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Our men in red and full of charisma: hope for Africa?

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela uly 18, 1918 to 5 December 2013,

By Precious Nihorowa

At the dawn of the 1960s, Africa in general experienced a new wave in the political and governance landscape. It is during such a period that African countries started attaining independence from the colonial masters. South Africa is considered one of the last African countries to attain independence as it had the first black native president for the first time in 1994 in the name of Nelson Mandela. During the independence wave of Africa, the leaders that led their countries to independence had a number of things in common: all of them had the hunger to lead their people out of their oppressive situation, all of them were full of charisma to the extent of being ready to shed blood for their cause, all of them had a sense of disgust and dissatisfaction with the then state of affairs and all of them claimed to be motivated by the selfless desire to liberate the people. And, indeed, they carried out their role heroically. A good number of them lost their lives in the struggle and battlefield but still others survived and were lucky to celebrate the fruits of their labor.

Africa will never forget how leaders such as Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Gabriel Leon M’ba of Gabon, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, and many other African presidents fought hard to bail their people out of oppression. Among their people, these personalities were heroes. But from then up to now, much has changed and much has remained the same. Some of these leaders have died mostly leaving behind debatable legacies among their people. The few that have survived up to our time have turned into fierce dictators turning against the very people they sought to bail out from oppression. But things really change, and they change extremely fast, hopefully for the better.

Recently, a number of countries celebrated 50 years of independence or rather self-rule. A stocking taking of the events that led to independence and what Africa in general has attained after all these years reveals that Africa is still far from attaining her yearnings for independence. This feeling has provoked what may rightly be called the quest for a second independence for Africa. More than fifty years after independence, a majority of Africans still live in abject poverty, the health system is still in shambles, Africa is still marred with illiteracy, the education system is in bad shape and the economies are still nosediving as they only favor the rich instead of being pro-poor.

In the recent years, there have risen among Africans, men who are possessed with the same spirit of disgust, with the same charisma, with the same desire for liberation that characterized the first independence wave. A number of these men who are in the forefront of this fight are identified by red party colors, with a lot of charisma and a seemingly selfless desire to fight for the people. They seem to unanimously agree that most of the current leaders have lost direction, have forgotten the dreams of independence, and have prioritized their own selfish desires at the expense of the suffering people.

In southern Africa as a region, there is Mr. Hakainde Hichilema in Zambia who, for a long time, has been fighting the regime of the incumbent president Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu. Since Mr. Michael Sata died in 2015, Mr. Hichilema has lost to Mr. Lungu in 2015 and a year later in 2016. He is still fighting on hoping to realize his dream of ‘liberating’ Zambians. Just a stone’s throw away from Zambia, Zimbabwe has the youthful Nelson Chamisa who became very vocal after the ousting of Robert Mugabe in 2017. He became the torch bearer for Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and was really a force to reckon with to Mr. Emerson Mnangagwa in the recent elections in 2018. However, he could not make it to the presidential throne, and he is still fighting for it hoping to get it in the next election. For Julius Malema in South Africa, he has always ridden on the sentiment of giving the land back to the black people, a cause that he has fought for every time he got the opportunity to do so. President Jacob Zuma felt the wrath of Mr. Malema especially with the then allegations of corruption and embezzlement of state funds. Mr. Malema has contested a number of times under the ticket of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) but is yet to gather enough numbers to see him through.

In Malawi, the case is even more complicated. The Vice President of the country, Dr. Saulos Chilima, made headlines when, in 2018, he resigned as a member of the political party of his boss, President Peter Mutharika, and formed his own party to contest against his boss in the elections that were held in 2019. The elections have since been nullified by the high court of the country citing a number of anomalies and alleged cases of rigging. According to the new calendar for elections, there will be fresh elections in July this year. Alongside Dr. Chilima is another man in red called Dr. Lazarus Chakwera who gave up his call as a pastor to join the fight and push for the agenda for change. Dr. Chakwera and Dr. Chilima have since proved to be forces to reckon with to the incumbent president especially that they have formed a grand alliance together with other parties to contest against Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

In East Africa, the name which is on the lips of many people in this quest is the youthful man in red called Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu popularly known as Bobi Wine, a musician who combines his career with politics. His charisma has won hearts of many young people in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. He impresses with his boldness in articulating the agenda for change and raises alarm with his confidence not typical of people of his age especially in the political environment of Uganda. Bobi Wine is one of the people who currently give headache to Mr. Yoweri Museveni as he has allegedly tried to eliminate him a number of times. His political rallies too have been cancelled by the police on a number of occasions as his ideas seem to be revolutionary and anti-government. These are the few of our men in red who have shaken the African continent at the moment. The fruits of their labor are yet to be seen. But the question still remains, are these men in red the hope for Africa? Could they be, one day, the reason that many Africans will finally smile and live a dignified life?

While Africa is desperately in need of liberation, Africans should not risk getting lost in hailing and glorifying these men in red to the extent of forgetting to test them against the temptation that the grip of power brings with it. Just like the current dictators who began as well-meaning people, our men in red cannot claim to be exempt from the temptations of power. In this case, the old adage of Niccolo Machiavelli remains true that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” As they wrestle for power with the aim of liberating the people, our aspiring leaders must always check themselves, purifying their intentions for power lest they fall into the vicious circle of leaders who begin very well only to leave behind terrible legacies among their people. For now, we can only hope that our men in red have learnt enough lessons from the current state of affairs and current crop of leaders so that they will not wait to make similar mistakes.

The author is a Malawian currently studying Theology at the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya. He holds a BA in Philosophy. His current research interests are religious and socio-political issues pertaining to Africa. Feedback: preciousniho@gmail.com

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