When will Africans learn from their troubled past?

Saturday May 5, 2018

By Isaac Mwangi

East African News Agency, Arusha

As the recent “handshake” by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga continues to create ripples on the political scene, it also brings back unsavoury memories of political dealings from East Africa’s troubled past.

Indeed, such deals are not unusual throughout the world, but rarely do they do anything beyond offering some temporary relief to oppressed peoples.

On the contrary, like the ogres befriending their victims before eating them whole, these types of agreements are rarely respected and end up stirring greater trouble.

At the end of the day, the leaders who enter into such agreements are likely to be compromised and to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of the powerful forces they were hitherto opposed to in order to protect their own personal interests.

If they fail to do so and insist on championing the people’s rights, they must then be prepared for exile, torture, constant harassment and even death.

Given that stark reality and the forces arraigned against them, many African leaders have faded in courage and chosen to compromise with the oppressor.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA leader Raila Odinga after a meeting at Harambee House on March 9, 2018.

The many social, political and economic problems that now bedevil the continent can be traced to this tendency, right from our ancient past.

This is the reason why the slave trade flourished. Had communities buried their own differences to confront a common external enemy, the slave raiders would certainly have been defeated.

That they were able to penetrate areas deep into Africa’s interior, carry out raids and travel unmolested back to the coastal areas where slave markets and ships awaited them is a testament of Africa’s timid response to external invaders.

Ethiopia is a good example of what people can achieve when they have a united front.

When Italy wanted to follow the example of other European countries who were taking up chunks of territory in Africa by colonising the country, Emperor Menelik II galvanised the support of various princes and mobilised a formidable force that decisively defeated Italian forces.

The question then is why didn’t communities in Tanzania come together in a similar fashion to fight the Arab slave raiders who were destroying them? Why didn’t they do so in West Africa, or Angola, or Congo?

For sure, not all African rulers were sell-outs when faced by external enemies who were better armed and equipped, but the stories of heroic struggle are few and far between.

Strong desire for European goods by African chiefs like Mirambo and Nyungu ya Mawe forced them to acquire slaves in exchange for manufactured goods such as brass, metal ware, cotton cloth, beads, spirits such as whisky, guns and gun powder. PHOTOS | AGENCIES

Had more communities reacted decisively and joined hands; the story would most certainly have turned out differently.

When eventually the continent’s peoples had been substantially weakened and Europeans decided to come in directly to harvest our resources, the same trend of compromise with the enemy continued.

That is how the Maasai in Kenya were dispossessed of their land and quietly agreed to move from the fertile Laikipia plateau, which to this day hosts the white aristocracy, alongside a sprinkling of the black elite that joined their ranks after independence.

By and large, it was the same story elsewhere. From Rwanda to Tanganyika and Burundi to Uganda, compromise with the white man hastened the complete control of people and resources in the region and continent.

It was only after much oppression that people learnt to unite and fight back. The war cries in Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and elsewhere soon resulted in independence.

Unfortunately, again, the new black rulers appeared not to have learnt the lessons of history. They were keen to get into the former colonisers’ good books, giving room to the evil imperialist and neo-colonialist designs of the former colonial masters.

To this day, puppet governments remain perfectly in place, performing the will of their masters in London, Paris and Washington.

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