Why do most African leaders start as great heroes against the past and present atrocities and injustices but then end up as villains and outcasts of politics in their own countries? Charles Mwewa offers an explanation in his book, Zambia: Struggles of My People and Western Contribution to Corruption and Underdevelopment in Africa. There is too much psychophancy in Africa. In Zambia, the first President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was the equivalent of God on earth. In the heavens, there was God. Down on earth there was Kaunda. It was the same in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the rest of Africa. The God-Leader equivalence prevailed. You felt pity for the leaders because there was no choice but to succumb to the wishes and grandiloquent praises of their subjects. Even murderers like Idi Amin, initially got heavenly accolades from his people. In Ethiopia of the Lion of Judah and the Central African Republic of Emperor Bokassa, things were taken a little too seriously. Both of them ended up horribly.
Now comes John Magufuli of Tanzania. He received deafening praise-singing welcome from not only his Tanzanian subjects, but from anti-Corruption forces around the world for his African-Tanzanian paradigm- shifting crusades against corruption, laziness and government complacency. He sacked thousands of teachers and civil servants who were masquerading as degree holders when they didn’t have but had purchased those qualifications or otherwise. He uncovered thousands of ghost workers who were not there but relatives and corrupt officials were getting the pay instead. He rattled multinational corporations for their penchant for exploiting the African. He was on a roll and even got noticed by the famous Patrice Lumumba, a firebrand Kenyan Intellectual who called Magufuli, a breadth of fresh air in Africa. Indeed he was.
But then as always with African Leaders who begin to believe that they were anointed by God instead of being elected by their own people, he started creating bigger room for himself by criminalising the politics of his country. Recently in the course of late March 2018, he arrested a score of opposition leaders under the Sedition laws of his country, a relic of colonial law that is never used and indeed has been long dormant where it came from: England. The Americans last used these seditious laws to prosecute and persecute anti-war dissidents 100 years ago in 1918 when Mandela was born. They haven’t used them since. That is how antiquated these sedition laws are. My Uncle Mainza Chona was convicted of sedition in 1962 for writing an anti-colonial pamphlet but he never served a day in prison because independence rolled in shortly afterwards and we thought we would never use those laws. But they stayed in the books and reinforced with other draconian laws like defamation of a president. These laws are blunt instruments of politics.
In Africa these laws were used frequently by the colonialists. They are now only used in a handful of countries. Instead of facing the opposition on the terrain of fair democratic politics, African leaders like Magufuli find it easier to criminalize their opponents by inflicting these draconian relics of the past in the form of sedition laws. Or their cousins in the form of public order acts, another colonial legacy of similar genre.
The root cause of the recriminalisation of African politics may very well be the psychophancy of the African which causes our leaders to believe that they are not of this world, they are God on earth and will not brooke any opposition from mere human beings. The latest exhibit is President Magufuli. Fortunately, Tanzania believes in two term limits and he too shall pass. It is the African gods like little Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere who think that they are not bound or subject to the two term limits despite clear constitutional provisions that pose greater danger in Africa. If history is any guide, they too shall pass.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa is a Senior Lecturer in Law. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.