The manner in which many African political leaders treat their citizens reminds one of the story of the young man who- smitten by a pretty girl from another village - sent his best friend with a message to the pretty girl asking for her hand in marriage. The friend departed with the message.
The anxious suitor waited for the girl’s response in vain only to learn later that his best friend had eloped with the girl!
The disappointed suitor never recovered from this betrayal of trust, resigning himself to a life of bitterness and disillusionment in the village.
This kind of betrayal is similar to what happens in many African countries. The people entrust their leaders with leadership and to bring them the “pretty girl” of development. But the leaders hijack the peoples’ expectations and loot peoples’ resources, leaving the populace betrayed and disillusioned.
A people so betrayed lose their confidence and enthusiasm to develop their countries.
Recently, the African Union revealed that corruption costs Africa more than $148bn dollars a year, increasing the cost of goods by as much as 20%, deterring investment and holding back development.
Tragically, it is the poor who absorb these costs, leaving them highly exposed in an adverse environment.
Joseph Desire Mobutu provides a classic example of kleptocracy. He mercilessly plundered Congo’s wealth, leaving the country with a debt of more than $12 billion.
His administration spent a paltry 3 percent of the budget on health and education, 23 percent on the military while 50 percent went to the pockets of Mobutu and his crooked buddies.
Another case is Nigeria - Africa’s top oil producer and a country beset by myriad of problems that its oil wealth should have solved.
Poor quality of education, child mortality and poverty plague Nigeria including the Rivers state – the centre of oil production.
The Niger Delta, according to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey of 1999, has the worst post-neonatal mortality rate in Nigeria where 47 percent of the women cannot even afford healthcare.
Corrupt leaders, according to the nation’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), have robbed Nigeria of as much as US$380 billion between 1960 and 1999.
The story is no different in many other Africa countries. Political leadership is viewed as a ticket to amassing wealth from public coffers.
It is common to see a politician or government official buying an expensive car and building a huge house a mere half year after assuming office.
Of course, the people themselves are not entirely blameless, given that many are swayed to vote along ethnic lines. Induced by bribes, many voters hardly scrutinize the caliber of their leaders.
In fact, many people consider a poor politician as a fool who has had a chance to “eat” and failed to do so. And banks in the West are only too willing to provide a safe haven for these looted funds from Africa.
There is however another way. The current transformational leadership in Rwanda offers hope for many people beyond Rwanda’s borders.
Africa needs this kind of leadership, people who are in touch with the condition of the common man and who are averse to corruption and cheap political intrigues.
Only then, will African voters cease being like the betrayed suitor.
Edwin Maina is a teacher of English and a professional writer.