May 26, 2010

This Legacy Thing

As much I appreciate the concept of Africa Freedom Day as a young Zambian, I can’t help but be a little nauseated with all the pandering and self-aggrandizing speeches.

Yes, thank you Nkrumah, Kaunda, Nyerere, Kapwepwe, Lumumba, etc for your role in the liberation movement across the continent. You’ve been vindicated – Europeans thought Africans were incapable of self-rule, but look at us now 52 years later!

I don’t begrudge any of them their due honour but I am always taken aback by the almost cult-ish accolades showered upon them.

Nkrumah was one of the early architects of Ghana’s independence and played a role in supporting other liberation movements across the continent. He can also be credited with expanded basic educational facilities, and building other infrastructure. But let us not forget that he revealed himself to be an authoritarian who drove the economy to ruin, banned opposition, and declared himself president for life – before he was toppled in a bloodless coup.

Kaunda followed the same principles, escaped a coup and held on to power for 27 years.

I am not by any means suggesting that we only remember the bad and vilify these leaders, I think we should strike a balance. Life after independence certainly was not utopia and many of the founding fathers were found to be inept at running a government and made long lasting blunders. They are human, and like all of us made mistakes. We can’t go back and undo that, but please let us not forget it happened!

It is disingenuous to sit back and say how great things were under one-party, and that perhaps we should return to that and have Kaunda or his offspring be our leader again.

So, I’ll honour the legacy of independence from colonial rule but I will not, and cannot be spoon fed a sanitised version of history where these men come out looking like squeaky clean demigods. Let us just be honest about the full picture they painted for us. 

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