Recently on holiday in West Africa, I was somewhat torn. There was a strong temptation to leave my political conscience in a left luggage locker at Gatwick. Indeed, I think I did to an extent. I was, after all, on holiday and, being in a rural “eco lodge”, I was able to mix with ordinary Africans and provide some support to the local economy.
But on my return, I’ve been able to reflect. It is quite depressing to see pitifully poor people (in the specific country I visited which I acknowledge is the exception to the rule these days) with a President and his tribe, who cling to power, sew up the opposition and control the national media, all lubricated by back-handers. Offset against that, one sees the strong role of the family, involving stable family “compounds” with crops and animals, and the outward cheerfulness of the people. A friend related a tale of an African visiting London and being in tears on seeing homeless people on the streets – “Why are their families not caring for them?” – she asked. So we need to be careful not to judge too readily.
However, through my trusty shortwave radio I was able to listen to the BBC World Service and received a little encouraging news, albeit of the “curate’s egg” variety, from the rest of Africa. Africa’s “Super Sunday” – when polls were held in six states. Results from Zanzibar, Niger and Congo seem to fit the “clinging to power” model. Cape Verde elected the liberal opposition party – yay! Power changed hands in Benin, where the President was praised for allowing power to change hands after ten years in office.
But I was most encouraged by the result of the referendum in Senegal, where the people decided to reduce the presidential term from seven to five years, and introduce a two term limit.