By Raliat Oluyemisi Sunmonu
This must be somewhat of an unusual situation for you. I can hear your incredulous, derisive comments.
"What?! A mere chit of a girl, not even old enough to be my daughter/granddaughter/mistress?"
"Who the hell does she think she is?"
"The youth of today...no manners, every single one of them. What gall!"
"She presumes to lecture US? From the relative comfort and safety of her abode in America, no less!"
"Who does she think she is? If you ask me, this is further proof that the world is about to come to an end!"
Well, no one asked you. In fact, this is my dream so all you can do is shut up and take it like the men you profess to be.
How else could I have reached you? Would you have read any letters I bothered to send? Accepted my phone calls? Invited me to any of your numerous meaningless seminars/conferences/symposiums? I think not.
So, here I am. To tell you exactly what I think of each of you and your policies. To share my pain when I see you, again and again, crush the very people you professed to serve beneath your repressive laws and decrees. Here I am, to make you hear my cries of anguish when you step on me, or the people who could be me. To make you see my tears of frustration when you kill my spirit. To share with you the pain of the blows you deal me, with your apparent desire to ignore me and my needs.
Where do I start? I suppose I should start with education. Remember that word, gentlemen? That magical thing that's supposed to equip the next generation with the tools they need to lead their countries into the future? Yes, that. How much money do you spend on educating me? How many schools do you build each year? How much do you pay my teachers? How much do you spend on equipping my schools? Tell me, how often does education feature at your cabinet meetings? What percentage of the national budget is allocated to education, as opposed to military spending and other such "high priority" areas? Tell me, how many of you have a plan of action when it comes to education? Do you ever move beyond frivolous generalities like "we promise to build more schools" and "we will improve the quality of education in our country"? But maybe these questions are too difficult to answer. The answers to them are probably too complex and beyond my understanding, right? What do I know about government and governing? You are right. I know next to nothing; just enough to spot an incredibly bad government when I see one, or fifty.
Enough about education; after all, why else do we have ministers and ministries of education? Their very existence is an indication that you consider it to be an important issue, right?
Let's talk about political and social activism. I'm sorry, let me pause for a minute or two while you have a good laugh. No, go ahead, I'll wait. All done? Good. I know. It IS hilarious. In a continent where many of the countries are one-party states or ruled by military buffoons- excuse me, -leaders, this is obviously an exercise in futility. I would ask you if transcripts of your parliamentary/congressional/senatorial sessions are readily available to the public (for those of you whose countries still have those, anyway) but again, I forget to whom I am speaking. I would demand if ordinary citizens could challenge government actions without finding themselves and their families disappearing in the foggy dawn into the bowels of hell your state police are so adept at cooking up, but again, what a stupid question that would be, given my audience. Obviously we're not getting anywhere with this line of questioning, so why don't we move on?
Now on to a subject many of you will find welcome: War. The favorite pastime of some of you. Am I missing something? Is it a macho thing? Perhaps I should turn to the presidents of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Maybe they can explain better; I mean, there has to be some rational behind spending millions of dollars on one border skirmish after another, while your peoples slowly starve to death. Or maybe I should ask the expert, as you undoubtedly are, Mr. Taylor; having waged a vicious war in Liberia (and still having a hand in few other pies, if the rumors are to be believed). It is unfortunate that Mr. Sankoh of Sierra Leone isn't available. After all, who better to explain the finer points of waging war than the man whose army is responsible for teaching 15 year olds how to kill? Whose army considers chopping off the limbs of innocent people all in a day's work?
Maybe we should move on. I know not every one of you is well versed in making war, so I might have been a tad unfair in my line of questioning. Why don't we move on to a topic you could all write a thesis on, even those of you whose only experience with higher learning is sending soldiers to institutions devoted to precisely that to deal with those 'bothersome' students.
You all know what I'm talking about gentlemen: corruption. Now, now, I know what you're going to say: you didn't start it and just about everyone in your countries does it. Yes well, never mind that. As the leaders of your countries, your positions affords you better opportunity than anyone else to indulge in what seems to be your favorite hobby.
Let's begin with a simple question: how much do your official salaries amount to, assuming you can even remember such an inconsequential thing? What's a few thousand dollars when you have diamond mines or oil fields at your disposal? Oh, you look a fine sight when you crawl to international donors, cap in hand, devoid of shame or dignity, to beg for more money for this project or that one, when everyone knows the biggest project remains enriching yourselves and cronies. And then, still as shameless as ever, you run around crying about the crippling debt-servicing you're forced to do and how you can't afford to feed your people because the bloodsuckers who call themselves creditors are bleeding you dry. Naturally, it wasn't your hands that signed the loan agreements on which the interest is greater than the amount borrowed. What was that? Ah yes, I was just coming to you, my dear General-turned-democratic-leader-of-the-so-called-giant-of- Africa. I have heard all about your anti-corruption campaign and your valiant attempts to recover money looted by the former military dictator (a tautology if ever there was one) who did you the favor of dropping dead while in office. Bravo! I have just one question: why is his predecessor, the person who elevated bribery and corruption to a national art form, why is he not in jail? Why have there been no probes, no accusations, no charges leveled against him? It couldn't be because he contributed a substantial amount running into millions of naira (maybe even dollars) to your presidential bid, now could it? By the way, did you ever ask yourself or him, how he came by that amount, knowing full well that had he saved 100% of his salary for the nine years he was in power, he wouldn't have even half that much to give you? I suppose you have a don't-ask -don't-tell policy...never look a gift horse in the mouth and all that jazz, eh?
There, there, no need to distress yourselves gentlemen, your painful ordeal is almost over. Now of course I could go on forever but let's face it, I'm not saying anything you haven't heard (and ignored) before. My last question is for the coup plotters among you; the rest of you are free to go. Okay, now that we have succeeded in getting rid of 15% of you, we'll proceed.
To be frank, I'm even sure how to proceed. I mean, I have tried to put myself in your shoes but for the life of me, I can't imagine why a bunch of semi-illiterate soldiers, who have absolutely no experience and no skills in foreign policy, viable economic policies, government and other pre-requisites for running a country, would get up one day and declare themselves the most suited to rule their countries. Now I know what you're going to say: the politicians who supposedly possess the above qualifications haven't done such a bang-up job of it themselves. You're going to tell me they were corrupt, immoral people who were selling their citizens to foreign governments for personal fortunes and you would be right. But let's face it: you haven't exactly fared better, have you? Your governments are unparalleled in post-independence African history for repression, brutality and bad government. Yet, we are still spawning more of you. Amazing!
Ok, folks, your ordeal is at an end, just a few more words, I promise. You, our dear leaders, rule your countries for a decade or two, and then contrive to change the constitution so you can stay longer and yet what have you achieved? While other countries are debating which to which planet they'll send astronauts next, we are still trying to figure out how to provide the basic necessities of life to majority of our citizens.
Have you seriously considered the fact that you would have no countries to rule over if you continue on your destructive path? What a silly question! Of course you have, but no doubt you tell yourselves you still have plenty of time before that happens. That will be the headache of whoever comes after you, when you're dead.
I trust this experience hasn't been totally unpleasant for you, Mr. Presidents. Maybe we can make this a monthly event. In any case, you know where to find me.