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Understanding Africa’s universal detractors

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I recently travelled to the United Kingdom transiting through Kenya. As usual I immersed myself in the papers, learning about Kenya and her neighbours and an incredibly depressing pattern of Africa’s problems.

It’s so depressing Africa is swimming in exactly the same mud. If I were a man of any influence at all I would suggest that perhaps some of these challenges should be dealt with at continental level by the African Union.

Let me illustrate what I mean — First let’s look at the gender agenda. A recent study in Kenya has shown that men are not as actively engaged in the ideal of sustained gender equality, concluding with much conviction that while men and boys are part of programmes intended to empower women their roles and impacts are limited.

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Not any different from Malawi and the rest of Africa. Any wonder then that no progress is being made in an area potent for real social justice and human development!

According to the study ‘there is no society on the globe that engages in domestic and child care equally with women’; all this despite every national and global development framework underlining gender equality.

Practically all countries are still struggling to reverse depressingly disproportionate representation of the genders in public service and in intuitions such as Parliament. Except for Rwanda, few other countries can boast of equal numbers or more women in parliament and other spheres of public influence.

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That is on gender, how about corruption?

The Kenya media says politicians have to respond to many awkward questions about corruption both in central government and the peripheral. Ministers constantly parry accusations of corruption in the districts pretty much the same ways discussion of abuse of funds dominates district development programmes in Malawi.

But Kenya has gone much further. Government has suspended afflicted cabinet secretaries to pave way for investigations; four will soon face prosecution when evidence is consolidated. Meanwhile, nearly 100 government officials have been charged with corruption related cases. There is a palpably combative drive to capture ‘the big fish’ which African leaders tend to protect in order to protect themselves.

This is a worthwhile drive whether it is in Malawi or Kenya. Treasuries have been squeezed dry by impenetrable mafia-type schools of politicians, public servants and business cronies. Recently newly-elected President Buhari lamented inheriting an ‘empty treasury’ and there are indications of a corrective hunt for the perpetrators.

That’s African governance Mr President. Welcome aboard and good luck with your purges.

And the strategies they use to steal are ominously similar — false companies; inflated payments; illegal contracts; large kickbacks; briberies; preferential treatment for relatives and for sleazy relations. So widespread is corruption that one can easily talk of ‘One Africa One Development Disease’. Without moral reawakening it won’t be easy to squeeze and heal the boil of corruption any time soon.

And there are other parallels. Imagine the consistent screwing of motorists by god-like traffic police. Transiting through Jomo Kenyatta International on my way back I read of the arrest of two Kenyan traffic police officers who Matatu drivers and conductors described as ‘notorious for taking bribes and the habit of erecting roadblocks’. The Malawian motorist should find this painfully familiar

Also familiar is the accusation of government leaders for neglecting certain parts of the country. People Daily of 19th June 2015 reported a scheduled visit to one of the regions of Kenya by Vice-President William Ruto amid claims by local politicians that the region was neglected and that the dominant ethnic group in that region was being persecuted, citing what was called ‘hounding out of office of senior civil servants on false charges’.

Such fiery accusations — with all the potential they have for disrupting unity — is not dissimilar from claims of unequal development in the North which in Malawi’s case has hatched a dangerous he-chick in the name of federation. Even more alike are the attacks that Presidents face that they are unwilling to work with ‘the best brains from areas perceived to be in opposition’.

What the Kenya experience reflects is ethnically informed appointments which so much rocked Mutharika’s year one of leadership. Opposition legislators have advised Presidents to ensure that senior positions have a national outlook; they have advised against side lining communities which did not support them in their quest for the top job.

But they don’t listen, do they? Neither here nor anywhere else where tribe is king do leaders hearken to the wise words of advisors

Let’s take one more similar tragedy, the status and remuneration of teachers. Teachers in Kenya are up in arms for differential salary determination between classroom teachers and junior officers deployed to the Teaching Commission. They are angry about the Commission’s insistence that teachers be evaluated before salary revision when others in the education sector are not required to go through any evaluations.

Well, it seems the tendency to exploit teachers is an international conspiracy not just in the case of developing Africa but the world over. In Malawi teachers are hardly promoted except when they go to the streets for months. Even then such is the mistreatment that teachers have been the most affected by delayed salary payment, lack of access to personal and education loans and incredibly poor housing.

As we close we should ask why Africa shares the same faults and failures even for those countries which seem to be doing much better in their economies. We need to ask why African leaders think in the same rustic ways in spite of much education, global exposure and much social action.

Well, to me it is neither the amount of learning nor the amount of knowledge of how the world works that makes a good leader, it is the willingness to become a servant of the people.

The better sections of much of Africa will truly miss Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere!

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