It is Christmas today, yet Africa has very little to celebrate. As the leadership clings to power, African nations continue to burn, and with them, the hope of ever benefiting from what we all thought was a break from colonial subjugation. Countries are held ransom, and all in the guise of advancing national interests.
Today especially, my heart goes out to the Burundians, and I will give a brief history as adapted from Wikipedia
Burundi gained independence in 1962 and initially had a monarchy, but a series of assassinations, coups, and a general climate of regional instability culminated in the establishment of a republic and one-party state in 1966. Bouts of ethnic cleansing and ultimately two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and again in the 1990s left the country undeveloped and its population as one of the world’s poorest (An estimated 250,000 people died in Burundi from the combined conflicts between 1962 and 1993).
In addition to poverty (Approximately 80% of Burundi’s population lives in poverty), Burundians often have to deal with corruption, weak infrastructure, poor access to health and education services, and hunger. Burundi is densely populated and has had substantial emigration as young people seek opportunities elsewhere.
2015 witnessed large-scale political strife as President Pierre Nkurunziza opted to run for a third term in office, a coup attempt failed and the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections were broadly criticized by members of the international community.
In a nutshell, since gaining its independence in 1962, Burundi has not known peace. All Burundians have been treated to is tiny morsels of peace over a 50 years. And by the look of things, the situation is not bound to get any better.
My political sociology lectures cited governance and especially in relation to term limits as one of the main problems bedeviling the African continent and curtailing our cruise through to development. Yes there is corruption and ethnicity as key issues, but then the governments in place have played the role of a catalyst to an already volatile situation.
Attempts have been made all through to compromise between the two dominant ethnic communities, the Hutu and Tutsi, and in fact, in 1995, talks were initiated by Julius Nyerere, the former Tanzania President and upon his death, one of the prominent figures of African nationalism, had a continued with the negotiations that apparently bore little fruit. These were African leaders attempting African solutions to African problems.
Fastrack to 2015 and the story is the same. Today, a woman with her 6 children are homeless. Aimlessly wandering the streets hoping to stumble upon a refugee camp in a neighboring country because of political strife. Peace keeping attempts by the African Union have been rebuffed by the incumbent, and now, the whole continent watches as Burundi reverts to civil war.
This is indeed a sad development. Do we have a shortage of leaders in Africa? Rwanda under Paul Kagame and Uganda under Yoweri Museveni have already sought to doctor their constitutions to give an extra term to the sitting presidents! Whereas their track records may be ‘impeccable’, this is a blatant disregard to the spirit of constitutionalism. Whatever is wrong with a sitting president just retiring and becoming an elder statesman?
Nelson Mandela did it in South Africa, Daniel Moi of Kenya is slowly getting good at it despite his earlier reservations and the same applies to Thabo Mbeki, Benjamin Mkapa, to mention a few.
For how long will we watch as innocent civilians bleed all in the name of advancing a hard-line political statement? Till everyone has fled Burundi? Till more mass graves are unearthed in the deep forests outside the capital of Bujumbura? Till when?
It is not enough for Africa to claim that we can solve our own problems. It is necessary that we show the political goodwill, in the interests of common mwananchi, a factor that keeps lacking in the midst of greed and the politics of amassing wealth and robbing the public coffers.
The AU is a toothless body. At least that is a conclusion we can make thus far. And by the foregoing, we could very well say that without the United Nations, without the International Criminal Court, we may never remember what a semblance of justice feels like. The African leadership wouldn’t want to accord us such a long leash.
African solutions to African problems has not yet matured enough to stand on its own two feet. Today, sad as it may be to admit, we still need #UncleSam to hold our hand and guide us to the generally right direction, and keep hoping that we find it right.