As I was writing this column, I received a disturbing report from Accra, Ghana. "I have left the hostel where I used to stay," the report said. "There are too many refugees hanging about the place. Most of them are from the Ivory Coast but there are some from Libya too. It's become dangerous to live there. You see the displaced persons everywhere - some even sleep at bus stops because they have nowhere else to go. This is happening in our peaceful Ghana! All because of Gbagbo!" My friend then asked in exasperation: "But Africa too, where at all does it pick these crazy rulers from? You play football against another team and you lose. But you don't want to accept the result. And so you choose to kill everybody on the field rather than yield?"
"Africa doesn't pick them," I pointed out feebly. "These power-hungry people merely use Africa for their egoistic ends. They pretend that they want the majority of the people of their countries to decide who should rule them. But that is not what they are really after. They want to lay hands on the instruments of coercion in the state - the army, the police, the TV and radio stations, the central bank, the other public services.
"Once the majority carries them on their shoulders to capture these centres of power, then they can turn round and oppress everyone, including their own supporters. The people don't matter to these rulers any more once they achieve total control. It is then the ruler's ego that matters.
"Some catch the disease of megalomania more grievously than others. But there is always the possibility that it may catch a ruler. One of the main causes is that a ruler's entourage is often sycophantic. He draws them from his own ethnic group, family or circle of friends. He appoints them not because they are efficient, but because they are loval to him. And because they don't want to lose the privileges the leader brings into their hitherto impoverished lives - the opening up of state funds to them blows their minds - they do everything to create illusions of grandeur for the leader. And depending on how weak the leader is, they can help turn him into a monster whose sole concern is his own survival in office."
Even as we were chatting by phone, the television news was showing horrible pictures of sections of Abidjan - the commercial capital of the Cote d'Ivoire - being bombarded by UN and French military helicopters. In the streets could be seen the uncollected bodies of...