The 30th summit of African Union leaders in Addis Ababa on Monday came at a moment when the continent is struggling to find its bearings.
And we didn’t need Donald Trump’s slur to remind us of the work that still needs to be done.
After years of violent conflicts, Liberia just had a peaceful transfer of power, which ushered in former world Footballer of the Year, George Oppong Weah, to office as elected president.
It was a remarkable event not just because it was the first peaceful transfer of power in 74 years; it was also an election in which the party of the incumbent lost to the opposition, after a cliffhanger of a run-off.
Nigeria had shown the way two years earlier; and later when Yahya Jammeh of Gambia wanted to step out of line, President Muhammadu Buhari and Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pulled him off his sticky throne by the ear.
In Monrovia though, Sirleaf’s party has an axe to grind with her. The party will not forgive her for refusing to hand over the presidency to her deputy and the party’s candidate, Joseph Boakai. Yet she can endure the stripes knowing that she has done her best for her country.
In spite of her somewhat controversial role in the country’s bloody past and charges of nepotism during her 12-year rule, Liberia and the continent would remember Sirleaf for stabilising the country, improving infrastructure and foreign investments, and raising one of the largest armies of young voters, whose voices are vital in shaping the country’s future.
Less than twenty-four hours after Weah was sworn-in, Hugh Masakela passed on in Johannesburg. African leaders in Addis Ababa were too busy to notice the passing on of the jazz maestro, whose trumpet was one of Africa’s greatest gifts of hope and defiance.
They were probably too engrossed in the cloak-and-dagger politics of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari; or mulling the hollow speech by South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, who said that the world is obsessed about corruption in Africa.
Even though the continent is losing an estimated $148 billion to corruption yearly, which partly accounts for why over 70 percent of the AU’s budget still depends on foreign funding, Zuma obviously could not understand why corruption should have been the focus of the Addis Ababa conference.
That’s fine. Talking about corruption in Zuma’s presence is like mentioning dry bones or counting your teeth before an old lady. No use rubbing it in.
Back to Masakela. Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Ado was the bright spot. He didn’t forget Bra Hugh. His stirring tribute to Masakela bore not only a touch of the deep personal relationship that they shared; it also conveyed something of the debt of gratitude that the continent owes one of its legends.
Masakela, Fela, Makeba and Manu Dibango, are Africa’s priceless treasures; they are storytellers whose songs remind us of our heritage, challenging us to manifest our better selves.
That’s not the story playing out in Kenya now. If the AU does not lift its head from the sand soon enough, it may have yet another bloody mess on its hand. Only days after the AU meeting in Addis Ababa, the opposition leader of the National Super Alliance, Raila Odinga, declared a parallel government in Kenya, installing himself as president.
After four previous futile attempts at becoming president, Odinga thinks this last attempt, which was obviously his best, might well be his last.
He believes that the repeat election last year – after he successfully challenged the outcome of the first vote – was too rigged against his party to guarantee a free and fair outcome. He boycotted the poll, paving the way for Uhuru Kenyatta whose election has been validated by the Supreme Court.
It’s an irony that Odinga who was pleased when the court ruled in his favour early on, has refused to accept the verdict of the same court when the judgment did not favour him. It appears that unless he is installed president on his own terms, nothing else will satisfy him.
On his part, Kenyatta is so blinded by the bitterness from many decades of acrimonious political contest between the Kenyatta and Odinga dynasties it appears that the only place to bury the hatchet will be in the graves of hapless Kenyans.
He should be president of the whole country reaching out and trying to find ways of building a government of national unity, but he’s not doing that. He’d be more than pleased to crush the opposition into the ground, to teach them a lesson.
The memory of the over the 1,500 who died in post-election violence in Kenya 10 years ago, should mean something to the parties involved in this dispute, but I’m not sure they care any more.
Given AU’s less than flattering role in the cancelled vote, the organisation may find it a bit awkward to step in as a credible arbiter. But it cannot afford to continue playing the ostrich for much longer.
Someone needs to tell Odinga that for every Yoweri Museveni who came to power after a sustained bloody battle from the fringes of their tribal stronghold, there are hundreds if not thousands of ordinary citizens who paid the price with their lives.
With hopes of recovery in Somalia, the Central African Republic and elsewhere, the last thing the continent needs now is a fresh outbreak of bloodshed.
Odinga’s political associates may be goading him on now, but as the tragic case of MKO Abiola showed in Nigeria’s somewhat similar experience with a unilateral declaration of presidential results, the end of the journey can be messy and unpredictable.
Of course it would have been nice if Odinga won after the disputed polls, but history has shown that some of the people who made the greatest impact on history from Plato to Einstein and from Karl Marx to Mohammed Ali, did not have to be presidents of countries to make their marks.
Kenya needs to heal and move on. If the gladiators cannot find the commonsense to do the right thing, the AU must help them before things get out of hand.
. Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.