Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has broken with Africa's time-honoured convention of blind solidarity by slamming violations of the rule of law by President Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe. Speaking at a press conference in Germany to mark the end of the third Germany/European Partnership with Africa, he said, “I want to emphasise that what is happening in Zimbabwe is not in conformity with the rule of law. I do not subscribe to this."
Such forthright criticism of the Zimbabwean regime has not been heard in abundance from the African elite. The conventions of African politics appear to place a higher premium on elite solidarity above principled leadership. As such, leaders have unashamedly chosen to ignore the suffering of African people under the brutal leadership of some of the world's most heinous dictatorships in the name of Pan-African solidarity. Thus stripped of its noble objectives, Pan-African solidarity has come to mean the adoption by African elites of a laager mentality vis a vis the very people they lead as well as external critics. It is no surprise, therefore, that the prevailing consensus among African pro-democracy activists is that the continent's international organisations and regional blocs tend to behave as trade unions for political leaders.
It is also quite telling that the most rabid proponents of Pan-African solidarity are usually those leaders with disgraceful human rights records in their own backyards such as Mugabe. The argument that solidarity is the necessary counterweight to prevailing threats from an unrelenting imperialism are routinely used as justification for stalling Africa's democratic consolidation and advancement.
It is refreshing, in this regard, that a leader of one of Africa's powerhouses should come out in such a public manner against the violation of democracy in Zimbabwe. Indeed, it gives the long-suffering people of Africa a glimmer of hope as to the direction their continent could take in the future under a principled leadership. The realpolitik of silence as a strategy for resolving problems wrought by dictators, as pursued by South African president Thabo Mbeki, sends out confusing signals about the values to which Africa should aspire.
Ironically, Mbeki himself is the author of the ambitious African Renaissance drive, an intellectual paradigm that has inspired the continent's blue-print for development - the New Partnership for Africa's development (NEPAD). As Mugabe prepares to rig and murder his way to "re-election" in March 2008, Africa's leaders must make it abundantly clear that they will not be roped into defending the indefensible. Yar Adua has shown the way, hats off to him.