By Morenike Taire
IT was Ryszard Kapuscinski, the late Polish journalist who lived in and wrote so extensively about Africa, who insisted: “The continent is too large to describe… Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say ‘Africa’. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist”.

The concept of a geographical expression is one with which the Nigerian is now very familiar. At a time, it became rather fashionable, even sophisticated, to refer to our nation in that way and these days, while it might be passé and clichéd, it is nevertheless a very acceptable part of the Nigerian vocabulary and just as Nigeria itself is diverse, so is Africa: Four different races, thousands of different languages, religions and cultures, literally. What then exactly is the idea of this African Union?

It had appeared, at the beginning, that we were merely aping the Europeans, as we often do in Africa. The euphoria and the hope that this engendered made it easy to overlook the clear differences.

The first was that there were actually some clear economic and social benefits to member countries of being EU members. They cooperate in areas of tourism, trade, fashion and even media. This, in direct contrast to countries within the African Union who cannot even move, trade or socialise freely across borders, even regionally.

A second significant difference is that while the EU is a slowly evolving being with member states being admitted upon deliberation and on the basis of common ideals and objectives, African Union members on the other hand are dictated into belonging by fiat. It stands to reason nevertheless that sight must not be lost of the most important objective for which the AU was instituted.

Whether they are Tutsis from Rwanda or Tivs from North Central Nigeria or Temne of Sierra Leone or the Gambia, all must feel a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging must be reflected in the leadership, and this cannot be the case when the leadership is constituted of dictators.

Coupist Maummar Gadaffi is a controversial figure of no mean repute. The self-styled revolutionist, it appears, just cannot help it, just like Zimbabwean democrat-turned-dictator of a President Robert Mugabe, who said to a foreign journalist asking him about fresh elections recently: “Ha, you are now talking of a  regime change”. In fact, Gadaffi is a great supporter of Mugabe, who had been blacklisted by the AU until Gadaffi was named its temporary head.

And though he is famous for fighting for an African Union way before it became fashionable to do so, Gadaffi has recently been in the news not only for deporting Nigerians, but also having Nigerians on death row in his jails under questionable conditions.

The idea of a dictator-turned-civilian leader was one we found terribly distasteful. But it would appear now to be a contextual matter. Of course, it would be much nicer to have presidents who were not ever dictators, but in the context of an Africa where people beat their chests about being president of a nation for 40 years, it might actually be a good example if former dictators are now touting themselves as apostles of democracy in the Nigerian case. It is like an American Pieter Botha voting Obama in the last American presidential elections.

What, apart from claims of loving Africa, do folks like Gadaffi and Mugabe really have to offer a continent such as this one which had recently thought it was finally winning the fight against oppression, both internal and external?


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