In this week’s postcard Tajudeen takes issue with what he calls ‘noisy western diplomats’ and their tendency to speak out injudiciously against the misdeeds of African governments. In the same vein, he deplores African envoys for their silence in the face of misrule and injustice on the part of host governments. He calls on African diplomats to stand true to the shared values on human rights, protection of the weak and vulnerable respect for the dignity of Africans, and not to abdicate this role to western diplomats
Wally Serote, South African writer, once wrote, during the struggles against apartheid, that ‘to be Black and relatively conscious, is to be angry all the time’. It was true then and even truer now.
Any conscious African, whether at home or in the Diaspora, is a walking time bomb of anger - angry at the general situation of Africa and Africans. Even if your own condition is fantastic, you cannot in all conscience look at Africa and be happy.
We can do much better than we are doing at the moment at all levels, personally, socially, politically and culturally. There are enough resources on this continent for all of us to be outraged at the mass poverty that the majority of our people are forced to endure. You cannot open a newspaper, listen to radio or watch television in any African country, or the few reports on Africa you see outside of the continent, without being angry and feeling like hitting your TV or tearing the newspapers.
Is it the face of poverty, HIV/Aids, war and conflicts that look invariable in Africa that you want to quarrel about or the repeated presentation of Africa as a hopeless and helpless continent? However, this is not what I want to address this week. I have been living in Kenya (or paying rent at least) for about three years now. They have been very interesting times culminating in the tragic violence that followed the rigged elections of last year.
One of the positive things that have come out of that tragedy is that it placed rigging in sharp focus. Kenyan voters are now the envy of many disenfranchised voters across the continent for making it extremely expensive in human and material terms to rig their vote or steal their mandate.
Imagine, if the vote of every Nigerian counted, would they have the kind of government they have both at local, state and federal levels today. How different it would be in Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso or Cameroon if indeed the votes of citizens mattered?
But why am I my angry this week? I have been angered for a long time by the level of public debate about various challenges that Kenya faces; politicians who see things only in partisan and tribal times. When there are calls for justice from politicians, it is because they believe the law will only catch their opponents. If they call for reconciliation, sensitivity or amnesty it is not because they believe in it, but because they see themselves as the beneficiaries.
But it is not about the hypocrisy of the politicians and the voters who knowingly elected them that I am concerned. It is about the different conflict vultures, experts, and self-appointed friends claiming that they want to help Kenyans. You can hardly read newspapers in Kenya today without reading about one Western ambassador or the other giving instructions to Kenyan leaders to implement the Waki report or do this or that, threatening one form of sanctions or the other.
It is amazing how these ‘diplomats’ take the liberty to give orders and instructions to our leaders with impunity. I have not heard any African ambassador making any statements. Are they less of diplomats than their western counterparts? Or do the EU ambassadors and the US ambassadors care more about Kenyans than their fellow Africans?
Would the reaction of the Kenyan government have been the same if African ambassadors were shooting their mouths off the way Western ambassadors do on every conceivable issue?
Would the media have given a statement from the ambassador of Cameroon, Ivory Coast or Uganda the same publicity? There are a number of factors at play here. Many of our own diplomats have a very narrow definition of their mission and mandate.
Many of them think and behave as though they are only sent on mission to the government of the day rather than the people of that country. Some of them fear that the criticism they may make of their host governments is equally true or worse for their own.
While I will not advocate that our ambassadors behave like latter colonial governors, it is unacceptable that they keep silent under the guise of being ‘diplomats.’ All African countries belong to the AU and numerous regional and sub-regional institutions with shared values about peoples/human rights, protection of the weak and vulnerable respect for the dignity of Africans.
We should use this as a moral and political entry point to show solidarity with other Africans as and when required. The loud Western diplomats also come from countries that may not necessarily practise what they preach; therefore contradictions should never silence our voices. It is not always about what government we represent, but what values we stand for. It is about our pride and sovereignty over our affairs.
As for loud and noisy western ambassadors, they should learn to shut up sometimes. Their noise just distorts the local situation without offering a sensible way out. Africans can fight their own battles without the help of headmasters from Europe or America.
* Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is general secretary of the Global Pan-African Movement, based in Kampala, Uganda, and is also director of Justice Africa, based in London, UK.