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Friday, April 12, 2024

Reaching for the top

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…and clinging to it with one’s nails

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With Aisha Jallow

This seems to be the life goal of every African leader, no matter the cost. There is a famous quote by the former American president John F Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This was a part of his inaugural address that inspired children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service. Our African leaders are unfortunately not asking what their countries can do for them. Instead, they are demanding their countries to do everything they can for their leaders, and following their every whim.

I am a member of a political party here in Sweden, it is called the Centre Party. The party’s major issues are the National economy, the environment, political decentralisation and social integration. On the local level, where every politician begins their career, we have several boards responsible for different matters. The board, I am a member of, is responsible for culture and free time activities. I like our system, where all our politicians have begun their career on a local level. It is important to know who one day is going to represent the people on the parliamentary level. The members of the parliament are stationed in our capitol, Stockholm, but it is their obligation to visit their home municipalities as often as possible to meet their voters and listen to their opinions.

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If a politician must begin his or her political career on a local level, you will know him or her better. You will be able to meet that person and by that you realise that this person is like you – not above you. When you are able to meet that person regularly, you can influence him/her and make sure that he or she doesn’t suddenly begin to misuse any kind of power. Through our system, it is not possible to more or less wake up one day and find yourself being the highest leader. Of course, we have politicians who are very ambitious, but our democratic system is holding them back. These ambitious leaders struggle to get to the top, of course. That is human, but just because of that fact we must have a strong democratic system that is not allowing anyone to go too far.

In December 2022, the African leaders were invited to a summit, a kind of large conference in the United States. In president Biden’s invitation, we could read: ”Africa will shape the future — not just the future of the African people, but of the world.” President Biden believes US collaboration with African leaders, as well as civil society, business, diaspora, women, and youth leaders, is essential to unlocking the potential of this decisive decade.

The 3-day summit focussed on efforts to strengthen ties with African partners based on principles of mutual respect and shared interests and values. It also served as an opportunity to listen to and collaborate with African counterparts on key areas, the United States and Africa define as critical for the future of the continent and our global community. 

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The summit built on the shared values to: better foster new economic engagement; reinforce the U.S Africa commitment to democracy and human rights; soften the impact of COVID-19 and of future pandemics; work collaboratively to strengthen regional and global health; promote food security; advance peace and security respond to the climate crisis; and strengthen diaspora ties.

Sound marvellous, don’t you think? Imagine what can be done when all the African leaders have returned home after the summit with full of energy and inspiration, with a mind full of creative solutions for every problem in their countries. As soon as the US snaps their fingers, the African leaders go there and pretend to listen and promise to implement all the great ideas they are given. No more security issues, no more terrorists hiding in the jungle, preparing for their next attack on innocent school girls or villagers. No more children going to bed, crying of hunger, no more illnesses spread because of a lack of medication, funds and knowledge, no more will young girls be forced to skip school because they are going to get married far too young, children will no more be forced to stay home because their parents can’t afford school fees, and/or school material and uniforms.

The fertile soil in Africa can feed all its children, so why are so many suffering from malnutrition? Doesn’t anyone in Africa have the answers? Must the African leaders really have to go far away to America to get the solutions? Why are they not searching for their own solutions in their own countries? Why? Well, some of them are more interested in a free holiday, staying at a fancy hotel and having free and delicious meals. The leaders don’t go on their own, and their companions are of course very interested in coming along plus the allowance that suits them well, it’s like icing on the cake.

There are some African leaders who wish to do good for their people. We can look at the development in Rwanda, for example, but even president Kagame has his head up in the clouds. He has been the president in Rwanda since the year 2000 and according to the results of the latest election, he will be sitting until 2034. This means that he will be in power until he is 77 years old. I do respect people of age, but aging is affecting us all and an old mind is becoming slower and not as flexible as before. President Kagame is a mixture between a brilliant leader and a dictator. During his presidency, Rwanda has become more and more authoritarian. There is only one party that is ruling and the opposition has nothing to say as they are held back with force.

Paul Kagame has methodically lifted his people out of poverty, but at the same time he has limited the freedom of speech. It is suspected that he has murdered several political opponents, so as long as you agree with president Kagame all is good. If not – bye, bye! Our Swedish king, Carl Gustav, is now 77 years old, just as Paul Kagame will become at the end of his current term. The difference between these two men is that our king has no actual power. In the old times, it was different, but for about 100 years, it is the parliament that owns the power.

The top rank leader is the prime minister, so why is Sweden still a monarchy? It is old tradition, and some people question it, but most people still find value in the monarchy.

The king and his closest family are representing Sweden, both nationally and internationally. This is valuable in so many ways, but the power is spread to the representatives of the people. It is never wise to allow only one person to have too much power. The power must always be combined with a sense of responsibility, with a vision that includes the people and not the ego. A desperate reach for the top will make the fall down from it very hard, it is better to reach for a reasonable level so one can step down with dignity.

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