Friday, December 02, 2005

African leaders on the balance, the Swahili way

Africa has two main indigenous languages (i.e. languages other than those bequeathed upon us by recent forces of history). Both Swahili and Hausa command extreme usage by millions of Africans at home and in the Diaspora. Hausa is mainly spoken in Nigeria and some other parts of West Africa. Swahili is the in thing in East, Central and some parts of South Africa. The BBC has a popular Swahili service, and it is now an accepted fact that these languages are equally popular objects of study at some universities. At the time of writing this piece, the African Union (A.U) was still toying with the idea of instituting either or both of these as the main continental tongues. But until and when they do it, it certainly does no harm for us to consider exploring some ideas from a popular Swahili literary work (you just never know, Africa could one day be the superpower, then you will be happy we did this! Ha! Ha!). Swahili literature is classified into three genres: Riwaya (the novel), tamthilia (drama) and shairi (poetry). Tanzanian Shaaban Bin Roberts' Kusadikika (Swahili for "believability") is a classic in Swahili literature that falls under the riwaya genre. In it Shaaban, through his main character Karama, proposes three main qualities by which a leader's efficiency and believability may be gauged: bongo la hekima (wisdom), moyo wa ushujaa (a brave heart) and ulimi wa nasaha (eloquence). Are you ready? Let's try this out with some real people today. Several come to mind, but let's consider just three. Thambo Mbeki: The South African President is easily one of the continent's foremost sons, perhaps only rivaled by a few other men and women. Bongo la hekima - He has handled SA foreign policy exceptionally well. His country is largely considered in some circles as "The Europe in Africa" owing to the material resources it has. The man has the brains. But I don't know why he has been so lackadaisical over Harare. Moyo wa ushujaa - He has been consistently bold in admitting that inter-racial tensions and inequalities have not quite healed in the country. He also led a rather prolonged and weird position on the causes of HIV / Aids without batting an eye lied. Ulimi wa nasaha - He is among our finest here. Olusegun Obasanjo: The Nigerian President is a key player in regional, continental and international affairs. Bongo la hekima - He is managing the biggest democracy in Africa (over 100 million people, fraught with economic disparities and religious tensions between Christians and Muslims). A devout Christian, he has emerged as a major stabilizing force in West Africa. He played a prominent role in peacefully resolving the Liberian crisis at a time when most observers expected Washington to storm Monrovia Baghdad-style. Moyo wa ushujaa - Nigeria captures Africa's desperation and aspiration all in on one. You have to be in Africa to see it. And you have to be a bold man to lead such a nation. Ulimi wa nasaha - Some critics say he is more of a soldier when talking than a Cicero, but again he is a retired general. I say he is simply paying homage to his past! Muammar Gaddafi: The Libyan strongman is both the bad boy and blue-eyed darling of African politics, loved by admirers, detested by foes. Bongo la hekima - If there ever was a scheming eminence greise in Africa, then that was and still is Gadaffi. He has a quiet way of building alliances and purchasing loyalties, then blowing his trumpet about it to all and sundry. He has a nice but suspicious way with words. Few trust him because of his latent Pan-Arabism and a secret agenda for Africa that he supposedly leads. Moyo wa ushujaa - You have to be Gaddafi to have weathered a Reagan missile attack on your home in the '80s, blow up Western commercial interests in the '90s killing scores of people and still be welcomed into the family of nations without much ado. Ulimi wa nasaha - I only know a few sentences in Arabic (it is close to Swahili), but those who know it well say he can move his audience to desired ends. So much for a short piece. What I really don't know is how some leaders in other parts of the world would measure on the "Shaaban scale." I bet someone else will someday help us elewa (understand).


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