Slap In The Face : Literal And Figurative
The month of June 2021 was one of democratic parallels. In Nigeria, the Tech giant Twitter, had taken down a genocidal tweet belonging to the Nigerian president for violating its community rules. This drew the emperor’s ire and within 24 hours his chief executioner Lai Mohammed announced suspension of Twitter services from the national network while the Consigliere threatened anyone still using the microblogging platform with arrest and prosecution. Imagine challenging the word of the Czar whose word is unimpeachable, the temerity! Cut the entire nation off the rest of the world, regardless of the fact that it is a source of revenue for the teeming jobless youth in the country notwithstanding. His sycophants cheered the strong-man emperor, ignoring the fact that a hallmark of the hard-won democracy is strong institutions that provide checks and balances regardless of whose ox is gored.
While the back and forth of this conversation was afoot, President Macron of France was getting slapped in the face. I don’t mean this as the metaphorical insult; I mean the type of hot steaming slap that leaves the cheeks tingling and the recipient thoughtful of their life’s worth. For the alien reader, the French president is leader of world renown, still holding De Facto control in faraway African nations and with influence across the earth. Yet, he was spanked like a little boy. The heavens did not fall. The slapper was arrested whole. No python danced in his hometown. Four days after the slapcident (slap incident), the man was charged with “violence against a man vested with public authority”, convicted and sentenced to four months in prison; democracy and the Rule of Law at its finest.
On 14th December 2015, the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff traveling in Sokoto, was obstructed by members of the Shiite religious sect and purportedly shoved on the chest by a member of the mob. The leader of the sect was arrested and detained up till date, despite court rulings to the contrary. The military has massacred members of his family and over 200 members of the sect in the protests anteceding that incident. Sycophants cheered! How dare they touch the chest of the COAS, a god among men?!
The Deified African Leader
The indissoluble marriage between Africa and strong men did not start with the Nigerian president or the former chief of army staff, neither is it localized to the giant of Africa. The Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who is up till today celebrated as the ultimate Pan-African, was deified in Ghana. His very title “Osagyefo” was conferred to venerate his victory over colonialism. They regarded him as a messiah, capable of performing miracles. The Evening News on 19th June 1954 proclaimed him “Hope of Millions of down-trodden Blacks, Deliverer of Ghana, Iron Boy, and Great Leader of Street Boys.” From the early morning, citizens would throng his home his blessing on marital issues, infertility, debt settlements and so on. Hymns
were written in his honor, such as “I believe in Kwame Nkrumah“. All these while he ran the
economy aground with ill-thought out policies and corruption.
Mobutu Sese Seko of erstwhile Zaire (today’s DRC) would have his picture descend from the clouds as a god, at the beginning of daily television broadcasts. His adulation was sung in schools and students pledged to his service, not that of the state.
African historical landscape is replete with such strongmen that let the glory of power get into their heads that they elevated themselves to deity status, while the people fawns over them. It is said that “you do not put a person on a pedestal and not expect them to look down on you.” Despite the blood and toil that earned us self-rule and democracy, the average African seems to be stuck in the olden monarchical past. I do not know if this is willful servitude, confusion or some brand of collective Stockholm syndrome; perhaps the Liberians who sang “He killed my pa, he killed my ma, but I will vote for him” on Charles Taylor’s 1996 campaign trail can answer this.
The “Elected King”
We, as a people, must divorce state from the king. The medieval Europeans and Americans made these mistakes on their way to developing Western Democracy, and we should learn from them if we insist on practicing this system of government. What makes for the propagation of the state within the democratic context are powerful institutions, not strongmen. The sovereignty of the state must lie with the people, not with any one person; that is too much power which perhaps only a saint can resist its tendency and temptation to corrupt. African, your leader is a public servant. He is YOUR public servant, not your god or your ruler. His words are not law; he is questionable, and he is impeachable. He should ensure your
welfare, and you do not live by his every whim and by his veritable grace. He is elected and vested with authority to carry out state will for the common good.
Once a year, the ancient Mesopotamians would take their king outside the city gates, strip him of his imperial garb & humiliate him. The priest would beat him with a club and make him confess all the ways he didn’t represent Murdoch (their apex god) well in the past year. After his confession, they’d have this ritual ceremony absolving him of his misrepresentations, forgive him & allow him back into the city expecting him to do better over the next year.
The state must be accountable to the individual, and the individual must be accountable to an ideal.