In the name of God…
Every country and age has had its colossuses; towering figures who for better or for worse have shaped the world around them; arousing both admiration and scorn from lesser and greater men both in their time and after they have left this mortal orb.
Mostly, these figures have been men and the result has been a play on the word history – his-story.
I will not wade into the important issue of historiography here. Suffice to say modern history became his-story as a result of millennia of paternalistic society.
The inescapable fact is that the hunter has been writing the story of hunt and therefore history lionises the hunter and not the lion. And so we have these “big men” of modern history. They are everywhere, in every country.
Africa has its giants. Men like Tshaka, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Sam Nujoma, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Robert Mugabe, among others. Men who have dared to dream dreams and make visions realities. Men who have become more than men, and have become an idea, a movement and a cause.
Chairman Mao was that giant in Asia, as were Lenin and Vo Nguyen Giap. The Americas had their colossuses in men like Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Hugo Chavez and – further up north – Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
Europe too has had its fair share of titans in the likes of Napoleon, Metternich and, yes, Hitler.
Hitler is a dirty word in most discourse. The Germans get apoplectic whenever it is pointed out that Hitler was probably the most influential of their countrymen in the 20th century.
But they are also gripped by a peculiar paralysis when it is also pointed out that the father of the holocaust was the natural progeny of the ideas of Europe’s greatest thinkers, such as Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche.
It is not about liking or hating Hitler. The stubborn fact is he is among the most influential Germans to ever walk this admittedly wretched planet.
And that also goes for one of Britain’s giants too.
Oliver Cromwell is loathed by the Irish for his many sins as he tried to stamp out the Catholic “threat” to his envisioned Puritan Commonwealth.
Cromwell viewed himself as divinely appointed to crush the monarchy, Catholicism and sundry other “vices” that he felt would be the downfall of a British Empire that he dreamt would rival the Romans and their Caesars in its extent and influence.
Interestingly, Cromwell was a relative nobody until he reached the age of 40, at which time he walked his road to Damascus and came to believe that he was a “Puritan Moses”. The Biblical Moses was 40 when he struck the Pharaoh’s slave driver and fled into the wilderness, to return another 40 years later to demand “let my people go!”
He rose quickly, getting a seat in Parliament and soon commanding an army as he fought the monarchy. He was to push for the execution of the king, resulting in him being proclaimed Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England.
He used this position in the 1650s to institute genocide in Ireland. Under him, not only did the army murder untold numbers of Irish citizens, but a deliberate policy of crop burning was established and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 600 000 people. (Ireland at the time had a population of 1.4 million).
He was a nasty character. Strong-willed, determined to build a nation, but a nasty character all the same. Britain’s very own Hitler.
For me, there is one incident that stands out in this man’s public career.
On April 20, 1653 – after Parliament demonstrated a marked lack of spine in ending the monarchy – Cromwell dissolved the legislature.
He not only dissolved, it he essentially told it to go to hell. The speech he gave on that occasion is quite powerful. Allow me to quote at a bit of length.
“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice…
“Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess?
“Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
“Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?
“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance…
“I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.
“Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! … In the name of God, go!” Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Cromwell was addressing many a Parliament here in Africa, where legislators –“deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed” – have themselves become the greatest grievance.
Politics in Africa is becoming increasingly detached from the wishes of the people.
When the wave of Independence started with Ghana, right down to South Africa just a few years ago, did the people not ask for their land, for control of their resources?
But what is it that we have seen instead? Politicians cut deals with foreign entities and give them the best of Africa while the people live in abject poverty.
The people of Africa have it in their power to be Oliver Cromwells all of their own.
They must tell every politician and every leader, who for a few pieces of silver would sell Jesus, that in the name of God go!