By Donu Kogbara
AT the time of writing, Mrs. Patience Jonathan is said to be in a German hospital, being treated for food poisoning.
I wish her a speedy recovery, of course, but wish that our VIPs would stop hopping onto planes whenever they get sick.
Why are we still waiting, after decades of avoidable deaths and endless suffering, for indigenous hospitals to be drastically improved? Why can’t the government provide every single citizen with decent healthcare?
Why can’t all Nigerians – whether they be rich or poor – confidently rely on local medical facilities and personnel? Why is the ruling class so reluctant to do the right thing with the billions of petrodollars it manages on our behalf?
The pathological selfishness of Nigerian decision makers might make sense if The Grim Reaper was a staunch respecter of status or bank balances. But senior officials who have strokes or heart attacks are just as vulnerable as paupers; and one would have thought that even if the former aren’t remotely interested in the welfare of the latter, they would at least ensure that local hospitals can speedily/efficiently respond to the health crises of the privileged.
No matter how wealthy you are, it takes several hours to get to a foreign hospital and many VIPs have died in transit or before they even embark on journeys to superior overseas clinics. So why don’t they establish credible local sanctuaries that can be quickly accessed and might save their lives?
Why do so many seemingly intelligent African grandees find it so difficult to understand this very-easy-to-grasp concept of Enlightened Self-Interest?
MELES Zenawi was President of Ethiopia when he died in August; and opinions about his legacy are sharply divided between admirers who appreciate his considerable achievements and critics who regard him as a terrible tyrant.
While the funeral – which President Goodluck Jonathan attended – was taking place in Addis Ababa’s main square last Sunday, I was participating in a lively BBC discussion about Zenawi and African leadership issues in general.
My fellow discussants were two British pundits – Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal Africa Society, and Giles Foden, the author of a book about Idi Amin.
James Robbins, the presenter, asked us whether Africa needs strong, longstanding leaders like Zenawi and whether the positive aspects of his 20 years in office – he rescued a broken, impoverished country and provided it with record economic growth, substantial educational advances, etc – were outweighed by his “increasingly violent suppression of democratic opposition?”
Robbins basically wanted to know whether Dowden, Foden and I thought that: a) long-term development goals can be best met by Presidents whose tenures are lengthy, and b) regimes that are wholly or partially despotic can sometimes deliver more happiness to a greater number of people than democracies.
Foden expressed the view that strongmen- Museveni of Uganda, for example, as well as Zenawi – are useful during chaotic transitional periods but can create problems if they flatly refuse to relinquish power when things settle down.
Dowden, having pointed out that African political parties are rarely driven by ideological concerns and that African nations tend to be ethnically diverse, said that he felt that we needed home-grown, coalition-orientated democracies rather than the classic first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all Western model.
I said that I’m not impressed by Naija democracy – too corrupt, too expensive, too unwieldy, too inefficient, too many idiots in important positions, too many thieves subtracting instead of adding, too many fakes rigging elections, too many empty words, too many “stakeholders” to consult, too little action – and that I’m convinced that we can only be saved by a benevolent dictator.
I have never totally bought into the African Democracy Today dream because Western nations gradually established themselves as forces to be reckoned with during non-democratic eras; and I sometimes wonder whether they keep hassling us to embrace democracy so we can continue to depend on them!
The beautiful, structured, well-organised Europe to which Africans who can flock, seeking healthcare, educational experiences and job opportunities was built by princes and oligarchs who were not obliged to discuss their plans with the media or legislators or market women’s groups or youth representatives or village community liaison committees or civil society activists and so on.
And I’ve always suspected that only highly developed societies can handle these modern, egalitarian democratic mechanisms adeptly.
OK, so my instincts are authoritarian and elitist. But even I have to admit that it is risky to invest all of your hopes in an individual who may look benevolent and progressive at the outset…and then turn out to be a malevolent nightmare. So what next? Foden said that Africans must choose the form of governance they want; and I’d love to hear Vanguard readers’ views about democracy.
DISABLED Nigerian athletes have done us proud by winning several medals – six gold, five silver and one bronze at the last count since the London Paralympics started. Thanks to the fantastic efforts of these noble, courageous sporting titans – who have overcome tremendous obstacles to become world class; – we’re ranked l2th in the general medal table and first in the powerlifting category.
Nigeria’s achievement is no mean feat, given that no less than l64 countries are competing in the Paralympics. Our able-bodied athletes who performed abysmally during the mainstream Olympics should hang their heads in shame.