The Senegalese president is only exploiting the continent’s prevailing political culture, contends Joshua J. Omojuwa

It was the 70s Jamaica where local politics and the Cold War which had filtered into it turned the country into a fertile ground for gang violence. Political strife was the norm and the violence had become widespread as the two main political parties, the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party battled for supremacy. The ruling party appeared to have the backing of the USSR as the Labour Party had the backing of the United States. The die was cast. Even Bob Marley got caught in the insanity.

Eventually, Bob Marley — he’d have been 79 this week — left the country on exile. About two years later in 1978, he was encouraged to return by the two rival gang leaders. Marley eventually returned to play at the One Love Peace Concert that was meant to herald a new era of peace for Jamaica. It wasn’t to be though. Reports have it that the instruments and tools imported for the concert were used to bring in ammunition. In essence, the One Love Peace Concert became a conduit for the tools of war. No wonder the violence escalated soon after the concert. Whilst some had the good intention to bring about peace, others used that good intention to fuel war.

Good intentions are never enough. In the pursuit of good intentions, there are always bad faith players looking to undermine the agenda. Democracy is intended to be good for the people, it has since become a tool for the benefit of a few. This isn’t limited to Macky Sall and Senegal today.

Take countries that have no direct transport connections between their major cities other than by air? There are no superhighways, no train lines and where roads are available, they are just a network of roads, not one designed for speed and efficiency to ensure a smooth movement between two or more economic hubs.

The other tragedy is, whenever they decide to build such a superhighway, the corruption starts from the conception of the idea to the commissioning. These issues are so prevalent in some political cultures, you don’t need to set up an investigative process to see it at play, you only need to sit in the rooms where the conversations happen. It is taken for granted by most of the people involved that their individual interests supersede the national interest. Where there is a clash, the national interest suffers a setback. All under the cover of democracy.

In systems like that of the United States, politicians may be beholden to corporations. They pass laws and block laws according to the interest of these corporations. That said, the corporations exist as bonafide business entities that create value as goods or services. The lobbying is part and parcel of the political culture. Elsewhere, politicians own the businesses. So, it is not abnormal to find a lawmaker making laws for an industry they play in, where the ministry they supervise in the house also gets to feed contracts to the companies sponsored by the politician. As absurd as this may look in reading, it is the norm in some political cultures – namely?

When you take a deep look at some socio-economic and political systems, you sort of mentally resign to the fact that they cannot be salvaged. Because those with the powers to bring salvation are themselves the albatross. What then happens is that, eventually, everyone gives up on the system. The rich find an escape by seeking for pleasure and safety elsewhere and keep their capital beyond its shores. Even those who illegally feed off the riches of the country — via stealing, misappropriation, and other such crimes — store their spoils abroad. In essence, the country loses twice. Stolen from and not able to use the stolen funds in its economy.

When I was young, I used to hear this song a lot, Baale n ta’gbo, iyawo re n ta ogogoro. Ede s’ope e f’esu l’abule. Loosely translated, “The village head sells marijuana, and his wife sells strong alcoholic drinks, yet they say they want their village rid of crime.” In essence, if those who are meant to know better, speak better and do better are only seen to talk the talk when their actions clearly show they only look to feed off the commonwealth, how can they expect their subordinates to do differently? What you get is, the scale may reduce from top to bottom, but the incidence of corruption spreads through the layers of governance.

When you find yourself in such a system, what can you do? Frankly speaking? Nothing! The best you can do is to not be part of it. That said, it is like stopping at the STOP sign in a city where no one knows its use. You’d stand out like a sore thumb. You may even be outrightly hated and vilified. Everything happens to bend you into shape or sends you out. A friend once stopped when the traffic light showed red. Then she got slammed by the car behind. The driver came down, shouting and blaming her and asking why she stopped. In the context of the norm, he was right. Everyone moved irrespective of the colour of the traffic light, then this person – an anomaly – dared to obey the light. It took the intervention of police men who saw everything play out to get her to safety. A socio-economic and political culture where doing the right thing could land you in trouble needs to be rescued from impending doom.

Macky Sall is working to bend the Senegalese constitution into his own will. His confidence clearly comes from what he believes is the prevailing political culture on the continent. That if you successfully rig the constitution and keep yourself in power beyond your initial term limit, by hook or crook, you will get away with it. If he does not get away with it, that’s when one can say the norms are changing. Until then, we’d have to take ECOWAS and the AU by their actions.

 Omojuwa is chief strategist, Alpha Reach/ author, Digital Wealth Book

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