What turns African heroes into villains?

Author:Choruma, Allen

African leaders, especially the old guard that led Africa to independence, started out as heroes but soon many became villains. And the pattern is being repeated. The question is why?

The legacies of most of our old-guard leaders in Africa--Presidents and Prime Ministers--are tainted and they do not qualify to be labelled as heroes.

A common trait of many of our leaders is that they are humble when they start to climb the political ladder, but as soon as they reach its upper parts, they turn their backs, scorning the ordinary people who helped them ascend to power.

What should be written as Robert Mugabe's epitaph as he lies interred in his tomb? Looking at his life all told, including his early days as a freedom fighter, was he a hero or villain on balance?

This question may have been given additional vigour in newspaper columns, on the radio and TV, and in social media with the passing of Mugabe but it is an old question that keeps popping up regularly at the demise of national leaders.

Two shades

As a general rule, African leaders who fought to get rid of brutal colonial regimes and bring independence to their people, are often revered, and their memories are festooned with colourful and inspiring accolades.

African liberation heroes--the likes of Nkwame Nkurumah, Sekou Toure, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel, Sam Nujoma, Nelson Mandela and, yes, Robert Mugabe--to name a few, come to mind.

These were selfless and dedicated people who worked tirelessly with others and sacrificed a great deal to liberate the oppressed Black people from the shackles of colonial I rule. They did this even though at the time, it was said the Black man 'would not rule in Africa' for a thousand years.

They endured prison, beatings, torture and exile but they did not give up the dream of freedom even when it seemed impossible.

These were the stalwarts of African liberation, dedicated pan-Africanists who stood unwavering for the total liberation of Africa from the vestiges of Western colonialism and imperialism.

But the irony is that a handful of these great revolutionaries, in their later years, used brutal force against their own people, just as the colonialists they fought against had, to quell dissent.

They deployed state apparatus to silence those with opposing views, they turned a blind eye to mismanagement of the economy through political patronage, corruption and wanton looting of state resources for personal gain, driving...

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