A change of political culture.

Author:Versi, Anver
Position:From the Editor - Editorial

Over the last few months, three African leaders have metaphorically 'fallen on their swords'. The expression comes from ancient Rome and refers to the practice of committing suicide by thrusting one's sword into oneself because of a sense of failure as a leader--or as it is used more generally today, taking personal responsibility for group failure.

Agreed, the notion is being stretched to its limits in the case of our African leaders, as some have done so much more reluctantly than others and only because it was inevitable. Nevertheless, Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma and Hailemariam Desalegn can all technically be described as having 'fallen on their swords' as they all vacated office on their own volition and without even a drop of real blood being spilled anywhere.

Of the three, perhaps Desalegn's resignation as Prime Minister of Ethiopia, as protests, sometimes violent, continue to rock the nation, comes closest to the definition of taking personal responsibility for group failure.

There is always an element of bravery in the act of committing political suicide in the broader interests of the nation. It goes against our innate survival instincts and requires courage to own up to failure, as well as supreme patriotism.

That said, it remains debatable how much patriotism was involved in the resignations of Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma. Both Mugabe and Zuma were pushed to the wall by revolts from within their own parties and their actions while in power most certainly did not put national needs above self-interest.

Nevertheless, they could have dug their heels in--as so many others have done in the past--and unleashed violent civil strife. Keep in mind that all current wars In Africa--in South Sudan, the DRC, Central African Republic, Libya and Somalia--are not battles between nations but civil wars.

Bowing to the inevitable and exiting the stage voluntarily, rather than being ejected rudely, they maintained some dignity and decorum and did a service to their countries by choosing not to plunge them into a downward spiral of violence--as happened, in somewhat different circumstances, in Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and very nearly, a year ago, in The Gambia.

Thus this peaceful exit from the stage must be something to celebrate. It could mark a turning point in the relationship between the rulers and the ruled in Africa.


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