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African youth favour untainted heroes

African youth favour untainted heroes
  • PublishedOctober 1, 2019

Robert Mugabe’s death and funeral were largely a matter of indifference to most of the youth of Africa. Their heroes are cut from a different cloth, says Winnie Odinga 

“As a mark of respect for the memory of this African hero (Robert Mugabe) and friend of our country, by the authority vested in me as President of Kenya, I hereby order and direct that the flag of the Republic shall be flown at half-mast,” announced Uhuru Kenyatta.

This Presidential directive elicited mixed reactions online among young Kenyans. There were those who were angry because the flag had not been at half-mast after the terror attack in February this year. Then there were those who simply didn’t care – they were indifferent to the whole situation, arguing that whatever Mugabe or whomever had done all those decades ago is simply not relatable to them today. 

The truth is, hate him or love him, everyone pretty much agrees Mugabe was once great.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have finally reached the point that many of our forefathers have dreaded – the era when young Africans are no longer held hostage by the past. 

My fascination with funeral and burial ceremonies performed by different cultures probably made me one of the few people on the continent that followed the final journey of the Adidas-draped corpse from Singapore to Harare.

 I googled, Twitter-searched and followed anyone with any new news on what was going on with the great Mugabe funeral. The truth is, hate him or love him, everyone pretty much agrees Mugabe was once great. Some believe he was a great hero, statesman, African champion; others describe him as a great disappointment, a dictator and villain. 

As an African I know that the fall of an elephant always shakes the ground; however, the virtually empty Rufaro sports stadium stands in Harare during the state funeral ceremony pointed to more of a tremor than an earthquake. 

Watching the coverage, I reminisced on the passing of heroes gone by. I remember coming from night class and standing at a crosswalk at the beginning of winter in Philadelphia when I got the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away. 

My nose was dripping from the cold and ‘Moment for Life’, by Nicki Minaj ft. Drake, was playing in my headphones as it dawned on me that the world would never truly be the same again. To this day, whenever I hear that song, I think of Madiba. I’m pretty sure nobody else in the world feels that same way. 

When Winnie Mandela, my personal hero died in April last year, I again felt deep sorrow, deeper than what I felt for Madiba, to be honest. I concocted a master plan to attend the Soweto funeral of a woman I had never met, but had spoken to once on the telephone. No matter what, I was not going to miss that event. 

I remember when John Garang, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Muammar Gaddafi died. Their deaths marked ends of eras, but what do these deaths mean to young Africans today? Who are the real African giants and heroes now?

A new African hero?

I went on a mission to ask friends around the continent what they felt about the death of Mugabe and who they identified as a modern-day African hero. To sum it up, I have to say that the former question was met with feelings of indifference. 

When I asked why, one Kenyan friend said she felt that he had not been consistent and she feels that about a lot of leaders today. Gone are the days when Monsieur Le Président was the alpha and omega. We used to be sheltered from the inadequacies of our leaders.

Now, on social media, we not only acknowledge that our leaders have faults but we tell them off in 140 characters flat. We start hashtags, make memes and draw graphic images, all aimed at breaking down the aura of the Presidency. 

My Ghanaian friend too said he didn’t feel that leaders of today were consistently trying to improve Africa but rather, were puppets beholden to the new cold war between the US and China. This question of consistency kept coming up around the continent as an issue that left the African youth jaded with African politics and bored with political issues. 

Today, what the African youth hopes for is no longer freedom from ills like colonialism or apartheid, but to be seen and appreciated in the world.

This year the death of Eritrean/ American rapper Nipsey Hussle elicited more reaction and grief on the continent than that of the ‘Great African Liberator’, Robert Mugabe. Can you believe that the death of an artist and wordsmith was more impactful than the death of a man who fought for freedom? When Papa Wemba collapsed on stage, Kenya Airways flights to Kinshasa were packed with mourners going to the funeral. 

A hero is someone who symbolises hope and victory for the people but I believe being consistent while slowly achieving success could be the key to amassing universal support. Today, what the African youth hopes for is no longer freedom from ills like colonialism or apartheid, but to be seen and appreciated in the world.

African musicians like Burna Boy, WizKid and Davido, are not only living the superstar lifestyle most of us can only dream of, but are also collaborating with megastars in current popular music. We watched their journey as they consistently honed their craft, collaborated, leaned and practised hard and to make it to that status. 

Football stars like Didier Drogba, Victor Wanyama, Mohamed Salah and even George Weah (as a soccer star, not as President!)  all symbolise for the young African the success of persistence, hard work and effort. 

Their mantra seems to have been ‘put your head down, focus on your skill, don’t bother anybody and you’ll be just fine’. They are seen as opening the door for many young Africans, who feel proud that their talents and efforts are actually being recognised. 

As a result of their performances on the world stage, we Africans are known for more than famine, war, stolen elections and corruption. African politics, sorry to say, has generally been a long story of failure, power addiction, abuse of office, corruption on a grand scale, violence, injustice and blatant hypocrisy. Good decent political leadership is very thin on the ground – not just in Africa but around the world.

The Madibas of this world come only once in several lifetimes. 

Is it any wonder that African youths who feel betrayed by the older generation, who often literally stole their birthright to squander it on trifles in foreign fleshpots, or failed miserably to uplift their people while filling their foreign bank accounts, are so dismissive of Africa’s Grand Old Men? We certainly don’t want to be remembered for Mugabe!

In sharp contrast, our musicians, artists, writers, sportspeople and entrepreneurs are shining on the world stage through their own efforts. What is more, most are wonderful, generous human beings. No wonder they are our heroes and heroines. No wonder when one of them dies, we mourn because we have lost someone of great value. For the others, they come, strut their stuff as Shakespeare says, and are gone, heard of no more. 


Written By
Winnie Odinga

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