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Following the troubling deaths of Guineans under the repressive rule of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, Okello Oculi argues that Camara's action represents the latest incident of a 'lethal psychotic disorder' manifested by an African leader. Camara's actions are reminiscent of those of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Oculi contends, and necessitate an immediate response from ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group).

On 28 September 2009, ‘Chaka the Zulu’ in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, Mrs Farida Waziri, (officially tagged as the 'Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)), beat a familiar but still startling drumbeat when she uttered the following daredevil words: 'I am inclined to suggest that public officers should be subjected to some form of psychiatric evaluation to determine their suitability for public office.' Her concern was in consonance with her current mission to protect public wealth and was expressed as follows: 'The extent of aggrandizement and gluttonous accumulation of wealth that I have observed suggests to me that some people are mentally and psychologically unsuitable for public office.' Between 11 August 2009 and 1 October 2009, Farida Waziri has recovered 103 billion Naira (of a total 774 billion Naira), either owed, or stolen from, Nigeria’s banks.

Professor O. Lambo, the former head of psychiatry at Lagos University Teaching Hospital and the former boss of the World Health Organisation (WHO), was so disgusted by the criminal lootery evidenced by African leaders – who would buy old castles and villas in Europe while people starved in the rural and urban slums of their home countries – that he called for psychiatric tests for not only Nigeria’s leaders but leaders of all African countries. The call had not won any significant backing, not even from the Nigerian Medical Association, a politically vocal civil society organisation in the mid-1980s. Yet another celebrated Nigerian voice had beaten both Lambo and Farida Waziri in making this angry call. The great writer Chinua Achebe had, in 1972, made an assertion worth quoting at length. Said he in an interview: 'It seems to me that the basic problem that I hinted at in "A Man of the People" is that this generation which is not used to good things … that is fascinated by wearing lace or by wearing gold that reaches to the floor … is not ever likely to produce the kind of leadership that you and I want.' This link between mental disorder and the misuse of political power requires our concern and, as Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem would insist, demands action to combat it.

The latest manifestation of a lethal psychotic disorder was that by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the new captain of terror in Guinea. Camara seized power a few hours after the official confirmation of the death of Guinea’s former military dictator, President Lansana Conté. Conté had died with his hands sticky with clots of the blood of trade union demonstrators, joined in their protests by those demanding democratic politics as the basis for governance in the country. Lacking mourners, it was easy for the people to be fooled by promises for better rule by another military coupist. Under pressure from the African Union (AU), ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States) and the European Union, Camara pledged to conduct elections in January 2010. He swore not to use the election to serve his own ambitions. He would not be by running as a candidate. As the clock has done its tiks and toks, Camara has made unusual gestures of putting to shame formerly untouchable people associated with power. An example was getting the son of Lansana Conté to confess to television viewers to linkages with drug barons. Soldiers were also shown on television begging for pardon (while on their knees) for an offence of beating up a serving general in the army.

Camara’s antics recall those of Idi Amin in Uganda. Amin was once shown at a funeral sitting on the bare ground in front of a mud-and-thatch-roofed hut in a village from which a foot soldier came. Once while walking out of an interactive session with academic staff at Makerere University, Amin had stopped and handed over to a surprised Professor Ali Mazrui a piece of paper fished out of a shirt pocket. These gestures of a 'common touch' with members of the public, however, hid a deadly side of the bulky former rugby player and heavyweight boxer. A previous give-away was his record of fighting against Mau Mau revolutionaries in colonised Kenya. Official records attributed to Sergeant Idi Amin the sadistic practice of cutting off the genital organs of his captives. Milton Obote, as prime minister of independent Uganda, ignored a warning by the departing British colonial governor about having such a person at the head of Uganda’s armed forces. When he came to power following the military coup of 1971, Idi Amin would add to his armoury of sadistic terror the practice, invented by an Irish officer, of getting arrested Mau Mau suspects to beat each other to death for a promise of being set free. Over 600,000 Ugandans were murdered by Amin’s regime.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara made a swift turning away from the 'common touch' to that of open butchery. Once he was shown evidence of resolute mass demands for democracy – and that people had seen through his gimmicks and signs of his intent to betray his earlier pledges – he saw it as yet another denial of love for him. Their rejection reminded him of a background of poverty and humiliation when he crawled around the alleys of Conakry as the poor boy from the 'back-lands' of southeast Guinea. It provoked in him a mad fury. He apparently impulsively ordered the use of live bullets against the crowd’s angry chants and placards.

This matter of armed groups from parts of the country that have experienced being treated with contempt by groups that see themselves as 'superior' or 'more civilised' has brought enormous harm to Africa. In Nigeria, a legacy of Igbo traders and officials – working in colonial post offices, railway services, health clinics, mines, etc. – treating 'Hausa–Fulani’ or 'Northerners' with contempt is repeatedly offered by some commentators as the fuel that drove the anti-Igbo pogroms of 1966 and 1967 in Nigeria. In Uganda, the brutalities committed by both Idi Amin’s Nubians and Kakwa soldiers, as well as Yoweri Museveni’s Banyankole and Banyarwanda soldiers, have also been blamed on past contempt suffered by them when British colonial officials brought their ancestors to work as cheap labour on sugar, coffee and cotton plantations in central Uganda. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, creole communities suffered wanton brutalities by peoples who claimed that creoles had always regarded and humiliated them as 'bush barbarians'.

This matter demands urgent and serious attention by African scholars at home and in the diaspora. Wole Soyinka once made the fatal error of caricaturing Idi Amin as a buffoon who climbed onto a platform to address rallies with his head empty. Faced with hundreds of expectant eyes in a crowd staring at him, jumbles of thought would rush into Amin’s head and he would utter any gibberish that would reach his mouth. This was an underestimation of Amin’s psychotic cunning that Soyinka shared with Uganda’s Asian community and Uganda's political elite, to the peril of the latter two groups.

It has been suggested that power groups in North America and western Europe revisited their colonial archives and the notes of their anthropologists for clues of what to use for mapping out a pandemic of violence and civil wars across Africa as a strategy for containing African nationalism once the fear of Soviet communism had ended. If that claim is valid, it is an enterprise in social engineering that Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem would have called us out to use as we organise to move away from the mere mending of wounds of civil wars to the creativity of nation-building. Accordingly, civil society groups must demand that the African Union dole out funds for researchers – academic research scholars, investigative journalists, writers of travel-based commentaries on African affairs and literary writers among them – to focus on the matter of psychological disorders and its destructive effects on governance in African countries.

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem was always preoccupied with this problem, often giving graphic reports about specific leaders and officials he had seen in action either in their offices or at conferences. His staccato laughter that accompanied these reports was also his cry about Africa’s predicament, while his 'Thursday Postcard' was his call to Africans everywhere to assume their right to comment on, and seek a cure for, each African country as part of their common heritage and collective sovereignty.

With specific action to deal with Captain Moussa Camara and his military gang, ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) should invoke its record of terminating Charles Taylor’s military capacity while the African Union invokes its record of ending Taylor’s criminality through the use of direct, high-powered diplomatic intervention by current and former chairs of the African Union. The facilitated migration by intransigent members of Camara’s military leadership should be conducted, along with the domestication of trials at The Hague for crimes against humanity, with the African Union trying Captain Camara and his gang at Arusha in Tanzania (where those accused of acts of genocide in Rwanda have been on trial) and using the much-acclaimed election commissioners of South Africa, Ghana and Sierra Leone to conduct the elections in Guinea under the protection of ECOMOG.

As diverse Christian groups are saying in their prayers across Africa, let us also use the struggle against terrorism by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara 'as a point of contact' for naming, shaming and seeking remedies for psychological disorders of those seeking and occupying offices in Africa’s governance. As one who was never tired of recalling his early education in schools runs by Baptists, Tajudeen would have said 'amen' to all that.


* Okello Oculi is the executive director of the Africa Vision 525 Initiative.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.