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Civilian rulers are still barking orders like colonial masters did just




As we approach the date of the sixtieth anniversary of Tanganyika’s independence, my thoughts turn to the very essence of what that date signifies, not only for this country but generally for all the countries that had to get out of colonialism to attain independence.

Independence essentially means the state of not being dependent, the condition of enjoying the freedom and the autonomy to do what one desires. But for many African countries, it has not meant this, and at best there is a lingering confusion as to what these terms actually mean.

When the departing colonialist handed the instruments of statehood to our new rulers, what happened at that moment was that black rulers succeeded white rulers, but is it true that the relationship between the rulers and the ruled transformed?

Though I was a very young man at that time, I remember the intoxication that affected that part of the country where I lived, the euphoria that gripped everyone we came into contact with. The very concept was dizzying, mesmerising, mysterious.

It is now understandable. We had never been independent before, and in fact for nobody was it even possible to remember when there had been any other state of being except being colonised — for the young generation by the British, and for a much older generation, by the Germans.

The novelty of the situation spawned a number of responses, some of them outright comical. Before the day earmarked for the official handover (December 9, 1961) a few Doubting Thomases were warning us that Africans could never get rid of the white man, because we were too backward and incapable of doing anything without the help of the mzungus. To counter this, there was a little chant in the local vernacular that said, “Englishman go back to your country/ we now know how to write”. This is a great salute to literacy, literally suggesting that the fact that we could now write, white man go home!


Yet another chant, often heard in local centres of inebriation, declared, ‘‘Okulya, okunywa, n’okubyama n’okugaranjuka, nibwo buhuru kamiri” (Eating, drinking, sleeping and fooling around, that is true independence). No wonder the leaders of the new government had to lay special emphasis on, “Uhuru na Kazi ! (Independence means work).

The question I am posing to myself is the following: Did the fact of getting rid of our colonial masters and getting independence for our countries actually translate into greater freedom for our people, both as individuals and as members of a national collective, or did independence refer only to our rulers who now took the place of the erstwhile colonial bosses and were now in a position of lording it over their people?

After our delegations emerged from their talks with the colonial powers either in London, Paris or Lisbon, they came back to announce the day set for independence. Was that followed by any organised conversation with their people to decide on the modalities of governance to be put in place to enable the people to share in the running of their countries?

What we know is that the new rulers did pretty much what they fancied, and though they erected more or less systems of governance copied from the metropoles, their countries were run according to the whims of the new governors. The people or their representatives had little to do with decision-making processes.

Looking back to the early post-independence years we can now understand why there were so many military takeovers, a phenomenon that is coming back in our various countries. The new rulers soon revealed themselves to be adept at barking orders, expecting their people to obey them without question, a very military thing, and the soldier boys could easily see that these civilians were no good at giving commands; the proper commanders took over.

It would look like we are going back to that situation, because the so-called civilian rulers are not doing very civilian things. They are still barking orders, and they are increasingly using military personnel to enforce those orders. So, every now and then, when the boys in the barracks are tired of executing orders on behalf of the “civilian” rulers, the outcome is predictable.

As we reflect on the various independences of our countries, it will be most useful if we interrogate those independences seriously with a view to examining the ways in which we govern ourselves, or the way we are being governed. Our rulers cannot continue behaving as if our countries and us all are their chattels, pieces of property they bought at some flea market.

We do not live in the ancient Greek city states where every free male could attend the city baraza and contribute his ideas; we have expanded and morphed in very different forms, and new and complex relationships have evolved over time.

Still, all the mutations and complexities notwithstanding, the human desire to strive for greater freedom and better living conditions cannot be quenched by those who are given to issuing commands.

That is why the quest for greater transparency in our governance systems will not be smothered, no matter how hard the refuseniks continue to bury their heads in the sand. That effort is unsustainable.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]om

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