Many Africans viewed colonialists as encroachers and oppressors during the colonial era. Thus, they craved, clamoured and fought hard for independence. I commend them highly for the earnest efforts they made to disentangle our people from the clutches of those exploiters. However, hopes were dashed shortly after the attainment of independence. Despondent as they were, some Africans started asking the questions: Are we really independent? When will independence end? To them, “independent” Africa is much more difficult than pre-independent Africa. I concur with them to a large extent because things have been growing from bad to worse and continue to deteriorate by the second since independence, as substantiated by the political and economic crises we are currently experiencing in Africa.
 
Civil wars are very common in Africa where many countries have been destabilized, with large numbers of people displaced. Authorities endeavour to suppress and stifle dissent, as evidenced by the persecution, victimization and brutalization of politicians, preachers, writers, journalists and activists. This takes the form of arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, incarceration, torture, murder, harassment, banishment and the like. Today, most African countries are suffering from economic slump, as exemplified by the depreciation of local currencies, exceedingly high level of inflation, heavy debt to the point of insolvency, low salaries, and high rates of unemployment and brain drain. Misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds, armed robbery, drug peddling and arm trafficking are rampant and on the rise in Africa.     
 
The question arises now: Who is responsible for this adverse situation? To me, a large proportion of the blame goes to our leaders whose avarice and desire for self-aggrandizement prompt them to oppress their people as a way of defending their selfish interest. That many African leaders amass wealth rapidly and lead flamboyant lifestyles amply demonstrates their immense contribution to our woes. To add insult to injury, they unscrupulously and ruthlessly maltreat their people in their attempts to perpetuate themselves in power. In some cases, the money looted by African leaders can go quite a long way in servicing the debt of their countries, which leads many to wonder whether they are sincere and justified in their requests for debt relief. In other cases, the money wasted in propaganda or in trying to repair the battered image of heads of state can assuage the problems of their people or improve their wretched living conditions significantly. For these reasons, many people believe that such leaders lack mercy and are hence insensitive to the sufferings of their compatriots. They are so cruel that they can pinch a corpse. Their behaviour is utterly unfair and unacceptable. What is more shameful and sinful than mistreating people for selfish interest after seeking their mandate to lead them and taking an oath to serve their interests? Why take loans or seek debt relief while spending lavishly? Why impose a heavy debt burden on people and deny them the chance to benefit from the money as they should?
 
However, we should remember that a leader is just one person among many and thus cannot hold a whole country to ransom without the complicity of others, no matter what powers he has or is believed to have. I quite agree with the philosopher who contends that leaders are shaped by their societies and that members of society have their share of the blame where leaders go wrong. According to this philosopher, all leaders- good or bad- have their twin brothers or twin sisters in society. In other words, there is affinity or inherent resemblance between leaders and some members of society. Bluntly put, every leader has people like him in his society. This argument is cogent, for leaders come from society, not from the sky. A leader cannot do anything without the help of others, nor can he lead or become a leader without the help of people. Therefore, the blame cannot be laid squarely on the feet of African leaders for their misbehavior and our predicament. Going by this philosophy, it can be rightly stated that Africans, like their leaders, have their share of the blame for their plight. Put in simple terms, some subjects are tarred with the same brush as their leaders. Like their leaders, many Africans aspire after prestige, status and material resources to the extent of conniving or conspiring with bad leaders in their misdeeds.  This explains why some people in Africa put the interest of their heads of state before the interest of the masses. This is why some shameless, wicked people in Africa are always ready to do the dirty job or try to defend, justify, cover up or condone any nonsense, regardless of the sufferings of the populace. It is for this reason that some stone-hearted Africans lead a life of sycophancy and flattery, hailing heartless, brutal dictators as egalitarians, humanitarians and saviors. Those opportunists, zombies and brutes, who aid and abet tyrants, should bear in mind that they can fall victim of their brutality or taste their own medicine anytime and yearn for the downfall of the dictators after helping them to tighten their grip on power. They should also take into account the indisputable fact that it is much easier to entrench a dictator than to remove him. As we all know, dictators are reluctant to relinquish power or accept change. In summary, they cannot allow smooth transfer of power. They prefer to die in power or have their countries set ablaze and burnt to ashes in case of change. True, dictators can be removed with determination. However, removing a fully-fledged dictator could be extremely difficult and time-consuming, just as untying a tightly-tied rope could prove to be a hard job. Besides, it could be disastrous, calamitous or catastrophic. It is therefore folly to help a dictator entrench himself with the belief that he can be ousted easily when the urge is felt to do so. We should refrain or desist from helping dictators to consolidate their power. That way, we can save ourselves the troubles associated with the daunting task of rooting out or bringing down dictators. To be on the safe side, it is recommendable and prudent to take note of the saying “The wind that has blown the leaf into a hole cannot blow it out of the hole” when dealing with a dictator.    
 
It is a pity that Africa has gone to the dog owing to the bad behaviour of her sons and daughters, which has in turn begotten affliction for the common people. Africans have been impoverished, pauperized, agonized and antagonized by their own compatriots who hold them hostage. Independence is an era in which Africans are enslaved and brutalized by their fellow Africans. This is heartbreaking, to say the least. We have experienced deterioration in terms of living conditions and suffered human rights abuse miserably and excruciatingly at the hands of our compatriots after having been maltreated by our colonial masters in many ways for quite a long time. The situation can be likened to moving from the frying pan into the fire, just as I pointed out in an article I wrote in the Daily Observer newspaper of The Gambia on 20 September 2004.
 
How can we talk of independence in a situation where some Africans residing in the West have the guts to scathingly criticize Western leaders but lack the nerve to openly or publicly censure their own devious, crooked and misguided leaders and hence choose to remain reticent or indifferent regarding the issues affecting their countries of origin, or- worst of all- sing the praises of and try to defend such blood-thirsty, power-ravenous and egocentric African leaders? What about a situation where a leader demoralizes public servants and members of the armed and security forces of his country by hiring and firing them whimsically and capriciously or forcing them to work on his vast, numerous farms like slaves? Can we claim to be independent where a leader who portrays himself as a Pan-Africanist and castigates colonialists and Westerners day in day out dehumanizes his compatriots by labelling them as witches and wizards, forcing them to drink poisonous, hallucinating concoctions in the name of purging them? Does it make sense to talk about independence where a leader can make unilateral, rash, silly and sensitive decisions and declarations on behalf of his compatriots, order the kidnapping, killing or torture of innocent people, personalize or monopolize state properties and institutions and freely spend meagre state resources on misplaced priorities?  Such a shameless, senseless, merciless, remorseless and rapacious leader has no moral authority to utter or make mention of the word “independence”, let alone celebrate it. He is a menace and a disgrace to Africans in particular and the human race at large, as he has proven to be a terrorist, a sadist, a plunderer, a squanderer, a tormentor, an impostor and a charlatan. Evidently, we are not really independent as envisaged and desired.      
 
To reverse or remedy this awkward, unfavourable situation in which we have found ourselves and prove to our colonial masters that we can decide or shape our own destiny, we need to put collective or national interest before personal or group interest and treat each other with mercy, justice and fairness. Otherwise, we will continue to blame our colonial masters and other outsiders for our innumerable crises while- at the same time- begging them and seeking protection or salvation from them continuously.
 
Written By Ebou Gaye, UK
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