African leaders and lessons from the UN

A T the just concluded United Nations General Assembly, it was characteristic of Western leaders to have given a parting shot, a gleeful praise of Muhammadu Buhari’s personal and leadership virtues, including commendations for other African leaders.

In one of the statements, President Barack Obama described Buhari as a man of “integrity and honesty.” He continued; “We have confidence in your leadership.”

The United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, equally had a say, when he noted: “You are highly respected by world leaders, including myself. Your person has given your country a positive image.”

To what may be viewed as a well-heeled tradition, a serial cliché, African leaders, past or present, aren’t short of these accolades, and a long list of numerous others from either Western media or coming from its political establishments.

The Times magazine of 2012 made this succinct declaration about former President Goodluck Jonathan; “Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan exemplifies the African political renaissance at a time when the people of the continent are starting to reap the fruit of their resources and their hard work. President Jonathan, 54, possesses the qualities needed at this moment of great challenges, having come to power at a crucial moment in the history of Nigeria.”

Such positive comments coming from revered Western establishments or their leadership personalities should ordinarily spring hope, galvanise Africa’s teeming populace fraught with poverty and lack of means, bestow credibility in Africa’s fledgling political leadership, but seem to have fallen far short of achieving these, simply because of years of habitual cynical perceptions of the West’s intentions about Africa, and its cleverly choreographed antics.

Past African leaders and their political machineries have yearned for this sort of accolades coming from world leaders, perhaps as easy means to sublimate their inept and poor leadership credentials.

What should rather haunt us as a continent which sadly doesn’t is this: Should Western opinions of Africa shape its realties?

The problem of regaling in Western validations is its shacking power, the stifling noose it leaves on the creative horizon of African leaders, the loss of a sense of cultural confidence, and the vulnerability it exposes Africans to, like a dog leashed to the whims and devices of the Western world.

Colonialisation, least be said, stripped off in many ways, Africa’s habit of self-validations, enthronement of the West’s dominant psychology, and this has remained the centre-piece of global diplomacy since the “Scramble for Africa” took place in the 17th and 18th centuries: “And America said, and the British said…” a recurring, intimidating monologue with a speechless African continent.

Coming to grips with Africa’s realties, which countries so far in Africa have got a success story to tell, after more than 100 years of colonial contact? The only shinning jewel so far among its 54 nation states may be Botswana, a country of two million people, and this cannot provide critical-mass assessment of the global African predicament.

The apt word for deconstructing the West’s forays into Africa is “control”. While it’s preposterous to suggest outright spurning of positive statements coming from the West on Africa, or its leaders, one should rather be wary, discerning of its patronage undertones, yet at the same time, hoping that African leaders will work out strong visionary persuasions of their own, regardless of what anyone says, in reversing Africa’s underdevelopments.

Would the world leaders hand Buhari and other African leaders packs of nice chocolates had they posed threats to them? The Western world does not like African leaders or elsewhere who have got the brains and gusto to stand up to them. Such leaders are either sieged or bunkered into political turbulence using their own kinsmen.

Africa remains the most fleeced continent in the world, the sheep that offer cheap wool to warm those in winter, the raw material basket of the world, yet scorned, and made the dumping ground of the world’s expended rubbish. This is the status quo and what world leaders want.

The question then is this, what does Africa, or its leaders want? Simply, they don’t know what to want, or what they want!

Whatever the West have said, or done in the past, present, that seems to suggest they care for, or love Africa is a thinly-veiled illusion. The master-slave narratives, spurred by European literary enterprise in the last century, were a well-crafted sequel, meant to seize and guide the African psychology into wholesale surrender of its cultural or nationalistic aspirations.

The only succour and consolations Africa receives are such cheap, gold-plated accolades the Western world offers to its leaders in the name of praise.

Africa should glean from China to find its own destiny. How much of such words from world leaders at the UN General Assembly went for China, Singapore, or let’s say, South Korea?

East Asian countries could come off the grips of Western subtleties, against their well-aimed machinations to scuttle their native technology and economic dreams. It took them years and years of self-discoveries, quality visions and unflinching cultural and national philosophy to be where they are today

Buhari and his government should never dream to rest their oars on the validations that went forth from world leaders to him at the last UN General Assembly; neither should they co-opt them as major strand of the ruling party’s manifestoes and campaign blurbs.

Buhari and other African leaders need something much more profound, fundamental and revolutionary to secure and claw back Africa’s future. And it would be beyond such words coming from the Western world or its leaders. For such words have a short shelf-life.


  • Orji, a public policy specialist, is based in the United Kingdom.