Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|July 26, 2022|5 Minutes|In Opinion


Big money, big cars, big passports  is that it ?

“What I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists who drive around in Mercedes Benz’s and use the resources of this country to live in palaces and to gather riches.” - Chris Hani

How many entrepreneurs in Africa look at the prophetic words from the former head of the South African Communist Party Chris Hani and then look to the heavens in despair. Hani -gunned down in 1993 long before his prime – was tipped to be a future president and was a shrewd man who knew what he was talking about.

Nearly 30 years on, this sage prophecy has been borne out and Africans make jokes about their politicians and kleptomania.

Everyone hoped for better times when the winds of political change in Africa blew away the butt of one of the oldest jokes about colonialism.

“Why did the sun never set on the British Empire?”

Answer: ”Because even God didn’t trust the British in the dark!”

Along came the fresh dawn in the shape of idealistic liberation fighters from Zimbabwe to Algeria who had suffered and sacrificed to free their people from colonial chains.

It may sound simplistic, but often the best ideas are. No longer would African resources and political  power reside in a distant capital in Europe.

What do we get generations later? The elite driving expensive Mercedes along pot holed roads unfit for purpose; politicians flying out to hospitals in Europe because the medical wards at home – that is it their job to maintain – are a shambles. Billions in state funds lost through crooked deals.

I remember that grand old man of Nigerian business Pascal Dozie once telling me in his  Lagos office.

“Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world where if you ask people what business they are in  reply: politics!” he said with a smile.

“People laugh at you if you come out of government without a big pile of money,” said former guerrilla fighter and MP in Zimbabwe Margaret Dongo. She resigned in protest against corruption in the 1990s,but it seemed to have little effect.

It means while entrepreneurs have been working their fingers to the bone to earn a share of the economy, many politicians have made a small fortune merely by winking at corruption and  scurrying through the dark for money. Every cent that disappears means another setback for the prospects  of health and wealth for the poor of the very people you fought for.

One incident, from my first days in Africa nearly 30 years ago, stands out and I think it says it all.

One sweaty afternoon in downtown Harare I was trying to get my press accreditation. I needed a photograph, so the officials directed me to a small shopping centre called Ximex Mall.

In those days, before cellphones, photographs were a scarce commodity in Africa and you had to be patient to get one. Therefore, I joined a long queue of people in a cramped waiting room, many of whom had travelled for many hours and some appeared to have paid their last dollar to be there. In those days, most official documents needed an ID photograph.

The door burst open and in swept a government minister and his two well-dressed and well-fed daughters. They carried their red British passports, self-consciously, in their hands. They dripped with gold and their voices were cut-glass, clearly the product of a very expensive English education.

“Father,” said one,” do we really have to wait here with all these people?”

Of course not. The minister and his precious daughters swept past the long queue and was out in a couple of minutes. The rest of us waited for a couple of hours.

Is that it? My idealistic mind thought at the time. Was the whole point of fighting a struggle, going to prison, suffering oppression all about  moving your children out of Africa and getting them British accents and passports?

Have you come so far for so little?