Monday, April 15, 2013

Margaret Thatcher: Lessons For Africa

I've never hidden my love for Maggie Thatcher, the now dearly-departed former PM of Britain. I'm an unashamed fan and I've always kept her speeches, biographies and videos in my personal records. Her faults were legion and her enemies ran into the millions, but nevertheless, she ruthlessly stood for British interests and the policies that she thought would help Britain prosper. Some of these policies were brazen in their cruelty, lacking not even an iota of empathy. And yet, these were the policies she wanted, these were the policies she stood by (whatever other people thought), and these were the policies that ultimately saved the UK from turning into a basket-case. We too in Africa need to produce a few "Thatchers" of our own to move our countries forward. We need to produce leaders that are daring; willing to "radically alter the pieces on the chess-board" and change the status-quo; even to be cruel -- where doses of cruelty are needed -- in order to achieve their aims.

Other countries have had leaders who were prepared to take unpopular, even exceedingly cruel actions, actions that in the long-run greatly benefited their countries. Chairman Mao ruthlessly crushed China's feudal elite; allowed peasants to farm for themselves; increased female literacy from 1% to 80%; and set in motion the progressive direction that led to China's dominant position today. Joseph Stalin took over Europe's most backward, illiterate nation and within thirty years had turned the Soviet Union into a Super-Power, albeit at great human cost. The South Korean Generals who took over after the Korean War crushed all dissent; marshaled all resources in a concentrated effort to catch up with the West; and in a generation-and-a-half turned the once backward, inward-looking "Hermit Kingdom" into one of the world's most dynamic regions.

We have had three leaders in Africa who could be defined as "Thatcherian" in their revolutionary idealism. The first two were Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara, and third of the trio has to be Robert Mugabe. The bold actions of the first two were cut short prematurely, and we will never know what could have transpired in Ghana & Burkina Faso had their revolutions been allowed to run their course. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe has returned land back to its original owners and is in the process of re-possessing the mines and other key sectors of the economy. The jury is still out on his reforms, but by golly, he has shown the Chutzpah, the gumption, the revolutionary idealism that would have made Margaret Thatcher proud! In fact, in many ways, they were kindred spirits.

What we now need is a newer, fresher, younger generation who come forward and radically re-vitalise the African landscape. This is not a utopian fantasy, but a necessary course that might be our saving grace. Without radical change in Africa, we risk turning into African versions of America's Native Indians...a defeated people who no longer direct their own destiny.

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