December 17, 2013 | by George Ayittey, Ph.D. Print

Nelson Mandela was truly an African hero and leader – a man of indefatigable determination, steely courage, indomitable spirit, and unbending will. He endured great hardships and personal sacrifices to bring freedom to his people. Yet he had a heart big enough to forgive and reconcile with his tormentors and oppressors. He indeed will rest in peace.

The contrast between Mandela and the other African leaders is like night and day. Mandela did not declare South Africa a one-party socialist state and himself president-for-life or emperor. He served only one term; other postcolonial leaders served 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years in office -- and then groomed their wives, sons, cats, dogs, and even goats to succeed them. The presidency is their family property.

Mandela died peacefully in his own country. Others died violently – Khaddafi shot in between the eyes; Abacha poisoned; Samuel Doe, an ear cut off; Mainassara, blown into bits, etc. Many died in exile or in foreign hospitals.

Mandela never had a Swiss bank account or a mansion in a foreign capital. He lived a humble Spartan life in his ancestral home in Qunu. Most of the others are the richest in Africa, having looted their treasuries clean to build huge fortunes and mansions abroad. Since 1970, over $1 trillion has been removed from Africa in illicit financial flows.

Mandela never arrested a critic or anyone who disagreed with him. Most of the others label critics as “terrorists,” “saboteurs,” “counterrevolutionaries,” “colonial stooges,” etc., and have them liquidated. One can even be jailed for saying that the president is not well. Freedom of expression exists in fewer than 10 of the 55 African countries, despite it being guaranteed by Article 9 of the African Union’s own Charter of Human and People’s Rights.

Mandela could sit down and reconcile with his tormentors and enemies. Most of the others have hearts as cold as ice. Their idea of reconciliation is confrontation with a bazooka, multiple grenade launchers, and heavy-duty firepower, ready for battle.

Mandela was not intellectually astigmatic. Many African leaders see oppression or exploitation only when it wears a white face. They railed against apartheid in South Africa while standing on the necks of their own people. They never saw the equally heinous de facto tribal and religious apartheid regimes they had established in their own countries -- Burundi, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan, among others. These despots have been responsible for the deaths of some 21 million Africans since 1960. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 6.4 million have perished from conflict and war-related diseases; 4.6 million in Sudan; 1.5 million in Angola; 1.3 million in Mozambique; 1-3 million in Nigeria (Biafran war); 1 million in Rwanda, etc. The ugly truth is that, within a space of 50 years, African dictators have caused the deaths of about the same number of people Africa lost through the West African slave trade operated by the Europeans and the trans-Saharan and East African slave trade run by the Arabs in the 17th and 18th centuries.

There have been 227 African heads of state since 1960, but one would be hard pressed to name just 10 good leaders among them. Had Africa had just 10 Mandelas after independence in the 1960s, the history of postcolonial Africa would have been vastly different. At the least, the failed and collapsed states – Somalia, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, etc. – and tens of millions of Africans would have been saved.

The problem today is that Africans can’t remove many of these bad leaders without destroying their countries. Had Muammar Khaddafi, Charles Taylor, or Laurent Gbagbo been willing to relinquish or share political power, their respective countries would have been saved. Back in 1986, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda declared that “No African head of state should be in power for more than 10 years.” He is still there – 27 years later. Yet these despots are the very same despicable varmints who will troop to Mandela’s funeral and weep uncontrollably. Some crocodile tears!

Evidently, Mandela’s work is unfinished. Oppression is oppression irrespective of the skin color or race of the oppressor. Africa is still not free. Only 13 African countries are democratic, where one-man-one-vote prevails. Africa needs a second liberation to sweep away the black neocolonialists, Swiss bank socialists, Jaguar Marxists, quack revolutionaries, military bandits, crocodile liberators, briefcase bandits, and the other dishonorable species.