Monday, September 22, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
September 21, 2008

Suppose the NRM of Uganda decided to recall its president from the presidency for whatever reasons, what would have been the consequences? Suppose PNU of Kenya decided to sack its president or the ruling party in Addis Ababa recalled its prime minister the way the ANC of South Africa has recalled Mbeki, what would be the outcome? Would Robert Mugabe vacate office if today ZANU-PF decided to recall him and replace him with another ZANU- PF party member? I can bet my last dollar that there would be turmoil in these countries.

The ouster of Thabo Mbeki in South Africa has many lessons for Africa. One such lesson is that in the five years that Nelson Mandela ruled that country, he ensured strong institutional structures for the ANC and organs of government were in place. The culture of putting the party above individuals was established. If this party supremacy was not in place, Mbeki would probably have ignored the calls for his resignation. He would probably have unleashed goons to hound those elements like Jacob Zuma and company out of town.

The mere fact that a high court judge in South Africa could pass judgment unfavorable to Thabo Mbeki, a sitting president was proof enough that there is a degree of judiciary independence in South Africa; something quite rare in many African states.

The irony of Mbeki’s ouster, hardly a week since Mugabe showered him with praise as a true son of Africa just goes to show how leaders can lead dual lives. On the outside, Mbeki was a diplomat and a mediator per excellence shuttling between Harare and South Sudan to settle political conflicts in Zimbabwe and Uganda. Yet in South Africa, he was never viewed in those terms. To some ANC members, he was seen as a conniver who undermined the political process by influencing unnecessary criminal charges against his rivals. Could this be a good case of a prophet never being accepted in his own home?

Now that Mbeki is out of power, it may be the time to dig deep and find out who Mbeki really was.

Watching breaking news on international networks on Mbeki, I was amazed at how little of him was know by the international press. Whether it was BBC, SKY NEWS or Aljazeera, Mbeki’s biography was rather scanty. It merely consisted of his joining the ANC at the age of 14, running into exile five years later, remaining in Europe for 28 years and his 9 years as President that included his views on HIV and AIDS, his fights with Zuma and his role in the Zimbabwe negotiations. Surely, Mbeki must have accomplished more to warrant more in depth coverage at the most crucial moment in his life.

Perhaps Mbeki’s fall from grace was largely due to his aloofness from his people inside South Africa and the rest of the continent. Having been in exile for nearly three decades in Europe perhaps shaped his world view in such a way that he was alienated from his people, the majority black South Africans.

This stiffness was quite evident even at the AU Summits where he limited his conversations to just a few heads of state he considered important. At the AU meetings, he would readily consult with Obasanjo, Mubarak, the Algerian President and Abdulahi Wade of Senegal. These were the big five that shaped the principles and policies of NEPAD and the APRM. Later on, the control of NEPAD and its continued stay in South Africa became a bone of contention between him and Abdulahi Wade of Senegal. It is not known if he had any time for Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

Now that Mbeki is on his way out, he will most probably be replaced by Jacob Zuma, a man more known for his dancing and womanizing moves than his intellect. But again that is what politics is all about. It is about an individual having his way with his people. Street interviews with South Africans soon after news broke out that Mbeki was resigning were quite revealing. More people preferred Zuma to Mbeki any time despite the former’s known weaknesses.

However, watching Mbeki’s farewell speech on BBC on Sunday night, I got the impression that despite his faults and mistakes, Thabo Mbeki has bequeathed to Africa a rare legacy; of being a true democrat who left the scene with dignity when his time came. He proved a true opposite of the continent’s dictators who will cling to power even if it means destroying their countries.