Authentic heroes of our time

There are two images of Jonas Savimbi that have been recurring in my mind since this year’s US Presidential election.
It is natural to think of Africa whenever one mentions the US election, and for two reasons.
The first is obvious and stems from a recent development; the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, to the White House.
The other is more long-standing: Africa, and indeed all people in developing regions that have immense natural resources, have to watch closely who next will rape them from the citadels of the White House and the Pentagon.
Not that we can influence US foreign policy, but it is at least good for the victim of rape to identify the perpetrator and keep the fingers crossed in the feint hope of justice being served one day.
Anyway, back to Savimbi.
There is an image taken in 1986 of Savimbi and Reagan grinning at each other like the colluding criminals they were, as they met at the White House. The other is of Savimbi standing proudly with two European Members of Parliament in 1989, looking every inch the tool of Western capital that he was.
For me, those two images capture everything that is wrong with Africa’s sycophantic leaders and their relations with rapacious power.
After the White House meeting in 1986, as reported by Associated Press on January 30 of that year, Reagan said: “We want to be very helpful to what Dr Savimbi and his people are trying to do, and what we're trying to arrive at is the best way to do that.”
The veracity of Savimbi’s educational qualifications has always been in doubt, but then again, no one should have expected Reagan of all people to be well acquainted with matters of academe, but let’s not dwell on the late President’s Bush Junior-like density – that would be a blow below the intellect.
Reagan went on to talk about Savimbi winning “a victory that electrifies the world and brings great sympathy and assistance from other nations to those struggling for freedom”.
Savimbi had many admirers in America.
Jeremy Harding, writing soon after Savimbi’s death in 2002, reported how at a “national Conservative convention in Washington, he received a cheering, whistling ovation…”
America’s former Ambassador to the UN, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, toasted him as “one of the few authentic heroes of our time”, and Reagan described him as “Angola's Abraham Lincoln”.
That was not all, Chester Crocker – yes, the same guy, who, in motivating for sanctions on Zimbabwe a decade ago, said the country’s economy must scream – waxed lyrical about how Savimbi was “one of the most talented and charismatic of leaders in modern African history”.
We need not go over Savimbi’s atrocities and what he stood for: his record speaks for itself. The main concerns are, “Has America changed since the time of Savimbi? And has Africa managed to start producing leaders cut of the same cloth as the imperial monster that led UNITA?”
These are more than rhetorical questions: they are existential ones as they affect our very survival as a sovereign people who have agency over their own destiny.
With Kagame and Museveni’s actions in the DRC looking dubious, the killer of Sankara still holding forte in Burkina Faso, Madam Banda – perhaps in noxious contest with Madam Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia ‑ sounding increasingly fawning to the West in nearby Malawi, the good general still very ambivalent about matters of sovereignty in the former Protectorate of Bechuanaland, a certain Prime Minister in Zimbabwe fighting against the empowerment of people, the land that hosts the AU HQ very much an agent of Euro-American interests in the Horn of Africa, and a monarch in Morocco holding the people of Western Sahara in perpetual bondage, it’s highly doubtful things have changed much from the days of Savimbi and Reagan.
Former US Ambassador to the UN Jeanne Kirkpatrick would surely think of such as these as the “authentic heroes of our time”.
It is said that people get the kind of leaders they deserve, and to a large extent I hold this hackneyed phrase to be true.
At the time of writing, SWAPO in Namibia is undergoing a leadership contest that will go a long way in determining who will take over from President Hifikepunye Pohamba when the time comes.
ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe will hold a key annual conference soon after SWAPO’s meeting as the party heads for an election in early 2013.
South Africa’s ANC is likewise heading into a leadership contest this December. CCM in Tanzania and Frelimo in Mozambique have already had their leadership contests at their own respective levels this year.
What kind of leaders are emerging from these meetings? Are we breeding Savimbis, who are in search of Reagan’s to point them in the direction they ought to take?
Seeing as we get the leaders we deserve, we should not blame anyone should all these leadership contests and electoral battles spawn “authentic heroes of our time” that the likes of Jeanne Kirkpatrick would be proud of.


December 2012
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