getting a university degree to gain appreciation. The greatest crisis in Africa is not HIV, poverty or coup d’état- Its leadership, because HIV, poverty and coup d’état among others are tied in with leadership in one way or another.
The lack of visionary leadership to produce an African brand from our rich raw mineral resources exports to the West it due to selfish, backward thinking, hypocrite, unfaithful and opportunistic leaders some of which have been planted by post-colonial empires.
Material prosperity has become an opium of the African leaders. They have failed to put the interest of the people first. If only African leaders can understand the urgency of your utterances Kwame: “No sporadic act nor pious resolution can resolve our present problems. Nothing will be of avail, except the united act of a united Africa. We have already reached, the stage where we must unite or sink into that condition which has made Latin America the unwilling and distressed prey of imperialism after one and a half centuries of political independence.”
As we stand to judge our African leaders Kwame, we also need to take into account the circumstances in which they find themselves. Most of them grew up in poverty and under colonial rule, then suddenly they are surrounded by wealth and power which they have never been accustomed to. Africa’s socio-economic environmental condition might be such that it fosters corrupt leaders. It is possible that by picking on presidents, we are merely concentrating on the progeny of the problem. The root of the problem might very well be the poor socioeconomic environments in which African leaders are brought up in. It is no longer only the former colonial powers that infringe upon Africa’s progress but also the very people who we elected to hold office.
Our leaders Kwame, should learn from the inscription on Robert Sobukwe’s gravestone: “True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, and above all, a consuming love for one’s people.”
I still have a lot to share with you Kwame, but I do not wish to burden you with all the grievances that Mother Africa has at once. I shall be writing a series of letters to you each week, each letter will be focusing on a critical issue Africa is facing.
In conclusion, I would like to say; Africa the land of my pride, the land where my umbilical cord fell, African the land of prosperity and abundance, African the land of my forefathers, Africa the land of peace, do not stumble in your quest for absolute freedom and unity. There shall come a time, where we shall join Martin Luther King Jr in his song of joy. We shall also sing along “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.”
Yours in selfless service to Africa