Africa's Injustices Aren't All to the South. Oppression by black leaders should elicit the same moral outrage heaped on South African apartheid

THE world tends to view Africa through a set of bifocal lenses. It can focus sharply on the abominable apartheid system in South Africa while its vision of the equally heinous tyranny in black Africa is blurred. More than 600,000 Lango and Acholi tribesmen perished at the hands of Idi Amin, Milton Obote, and Tito Okello. When Idi Amin was killing off Ugandans at the rate of 100 a day, the world and even the Organization of African Unity (OAU), did nothing.

One Ugandan Anglican bishop, Festo Kivengere, was quite irate: ``The OAU's silence encouraged and indirectly contributed to the bloodshed in Africa. I mean, the OAU even went so far as to go to Kampala [Uganda] for its 1975 summit and make Amin its chairman. And at the very moment the heads of state were meeting in the conference hall, talking about the lack of human rights in southern Africa, three blocks away in Amin's torture chambers, my countrymen's heads were being smashed ....''

In 1972, in Burundi, more than 200,000 Hutus, the majority tribe, were slaughtered in barely two months, with their homes and schools destroyed by the government run by the Tutsi minority tribe. Last August witnessed a repeat of the massacre with an estimated 20,000 Hutus slain.

Rather strangely, not a whiff of protest or condemnation escaped from the United Nations or from American public officials. Had that many African zebras or whales been slaughtered, the outrage and world condemnation would have been deafening. Why? Is it morally ``acceptable'' for a black tyrant to butcher his own black people?

Until 1987, the Tutsi government of Burundi operated a passbook system that restricted the movement of the Hutus in search of better jobs and economic opportunities within their own country. Ethiopia continues to enforce such passbook laws. Sound like South Africa?

Under apartheid, the system of racial segregation that denies the black majority equal opportunities for self-advancement, blacks in South Africa cannot vote in national elections or participate in decisions affecting them. Their movements are restricted by the hated passbook laws and a plethora of state regulations and controls. The Rev. Jesse Jackson could not have run for president in South Africa. Nor could he have in 39 out of the 41 black African nations!

Only two black African countries (Botswana and Senegal) allow their own black African people the right to vote and choose their leaders. Twenty-two are military dictatorships. The rest are farcical ``democracies'' where only one candidate, under a one-party state system, runs for president and always wins 99.9 percent of the vote to declare himself ``President-for-Life.''

The principle of ``political power sharing'' being extolled by black African leaders to South Africa is yet to be established in black Africa itself.

Since 1957, there have been more than 150 African heads of state. But only six (Abasanjo of Nigeria, Ahidjo of Cameroon, Dahab of Sudan, Nyerere of Tanzania, Senghor of Senegal, and Stevens of Sierra Leone) relinquished power voluntarily.

Even then, Stevens ruled for 15 years, Ahidjo for 18 years, Senghor for 20 years, and Nyerere for 22 years. The rest were booted out in military coups or assassinated.

The regimes established by modern African leaders are alien to indigenous Africa. In their native political systems, Africans are not ruled by soldiers. Further, African chiefs are chosen. They do not impose themselves on their people or declare themselves ``presidents-for-life'' and their villages ``one-party communities.''

When Africa asked for its independence and freedom from white colonial rule, it did not ask for its indigenous systems to be destroyed and a new set of alien regimes imposed upon its people. The freedom we, black Africans, arduously fought for has perfidiously been betrayed.

In Angola, Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and other African countries, tyranny reigns. Political oppression, civil war, ruinous strife, and chaos ravage black Africa. More than 8 million African peasants have fled their villages to escape the generalized state of violence and terror.

The UN estimates that over half of the world's refugees are in Africa. About 2 million of these refugees have voted with their feet to settle illegally in apartheid South Africa of all places. Over 5,000 Ugandans alone now live in South Africa.

One African, N.W. Awere, in a letter to the publication New African was particularly forthright: ``As a Ghanaian living in Transkei, South Africa, I wonder whether African leaders have any moral grounds to condemn South Africa. Which African country is a democracy in the true sense of the word?''

This in no way justifies apartheid, but it calls attention to the flagrant injustices heaped upon black Africans by their own leaders - the very same leaders who self-righteously lead the march to free the blacks in South Africa. Even Bishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate and staunchly anti-apartheid, can see through this transparent hypocrisy.

In a recent remark, he lamented: ``It is sad that South Africa is noted for its vicious violation of human rights. But it is also very sad to note that in many black African countries today, there is less freedom than there was during that much-maligned colonial period.''

In black Africa itself, Angolans, Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Gambians, Liberians, Somalians, Zaireans, Zambians, and others are speaking out against tyranny and demanding from their leaders the same political freedom, power sharing, and right to choose their leaders that those leaders demand for blacks in South Africa. That does not mean these black Africans are ``racist'' or do not support the struggle for freedom in South Africa. Far from it.

If the world does not understand this then, perhaps, it would be wise to stay out of Africa. The application of a peculiar standard that defines ``freedom'' only in terms of color is bound to exacerbate the plight of all black Africans, even including those in South Africa.

If an Idi Amin Mengistu were to emerge in post-apartheid South Africa, the world would probably acquiesce to his murderous eccentricities, to the detriment of the blacks ``freed'' from apartheid.

Until the world recognizes that oppression is oppression, irrespective of the skin color of the tyrant, it has no business pontificating about ``freedom'' for black Africans.

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