By Field Ruwe
“The youth of the African continent should prepare themselves for a rebellion against their older generation and claim their leadership role,” said former president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki at the youth global forum in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this year.
If Mbeki were a Zambian he would be a rebel for the gallows. The president would order he be dealt with severely for inciting an uprising or insurrection. The Minister of Defence would accuse him of treason. The Minister of Home Affairs would order for his capture, and “The Men in Black” would damp him in Gehenna.
Although the word “rebellion” subsumes different definitions, it is construed as an anathema by African rulers. It is the reason for conflicts, the devastation of many nations and the ruin of our pride as Africans. It carries with it pejorative connotations like terrorism, mutiny, subversion, military coup, civil war, ethnic cleansing, and guerilla warfare. It is disruptive, entails violence, and is often tragic.
Mbeki can tell a rebellion when he sees one. “Born into the struggle” as he describes himself, he joined the ANC at the age of 14 and was involved in rebellious activities. He enrolled in Umkhonto we Sizwe, a military wing of the ANC, and spent 28 years fighting the racist government of South Africa. When I first met him in 1976 at ZBS (ZNBC)’s Studio H, at the Lusaka studios, he and his comrades where conducting sabotages on the apartheid regime from their Makeni farm house.
But when Mbeki applied the terminology “rebellion” this time around he was not calling for similar action. He was not calling for a guerilla war, coup d’état, or riots per se. He was not referring to the Jasmine Rebellion—the explosive wave of street protests in Tunisia that ousted the authoritarian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who until 2011 ruled the country with an iron fist.
Mbeki was not referring to the Egyptian Tahrir Square Rebellion that began in January 2011 and led to the eventual removal of the long-time president Hosni Mubarak nor was he talking about the downfall and subsequent demise of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. He was not inciting the youth to conduct a wave of rebellions similar to the ones sweeping the Middle East. No, he was not. His message was clear:
“To ensure that [the youth] actually exercises the leadership everybody rhetorically accepts and proclaims is its due, the youth must organize and ready itself to rebel, so to speak!”
Mbeki was forced to use the word “rebellion” because of the wanton destruction greedy, obstinate, aging African politicians and military rulers have caused.
While countries from Asia to South America have arisen from paucity, Africa has shamelessly failed to realize its potential. Flying over the African continent one is forced to agree with the grandfather of racism, German Philosopher George W. Hegel who in 1830 stated that the world has no room for Africa. “It is no historical part of the World,” he said. “It has no movement or development to exhibit. What we properly understand by Africa, is the unhistorical, undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the World’s History.”
Hegel may have insulted the entire black race, but sadly his words ring true to this day. We, the inhabitants of Africa have been excluded from the mighty progress of Spirit because we have failed to create world-class institutions, human capital, technological and physical infrastructure. As we stand, we are centuries away from becoming an industrialized continent.
Why? Several explanations have been advanced to explain our exclusion, but the main one is the unintellectual, mediocre leadership exhibited by aging recycled avaricious politicians.
On March 6, 1957, black Africa scored a first when the Union Jack was lowered and the Ghanaian flag hosted in Accra. Kwame Nkrumah, sub-Sahara’s first prime minister, declared in a youthful tone: “We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations, that we are prepared to lay our foundation, our own African personality…We have awakened. We will not sleep anymore. Today, from now on, there is a new African in the world!”
With Nkrumah’s assurance we set off on a path to prove the bigoted Hegel and his goons wrong, or did we? It did not take long for African leaders to start exhibiting their “wild and untamed” nature. They took the eye off the ball, turned their people into serfs and became citizen-beneficiaries and turned central banks into their savings accounts.
Between 1966 and 1991, we saw the rise of dictators, life-presidents, dynastic and hegemonic rulers, and get-rich-quick leaders. Military coups became the order of the day and the few learned youthful Africans were silenced. Many were arrested and tortured, some died, and others went into exile. The party cadre system was created and the uneducated youth with no vocational and life skills was indoctrinated. He remains at the mercy of false prophets up to this day.
In Zambia, the youth earned itself a reputation for ferocity and fanaticism and became obedient and self-sacrificing. Between 1964 and 1990, the UNIP Youth League spearheaded by the likes of William “Tekere” Banda staged propaganda events aimed at consolidating KK’s reign.
In 1991, some of KK’s youth bolted and, led by King Cobra, rallied behind FTJ in the most corrupt political party in Zambia’s history, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD). They became known as Kaponyas. National Secretary King Cobra left the MMD and took the Kaponyas with him to the Patriotic Front, a party he named after ZAPU PF, owned by his “sekuru.” In 2011, 75-year-old King Cobra became president and appointed 68-year-old Guy Scott as his vice. Kabimba “and them young Turks” were yet again sidelined.
Historians and researchers have agreed that wherever aging African politicians have reigned little progress has been made; that such leaders are the cause of poverty because they fail to create sustainable infrastructure, easy market access, and sufficient financial resources. If anything they leave Africa in a state of disrepair. Here are but a few examples:
The oldest African leader in power 88-year-old Robert Gabriel Mugabe has ruled for 31 years, crushed the youth, and brought the beautiful county of Zimbabwe to its knees. Right or wrong Mugabe’s policies have increasingly elicited domestic and international denunciation and taken Zimbabwe to the Stone Age.
The 70-year-old Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has turned Equatorial Guinea into a fiefdom. He recently appointed his son as vice president. Like other African dictators such as Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko, Nguema has silenced the youth. Despite 70% of the population earning $2.00 per day, he is one of the wealthiest heads of state with a net worth of US$600 million, according to Forbes Magazine.
Such leaders are narcissistic. They do not care whether Africa deteriorates or not. At the height of destruction, they believe they are succeeding. They are quick to point out the mistakes of others and rarely take the blame for anything that goes wrong. You can only challenge them at your own peril. Due to old age they have developed poor listening skills, and are unable to see beyond themselves and their narrow views.
Although the beginning of old age varies, it starts at the age of 65, according to the Pew Research Center. It is at this age that people are more prone to disease, syndromes, and sickness. Mbeki is 70 and fully aware of the problems faced by the old generation. He understands that at his age there is some degree of decline in cognitive functions such as intellectual clout, reasoning, learning, problem solving, and judgment.
Some of his age mates have become less active. Their hearing is weak; their eyesight has declined; and the memory is far less due to decrease in speed of information being encoded, stored, and received. They take more time to learn new information. They lose their emotional and behavioral control. They see a doctor more often. And when there is a dramatic change in their life, they do not know what to do.
Mbeki knows this; he knows aging African rulers are stubborn and intractable. As president he mediated in complex issues in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast. He knows that old African rulers cannot tackle, in revitalized ways, a plethora of modern social, political, and economic issues. At the same time they will not sit side-by-side with the younger generation to determine the future of their people. They are like a harsh, ignorant and selfish parent who has no regard for his son’s future.
What do children of such inconsiderate parent do? They rebel. The Zambian intellectual youth must do the same if it is to fix the country. As things are, the Zambian young generation is condemned to “the out-dated views and prejudices of the older generations.” Though discontent, it is not planning for its future; it risks losing it. It is in a “come what may” mode and is willing to tolerate the same old hard-core politics of innuendos, falsehoods, and empty promises that have kept our country and continent docile.
Some of the young intellectuals are trapped in the PF dragnet. Half of the young progressives I had hoped would succeed the incumbent have fallen for the charmer. Although HH, Chipimo, and Mutesa are trying to provide checks and balances, they fall way short of a rebellion. They have failed to bring under one umbrella young and dynamic cadres, academics, scholars, entrepreneurs, and activists and begin to plan for 2016 or 2021. Remember, a major drive to a successful rebellion is unity; youth amalgamation is the key to an African Renaissance. It is also the greatest challenge.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and an adjunct professor (lecturer). ©Ruwe2012