Barack Obama is easily the happiest and most fulfilled person in the world today. The Obama family begins a new life this weekend, after a successful eight-year tour of duty in the White House. Over this time, Obama has diligently held the American tiger by the tail. He has successfully walked it through a global minefield and handed it over to the volatile Donald Trump.
Barack and Michelle can now sit on the balcony in the evening and watch the sun set over a cup of tea, without the burden of worrying on behalf of their country and the world at large. Such is the triumphal beauty of accomplishment. You can resonate with sage who said, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.” What happens thereafter is really someone else’s responsibility.
Tragically, we don’t have this wisdom in Africa. Here, our wise rulers want to be kings forever. Alone in the world, they declare themselves life presidents. They don’t know the meaning of freedom, the beauty of a fulfilled life and the joy of living. Theirs is, therefore, a tortuous life of futile struggle and royal grief. They veritably strive for the wind. Africa pounds water in palace mortars, expecting to see a soft pulp. Time rolls by. The world moves on, scaling stratospheric heights of innovation and achievement in science and technology. Africans starve. They die of drought and famine while leaders roam the countryside, seeking power – even here in Kenya.
Palace dwellers, and common yahoos alike, engage in primitive accumulation until the day they drop dead. The Obamas run an eight-year dignified race. They do four years at a time and take a rest. For they know, as the poet George Gordon famously said, “So, we’ll go no more a roving, so late into the night. Though the heart be still as loving, and the moon be still as bright. For, the sword outwears its sheath, and the soul wears out the breast. And the heart must pause to breathe, and love itself have a rest.”
In civilized environments, even love for power takes a rest. This is despite the fact that the man in power may still be as popular as Obama has been. His approval ratings last week stood at 57 percent. However, the law says it’s time to go. And so he goes – in pursuit of happiness. Meanwhile, the African president remains a perennial hunter-gatherer.
His fate is one of permanent anger and unhappiness. Without exception, the African President is an erratic and unpredictable individual. Public outbursts of anger and ventilation of frustration are the only predictable things about him. You cannot help wondering why he must hang on to power, if its exercise makes him so unhappy. Striving for the wind.
You are reminded of the old sage whom Achebe wrote about in Things Fall Apart, “He always said that whenever he looked at a dead man’s mouth he saw the folly of not eating what one had in one’s lifetime.” In my lifetime, I have looked at numerous dead rich mouths. I have wondered with Unoka, “Why didn’t this man stop, at some point, to eat what he had? What was the futile amassing in aid of? The tantrums, the high blood pressure, the frustration induced alcoholism?”
And so Africa is a foil to civilization, the headquarters of reversals and negations. At the time of filing this column things are coming to a head in The Gambia. Adama Barrow, who won the presidential election last month, was sworn into office in exile in Dakar, Senegal. Former president, Yahya Jammeh, has refused to surrender power. The man took over in a military coup 22 years ago. He once vowed that his dictatorial rule would last a billion years. Having lost the election, he declared a state of emergency. He dug in.
Mercifully, ECOWAS countries have received the UN Security Council’s nod to flush the dictator from the throne. He is now a common crook. At the time of this file, Senegalese troops have already crossed into the tiny Gambia. Nigerian military aircraft has closed the airspace, according to the BBC. More troops from other ECOWAS countries are massing around the borders. Hopefully they can flush out the disgraceful dictator without human collateral. We can only pray.
We are meanwhile reminded that last year Jammeh announced that The Gambia was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. The Kenya Government swiftly picked up the cue. In the 53rd Jamhuri anniversary address, President Kenyatta announced that Kenya would also pursue this line, citing The Gambia as one of the models.
For the record, in 2014 Jammeh promised to hack off the heads of all homosexuals in The Gambia. He said he would treat them the way malaria carrying mosquitos should be treated. He has killed journalists like flies and outlawed civil society. He has expelled diplomats who have questioned his claims that he can cure AIDS. He is a self-proclaimed exorcist. He can tell that you are a witch, by just looking at you – in which case God have mercy on you.
It is an indictment against Africa that such a psychopath can reign for 22 years. Yahya Jammeh should rot in jail. The psychopath might commit suicide. If, however, he is captured alive, he must account for the thousands of murders that he committed. He has lived too well at the expense of other people.
While people like Barack Obama retire into quiet dignified living, the likes of Jammeh should retire into jail. It is the only way Africa’s primitive accumulators of wealth and sundry hunter-gatherers in Africa’s royal palaces will learn that even love itself must have a rest – for the sword outwears its sheath. And the soul wears out the breast; and the heart must pause to breathe . . . ad infinitum.