Most African leaders have one thing in common; they hate to be told the truth. So when revolutionary Ivorian reggae musician Tiken Jah Fakoly visited Senegal in 2007, he performed ‘Quitte Le Pouvoir’ urging Abdoulaye Wade to leave power.
After his performance Fakoly, a critic of corrupt African leaders, found a waiting Police Land Rover backstage which escorted him to the airport. He was declared persona non grata by Senegalese president for “trying to poison the minds of Senegalese” to kick him out.
In his 2010 album African Revolution, Tiken calls for change: “We want revolution, young people revolution, an intelligent revolution.”
But revolution will not come with the painted youths advancing the old leaders’ cause. Revolution will not come with the purposeless youths walking about aimlessly believing that change would come from the 80-year-olds who have occupied influential positions for too long.
It is not surprising therefore that Thlupego Chisiza, in his new play What Lies Ahead (a simplified version of his grandfather’s book Africa: What Lies Ahead), recognises the youth as a sprocket wheel in the much anticipated revolution. The role of the youth, as Dunduzu Kaluli Chisiza Senior learnt during his presentation of Africa: What Lies Ahead around 1960s, cannot be ignored.
Although Thlupego has not attempted to fully explore the many issues his grandfather raised, the new play tackles pertinent issues that put into focus the youth’s participation in deciding their future.
“This play is a tribute to my father, I am using the platform he so loved to highlight the important issues today. At the same time, I am inspired by the thoughts of my grandfather who asked important questions in his book. I could not highlight everything but I am glad this play will stir a debate about what my grandfather thought,” Thlupego says.
Using the church to drive the message home, Thlupego’s technique to use a bishop –instead of the president – is significant. Significant because in the Church, that’s where reason must prevail but today, the Church is just as chaotic as the political arena.
A bishop rants about people’s failure to appreciate his efforts to transform the Church (the nation). Despite the generators the bishop has bought for the Church to mitigate persistent power failure, the congregants don’t appreciate such efforts. Since the leadership is old, it is detached from the reality within the Church as young believers would also want to be fully involved in running the affairs of the Church. The youth within the Church want people who can run, not those who can only run for five minutes and ask for a wheel chair. The bishop is worried that the Churche’s branches have been taken over by others whose influence is growing each day (a direct reference to the loss Democratic People’s Party suffered in the by-elections in Nsanje, Blantyre, Lilongwe and Dedza which Malawi Congress Party dominated).
In the play, Thlupego deals effectively with nepotism. Those who are close to the leadership of the Church are rewarded. For instance, a Church member who gossips about others is hugely rewarded for his role.
While the bishop is grappling with the many issues affecting the Church, the youth say enough is enough and they want change. The play ends with the question “What Lies Ahead?” Would this be answered in 2019? Perhaps the play is reflecting on contemporary issues with former First Lady Callista Mutharika calling for young leadership in 2019.
“I could have tackled a lot of issues but perhaps in future, I will explore more of the issues my grandfather raised. For now, I just wanted to pay tribute to Du Chisiza Jnr,” said Thlupego.
Indeed, there is a lot that Thlupego’s grandfather raised. In his observation, Chisiza Senior believed the relationship between the ruling party and the opposition is very important as it is a catalyst for development. He wrote: “This unhealthiness [between the ruling party and opposition] is indicated by such symptoms as intolerance toward opposition parties, a tendency toward strong man governments, indulgence in smear campaigns and political instability … the economic and social problems which confront new countries [Independent countries] require, for their solution, that there should be unity, stability and cooperation between government and opposition.”
Secondly, Chisiza Senior also highlighted the challenges facing most countries in Africa and what it would take to address the challenges. He wrote: “Most of the countries are at war – with poverty, ignorance, malnutrition, and disease. Whether they win the war will depend, to a very large extent, on the cooperation and the enthusiasm which the leaders can generate among themselves and among their fellow countrymen.”
Chisiza’s understanding of the African environment compelled him to compare the situation with Western countries. He highlighted the role of the opposition parties in a democracy. He wrote: “In Western countries the function of the opposition is to compel thought, to expose some of the dangers of the policies of the government, and to exhort the government to change those policies which are dangerous.”
He continues: “In Africa, few opposition [parties] can claim the achievement of either compelling thought or persuading governments to change some of their policies.”
On nepotism, Chisiza Senior wrote: “An allied danger to the foregoing is that of nepotism … here again we are confronted with favouritism but this time the emphasis of the leaders is on their relatives rather on their party supporters. In this case, uncles, brothers, nephews, cousins, and in-laws are preferred above others in the allocation of offices, not because they are better qualified than other candidates but because they happen to be the relatives of the leaders.”
This, he wrote, is deplorable if the “leaders go to the extreme of leap-frogging suitably qualified non-party people in favour of unqualified party supporters to fill posts which require technical skills.”
The problem with this kind of approach is that it promotes discrimination. He wrote: “This kind of discrimination is just as offensive and iniquitous as colour discrimination. It results in the waste and misallocation of a scarce resource – trained men; it stifles the emergence of efficient business as well as administrative executives, it encourages people not to seek knowledge or training but to brace up their relationship with the leaders, and above all it may lead some hard-hit men into the tragic belief that they can remedy the situation only by assassinating and replacing current leaders with their own kith and kin.”
Perhaps foretelling what African leaders would become decades later, Chisiza Senior called for leaders who will make a difference not just filling positions. He wrote: “Leaders of underdeveloped countries cannot afford to wallow in routine work. They must initiate development schemes which will raise the levels of living of their peoples thereby exhibiting the blessings of freedom.”
As it has been the case with the leaders – who mostly surround themselves with advisors – the President still remains the captain of the ship. Chisiza Senior wrote: “Leaders must have clear vision, a clear picture of the new state of affairs that must be brought about … it is not enough for leaders to have experts around to advise them on technical details; they themselves must have a fairly good idea of problems involved, the possible solutions, the economic potential and limitations of their countries and what other leaders in similar situations have done, are doing and propose to do.”
And indeed these ideas, Thlupego says, must be explored in future.
“I will consider all those teachings in future. What we are going though at the moment is not new, the fact that others highlighted that already should remind us that we are not doing the right thing,” he says.