The liberation of African countries from colonialism was, by and large, bloody business. But aside from being a struggle of guns and other deadly arms; our struggle was also a contest of ideas.
As some comrades fought the colonialists in battlefields, others were engaged in an equally important intellectual and educational campaign. The purpose of this other form of warfare was to awaken our people to the evils of colonialism and the importance of self-rule.
It was essential that the people were educated on why they were fighting, why their support was required and how their lives would change when the war was won.
Our people needed to know that we fought the racist, exploitative and oppressive system, not necessarily the white man-though these were inextricably linked.
To this end liberation movements sent emissaries to educate the people.
The people began to believe in the struggle, they became the struggle .The support of the masses proved decisive and the guerrillas easily evaded the colonialists with the help of the people. Like Cde Mao said, they became fish in a sea of civilians.
This education of the masses helped when we held our first democratic elections in 1980. The nationalist parties were very popular and easily won all available seats.
But after independence, our government slowly let this engagement of ideas die. Slowly but surely the state began to stifle free speech and imposed some laws reminiscent of colonial ones to achieve this end.
The people were no longer the struggle- only the leaders were. Our leaders forgot their promises and few dared to question. They abandoned principle and instead embarked on political and economic aggrandisement.
Our leaders did not allow criticism; their policies were not to be oppugned.
The few who dared to question were labelled traitors, hotheads and noisemakers. Some were imprisoned.
Because of fear we came to hallow our leaders.
Thus we allowed our democracy to wither and die. We allowed our leaders to rule without the reining voice of public opinion.
Democracy can only flourish where there is freedom of expression.
We did not ask how many of the pre-liberation ideals had been realised. We kept quiet as our leaders turned from liberators into oppressors of our people.
The white man is gone but the system remains-we have leaders as venal, corrupt, cruel and oppressive as ever. Our leaders do us wrong, they wear the masks of Fanon.
We need to start questioning them again, to make them accountable to us, make them a real government “of the people, by the people, for the people”
Especially now as we approach our elections. We should analyse their party manifestos, debate their ideas and scrutinise the candidates themselves.
The contest of ideas must never die.