By Oscar Rwigema
It still remains inconceivable, even amongst ourselves, that the prevalent COVID-19 pestilence has been virtually controlled and managed in Africa (at least comparatively). These lands were hitherto considered to be the least organized, most vulnerable and susceptible to challenges such as the current scourge. We can’t say we are home and dry but we are not were the prophets of doom expected us to be at this point in time. It is important to note that this is not the first serious world-wide challenge that is ravaging the entire world and yet leaving Africa virtually unscathed. 2 World Wars saw civilised Europe, the US (for the second World War) and Asia tear themselves to tatters while Africa watched from the roadside anthill. While we experienced the negative externalities arising from the 2 wars, I would rightfully argue that we did not feel the pinch as hard as the aforementioned regions outside our motherland. We have had a fair share of civil strife here, un-called for wars, proxy wars and tribal skirmishes but none has gotten to the scale of any of the world wars; conducted by the more “civilised” races. All-conquering kings like Shaka and Kabalega did not mete out the kind of terror crusaders exposed the moslems in Jerusalem to or anything close to the savage version of conquest the Mongols had on Persia where entire cities were incinerated and massacres carried out. We have always exhibited a certain degree of civility despite our primitive and informal way of doing things.
Traditional Africa had an indigenous social justice system that was founded on ensuring fairness and cohesion through correctional sentences rather than retribution. Save for cases where the King was directly offended (equate them to sacrilege), the death penalty was never casually granted as sentences for crimes; even murder. I would probably lose my cows and land to my neighbour for killing his son. In Europe, you would be killed too. The western world is simply learning now, what our forefathers new hundreds of years ago here in Africa that the death penalty does not cause any form of social balance but rather perpetuates hatred between the offended parties leading to plans for vengeance.
The bride price system ensured that wealth is shared fairly equally across the board. My father would sacrifice his cattle (say 100) for me to get marry a young lady from family X. He (my father) would then receive cattle from family Y whose son wanted to marry my sister. Family Y would get cows from another family whose young man wanted to marry their daughter and the cycle would continue in such a way that at the end of the day their was some semblance of economic equality. Aside from the chiefs (who were few by the way), land was fairly equally distributed and everyone had where to cultivate. The practice of individuals owning large chunks of land is alien to Africa. Yes, all land “belonged” to the Kings but they would only cultivate or graze it through their subjects. The capitalistic arrangement of ‘to those that have a lot, more shall be given’ was imported to us.
Those that judge our leaders to be poor performers, despotic and undemocratic only do so because they are judging fish based on its ability to climb a tree. The version of democracy that was imported to us was not tailor made for societies such as ours. The western world that is preaching this democracy to us only adopted it after they had made considerable socio-economic progress. Despite getting its independence in 1776, women did not participate in elections (weren’t allowed to vote) until 1920, 144 years later. At the time Europe was at the level of development as we currently are, they did not have democracy. They were ruled by autocratic leaders that they could neither question nor depose through popular will. Not until they got their societies to a level were the majority are literate and informed to make key decisions for themselves and their communities, did this part of the world start relying on the popular voice for strategic guidance. They had gotten where they were through guidance by a few individuals. The US adopted the Electoral College system for their Presidential elections out of fear of the majority, poor, illiterate deciding for then the future they are not even sure they’d be apart of. I still wonder why they think it is possible to make expeditious progress when you have to consult the illiterate masses evertime you want to make a strategic decision. A population that is illiterate and lacks knowledge is gullible and is prone to manipulation. They need guidance by the few that know what to do. The Europeans know this. They made much more progress through dictatorship than they have made democratically. It took a few days for the despotic regime in China to effect the total lockdown of Wuham while democratic, socially liberal Europe and America where consulting their citizens on whether they want to live or not.
The leaders we have are products of the societies they lead. Apples don’t fall far from the tree. The progress they are able to help us get is dismal simply because the strings they can pull to do much better are few. Most of them are held by hands in Europe and other “development partners”. It is common knowledge that most of the development support comes with preconditions. Our leaders therefore don’t have many choices. That does not mean that they are any less smarter than their counterparts elsewhere. There’s no scientific proof that Pres. Trump or PM Boris Johnson would deliver better under the same circumstances if they were given the office of the President of DR Congo.
An African child is much more resilient to tough times than any other across the globe. We are taught to survive and thrive. We are built for all conditions and when the environment changes, we mutate to adapt. I therefore believe that subjected to the same conditions and given the same opportunity, the African is much more likely to perform better.
It is therefore important that rather than seek to adopt what may not necessarily work here, we design bespoke public management approaches that suit our societal needs. The one size fits all arrangement may not be the best way to manage our communities. It is difficult for someone that can’t manually milk a cow, dig using a hand hoe, collect water from a well 5kms away to lecture me on how to live in Karamoja. It is impossible. It is important that we acknowledge our strengths, learn from our forefathers and iterate what they excelled at. We can also adopt practices that are helpful from outside our continent. It is not true that what works elsewhere must work here too. While the western world was grappling with LIFO and FIFO inventory management tools, the Japanese adopted JIT and succeeded with it. China too designed it’s own economic revamp model that has been effective. Old Indian businesses never implemented corporate governance principles to the letter and yet they thrived. They had their own model where it was difficult to separate the owner from the business, a practice that is lately frowned upon. Today, they have maintained the old ways where the business is run by family members (literate or otherwise) with the help of professionals. We too can create our own leadership model that is not 100% democracy because of the challenges I mentioned earlier but does not create dictators.
Stay home, Stay Safe