There are many debilities which characterise the leadership and management of African states. The most commonly cited is the pervasive levels of corruption and mismanagement of resources. These may well be important but they are not unique to Africa. There are differences of degrees but few differences of kind which separate the levels of corruption of Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. However, there is a very serious debility which is anterior to the corruption and mismanagement in Africa which, while not entirely exclusive to Africa, is certainly endemic throughout the continent. This is the affliction brought on by ‘Tokoloshe’.
A ‘Tokoloshe’ is a mysterious and evil spirit from Zulu mythology which can enter its victim and turn him into an evil and malevolent creature. A good person can gradually turn into an ogre after the invasion by a Tokoloshe. The best example of this can be found in Kofi Osei’s book, Hello Africa, Tell Me, How Are You Doing: A Noble Continent in Painful Renaissance, Hello Africa Publishing 2006. "Here’s how the tokoloshe works. The newcomer, a populist president, who seized or won power on the zero tolerance to corruption platform, pledges that he will serve only the constitutional two terms and then go back to the military barracks, the lecture hall, trade union job or the commercial business he misses so much. Soon after, he makes his first European or trans-Atlantic trip in the presidential jet of lacquered mahogany and burnished leather interior. By the time the $30 million Citation or Gulfstream has whisked him silently above the clouds to the presidential suite in Paris’ Crillion or New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, and after basking in the echo of his first international applause to the speech at a conference, and after signing the road or oil contract of which a good percentage of the cost is lodged in the secret bank account he has just opened in Zurich, His Excellency is well and truly crooked. By the time he flies back home, he wants the jet, the limos, the gun salutes and the unlimited expense accounts to be permanent features in his life. Tokoloshe!"
Unfortunately this condition is not reserved only for heads of state; Governors, ex-Presidents, Senators, Assembly men and judges fall victim to this malaise. While this condition is pandemic in Africa, the epicentre of this condition is Nigeria. The country suffers from an extremely contagious form of Tokoloshe, fuelled by impunity in the courts, and an unashamed flaunting of the rules and constitutions which are in place and supposedly operative and elections which would be comic if the serious results of the rigging were not so disruptive. The Nigerian Constitution specifically states that the President can hold no other executive office. Nonetheless President Obasanjo retained the post of Oil Minister throughout his tenure. The Constitution, although specific on term limits, was construed by Obasanjo to allow him a Third Term.
Today IBB announced that he had a letter signed by President Goodluck Jonathan that Jonathan would not seek election in 2015. Obasanjo had signed similar letters in 2003 and 2008 with IBB but Obasanjo ignored them. What kind of a Constitution allows for the Presidency to be decided by correspondence between interested parties? The answer is Tokoloshe - the same kind of Tokoloshe which causes judges to refuse to follow the laws and impose sentences on proven thieves and bandits; that allows governors to treat their budgets, security payments and allocations as their personal accounts, with permanent injunctions preventing law suits for recovery; that allows banks to lend money to known crooks and bandits who have no intention of ever paying the loans.
Many African leaders are deceived that there is no one "good enough" to lead the country after they depart their office. They see themselves as demi-gods, almost immortal and made from some incorruptible material that is more than human. They should remember Kofi’s exhortation: "It was because of the danger of hubris that in Roman times, as Caesar celebrated his triumph in military campaigns with parades, and as he was being hailed, ‘Ave! Ave!’ by baying crowds, a slave would stand behind him and whisper: Memento homo - remember, you are mortal."
The enduring curse of the Tokoloshe is that those affected see themselves as absolved from the rules which bind the political systems which gave them office. They have no regard for the poor and disenfranchised as they don’t need them for anything. They do not fear the others afflicted by the Tokoloshe condition because they know they are playing by the same absence of rules.
The poor may murmur “God Dey, no condition is permanent”, but the reality is that once Tokoloshe takes hold, the permanence of inequality before the law is likely to be the result.