Sunday, March 1, 2009

A letter to the West – Sending the right messages and signals to our African leaders

Originally posted on GhanaConscious

a-plus kwame hiplife hip-life west africa peace war

...Sounds on da ground and seens on the see-ins

I was at the recent Harvard African Business Conference. Why did I go? I went just because it was an African business conference and I had been attending as long as I knew it existed. I went because credit is crunching and it would be nice to pay some more attention to what I could do back home and it became absolutely necessary (to go back home). I went to network and identify partners for various undertakings in the future. I went to identify the leaders of the future as well. As you know, most of our African presidents are not the best people to write home about, especially with Barack Obama front and center in leadership chatter. A-Plus chastised a whole lot of African presidents in his 'A Letter to the West' song, likening their reigns to horror movies. One president who is turning his own horror movie story into a feel-good one is Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. In fact, this last weekend has made me a huge fan of his. People, Obama is not ours but we may have one ourselves, and he’s called Paul Kagame.

Kwame Asare Obeng, aka A-Plus, has always been someone to speak his mind. His ‘Letter to Parliament’ track drew ire from political circles and he faced a few death threats. He’s cut his teeth as a Ghanaian political rapper and when his ‘Letter to the West’ track surfaced, he had decided to take on African politicians, presidents, etc as well. He wants to be in Africa (you can’t say that for many Africans in Africa these days) but he wants life to be easy as A-B-C-D. He believes African leaders deserve most of the blame, accusing them of greed. For once, Ghanaian leaders can breathe a sigh of relief since he doesn’t criticize them. He’s not received any threats for this song and here’s my hypothesis, his song is stuck receiving airplay in Ghana and is probably not going to get the needed audience in other African countries until it gets in the MTV Africa or Channel O rotation. It’s obscure in Ghana anyway, so it is a far cry from being played next to a Nameless, D’Banj, Dama do Bling or Lira song.

He starts the song telling Larry King (USA), David Beckham (UK), Yao Ming (China), Jeff Fenech (Australia) that anytime they file their taxes, their money could end up in the hands of some corrupt African leader to fund oppression, corruption and dictatorship. Who’s Jeff Fenech? He’s a cult villain/victim in Ghana who happened to be on the receiving end of one famous boxing victory by Ghana’s own boxing professor, Azumah Nelson. He implores them to encourage their own Western leaders to pressure Africa’s own to use their aid money judiciously. Why should this be news? It’s because most of Africa’s wars have been funded by various elements in the West. Even Rwanda.

Africa is really a rich continent, like my brother Paedae will say. Why haven’t we been to make use of these resources? The blame should fall squarely on our leaders. Maybe as we write letters to the West, we should also ask their leaders to give us a fair chance and not tie our hands with their subsidies and unfair trade agreements. Timber, gold, diamonds, oil, we have them all. Life for be easy as A-B-C-D. APlus attributes our problems to leaders like Iddi Amin, Fode Sanko, Charles Taylor and Farrah Ahin. Some of these leaders who were seen as revolutionaries turned out to be nightmares because they got power drunk. Some of them did it to resist Western influences but for whatever reason, the victims were their own people. Two elephants wrestled, and the grass suffered. Look at the case of Zimbabwe, how Mugabe has turned from hero to villain.

A-Plus asks African leaders, in particular Zimbabwe’s Uncle Bob and if they cannot be like Nelson Mandela. How did Mandela do it? He gave up power when it was time, that’s what. Above all the sins African presidents continue to commit, their biggest flaw is their will to hold on to power. Joseph Museveni tried to extend his presidential term and though he’s been doing a great job in Uganda, he is not the savior of all Ugandan problems. He has to be able to identify successors to continue his good work. I know we have the chieftaincy systems in our culture but governing our countries is a different ball game. Our leaders have grown up in Western civilization, where people are elected and serve their terms, hired and fired, appointed and made to step down. We need institutional constituency.

We have people fighting over diamonds, diamonds they haven’t seen in their lives before. The colonizers left African countries in bad states but not in bad hands. Even where the state was ‘good’, opposition flung up from different circles to challenge the leadership, destabilizing whatever peace we enjoyed. The times are changing but if you listen to A-Plus’s song, there is still a lot wrong in Africa, even today. People say T.I.A (This is Africa) and things happen. We’ve come to accept the worst and become indifferent to problems that don’t affect us. I asked a panelist at the Harvard African Business Conference about how his country functioned when it was in a civil war. He assured me that business and activities went on smoothly even in the midst of the war and people in the cities were not affected. We shouldn’t celebrate the fact that we have only isolated incidents of conflict and disturbances. The fact that our houses’ aren’t on fire shouldn’t leave us oblivious to the problems of our neighbours.

My man sums it up and we can’t say it enough, “We need peace in Africa, We need schools, we need education, We need houses, we need peace, Make this place a better place for us, For our children, and our children's children”. I’d love to say we can take ownership of these things but increasingly, we can’t do it without our leaders. Discussions about Africa always boil down to infrastructure, legislation, leadership. It’s been the same as long as I can remember, so why is nothing changing? We have had terrible leaders. But we’ve also had Mandela, Kagame, and ….. help me here. What can we do? We have to continue the discussions and write letters/petitions to the leaders in the West who are wronging our continent in many ways. We have to change the outlook people have of Africa, we have to counteract the negative images with positive images. We may not the financial and broadcast power of the Western media and propaganda, but we have the power of social media, the power of our relationships with other people and the power of democracy and freedom of speech.

Full A Letter to the West lyrics, audio, video.
Photo by The Seminal

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