Knocking African leaders has become a favourite pastime for journalists looking for cheap laughs. For most Western journalists, African leaders can be divided into two camps: In camp one all leaders are corrupt, greedy, dictatorial, ignorant, wild-life hating, ineffective cheats; in camp two you have Nelson Mandela who can do no wrong.

In other words, apart from Nelson Mandela, all African leaders are guilty unless proven innocent. It makes people chuckle when they read about the antics of African leaders and is therefore good copy. More to the point, you don't have to know anything about the country being reported on except that it is in Africa and that the leaders are behaving true to their natures.

People need someone they can laugh at, someone they can pity and someone they can fear. African leaders fulfil the first category, African people (especially the poor starving souls) the second and Saddam Husein scares the daylights out of everyone. This view of the world is very comforting to people in the West and for that matter, increasingly so in the East. It confirms their moral, material and intellectual superiority. This formula has worked perfectly well for decades and I cannot see why or how the Western media will want to change it.

But I do object to this blanket vilification of African leaders. Leaders, good, bad and indifferent, do represent their people and when you use crude terms to describe them, you also dismiss their people as of no consequence. After all, for anyone to rise to the position of leader in any circumstance, he must have something about him to attract and maintain followers. So, if a leader is rotten, it must follow that those who support him are equally rotten.

Of course some utterly rotten people have imposed themselves on African countries. The names of Iddi Amin Dada and Bokassa immediately spring to mind. But who were the midwives in the birth of these monsters? In the case of Amin it was the British and Israel; in the case of Bokassa it was France; in Mobutu's case, it was that great champion of freedom and democracy, the United States of America.

Leaders who have grown up from their native soils cannot be put in the same category. Many of them suffered great tribulations and made enormous sacrifices for their people and their countries. The challenges they faced have been far more daunting than anything any Western leader has had to confront since the War. Most African leaders have failed in some respects...

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