Guardians of the great experiment
Thomas Jefferson is one of the most recognisable figures in American history: so recognisable that in far away Zimbabwe we encountered his name in secondary school history, with that name being mentioned in the same breath as the abolitionist movement to end slavery.
We were told in passing that Jefferson was a truly enlightened man, one who gave the world the great phrase “all men were created equal”.
It is this statement that was to inspire the French Revolution, the American Civil Rights Movement and Africa’s Independence wars.
Being but a school kid I could only swallow that which I was fed, and for a while I really believed that Jefferson kick-started the abolitionist movement long before Abraham Lincoln was to be similarly celebrated. (A whole book can be written about the fallacy of the Lincoln claims as well, but we can leave that for now.)
Naturally, I wanted to read more about this great white man called Jefferson. And soon enough I came across the not-so-glamorous truth: Jefferson kept his slaves in bondage for 50 years after his “all men were created equal” claptrap and was reputed for meting out particularly severe punishments on those slaves he felt were ill-disciplined.
One account has it that he openly believed blacks were intellectually inferior to whites, and that he would go out of his way to separate enslaved families as a form of punishment if he felt he had been looked at the wrong way by these kaffirs.
The account goes on, “A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks.
“Known for expansive views of citizenship, he proposed legislation to make emancipated blacks “outlaws” in America, the land of their birth.”
We don’t often get to see this Jefferson unless we really go out of our way to look for such material.
Instead, the Jefferson we see is of the American founding father who talked about exporting to the rest of the world “this great experiment” called democracy.
The third President of the US was big on talk about democracy, but very muted when it came to practicing it.
And because of his centrality to what America thinks of itself, would anyone be misplaced to think that not much has changed from the US of Jefferson’s time and the US of Obama’s time when it comes to projecting a false, hypocritical image of that country?
Hypocrisy is a hallmark of American domestic and foreign policy.
And so in heeding Jefferson’s rallying call to export this great experiment called democracy to the rest of the world, there has been much of treating other countries – especially those in Africa – as inferior as the slaves that America’s founding father refused to free.
In America’s lexicon, democracy means doing what America wants. As one critic has said, in democracy it is good to have the support of the majority, but it is even better to have the support of the Americans.
This is why we had US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson (I wonder what this scion of slavery thinks about Jefferson and the American dream) telling the people of Kenya to be very careful about who they chose to be their President at the recent polls.
How America ultimately failed to manipulate the outcome of that election I don’t know, but I am grateful nonetheless.
(But let’s not get carried away, because Raila Odinga has not yet given up the ghost, and after seeing how the second round of voting swung in Liberia to get Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in power, we should never discount Jefferson’s disciples.)
For America, it is quite simple: all Americans were created equal and everyone else, being inferior, must follow the American lead or perish.
Jefferson’s “great experiment” of democracy is an American preserve and all other mere mortals must thus sit reverently at the feet of Washington and be told how to run their countries, who to vote for and what not to do.
That is why an election is not “free and fair” unless America and its acolytes in Europe say so, either directly or through the mouths of their surrogates in Africa.
Africa dare not say that it can conduct this “great experiment” on its own! That would be a heresy, a heresy as vile as thinking that we really are all created equal.
Such attempts by cheeky Africans to place themselves at par with America are viewed in much the same way that Abigail Adams, wife of another American founding father and President, viewed a black actor during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Othello” in London back in the 19th century.
After watching the play, she wrote of her “disgust and horror” at seeing the “sooty” Othello “touch the gentle (white) Desdemona”.