Do you sometimes feel, dear reader,
that you are in the middle of a hostage situation in which you and your fellow
captives know that you are in a bad way and there is nothing you can do about
it because all the doors are locked and your hands and feet have been manacled?

If you do, then you are living in an African country
governed the African way. The country probably has a constitution that says all
the beautiful words that constitutions are meant to say, guaranteeing the right
to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It probably also says that there
will be periodic elections that shall be free, fair and transparent. It also
establishes a number of grand-sounding institutions to enforce these rights,
such as a talking shop called parliament, courts of law, an ombudsman and such

Indeed, every so many years you and your fellow captives
troop out to vote for your preferred candidate and/or party, and at the end of
the exercise, a government of sorts is formed and its head makes a
grandiloquent statement reaffirming his commitment to the delivery of the
goodies he promised during the campaign, the nation listens carefully and your
hopes soar.

But before you grow old you realise you’ve been had. All the
rhetoric, you learn, was just words, all the promises empty and all your hopes
unfounded. You get to know why “politician” was, in Shakespearean parlance,
used to denote a dishonest and dissembling character. You rue the day you went
to vote, and may even swear never to vote again.

The hostage situation becomes more and more intractable when
you realise that despite your realisation that all the literature about freedom
and prosperity and all the declarations about service to the nation were traps
with which to ensnare you, you cannot wiggle out of the bind you find yourselves

And, you may sometimes participate in your continued
enslavement by siding with some of your kidnappers because they come from your
tribe or profess the same superstition as yourself, and they probably told you
it’s your turn to eat. Yet, if you looked closely you would find out that it’s
the turn of the big man and his wife and children to eat while you of the tribe
or faith make do with the crumbs off the high table. Tribal, religious and
regional alliances are ploys used by cheats to fool the masses.

Often, while you lie on the floor blindfolded and bound hand
and foot, you will hear bitter wrangling among the thieves fighting over your
property, one claiming the television set, another the stereo system and a
third the jewellery. You realise there is no honour among these thieves, and
you are praying that they settle their differences quickly, take whatever they
want and leave your house.

But they are not leaving in any hurry because another
argument erupts as to whether they should kill you since you may be able to
identify them, and you now know you are really in a bad way. Well, they do not
exactly kill you but they do not leave either. They remain and make your home
theirs, and you remain seriously handicapped because you are still bound,
blindfolded and maybe gagged as well.

This is the situation in which many African countries find
themselves in, being governed for the most part by conspiracies that came into
power riding on a wave of popular support, with the enthusiastic hope among the
populace that the deprivations of the outgoing regime were a thing of the past.
Soon, the past becomes the present as well as the future.

We are saddled with thieving scoundrels that we apparently
cannot get rid of, and we helplessly listen to them haggling over our property
as they demand fairness in the sharing of the loot. And even if they untie you
and say you are free to leave, it’s like in the old Eagles’ song, Hotel
California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…”


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