His Masters’ Voice


His Masters’ Voice

“John Sentamu is a world-class showman who is divinely inspired… [He] is an accomplished media performer who never wastes a sound-bite or photo-opportunity. It would be wrong to say that he acts or speaks first and thinks later – he is too clever for that. But he is a man of instinct. Those instincts are rooted in principle and when he speaks, it is with the absolute moral authority of a leader” – Liz Hunt, The Daily Telegraph, 11 Dec 2007.

What a shame that an African can be so lost! Archbishop Dr John Sentamu, the second highest office holder in the Church of England, is now reduced to – only – “a world-class showman [and] accomplished media performer who never wastes a sound-bite or photo opportunity”. It is a huge insult to the son of the Ugandan soil. Is this the sum of his whole worth? A mere “showman” and “media performer”?  They will next call him “a spin doctor” or even “a follow-follow”. Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Lord that Sentamu claims to serve, must surely be shaking his head in Heaven seeing such a talented African making himself so cheap, even a laughing stock!

Sentamu’s latest “performance” – whipping off his clerical collar (the adoring British media described it as a “dog chain”) and cutting it into pieces live on BBC TV, and vowing never to wear another one until President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was out of power, would go down as one of the saddest days in African history. A day an African of Sentamu’s standing allowed himself to be used as a diversion from a crucial EU-Africa Summit in Portugal where the continent, for once, stood as one and refused to bend the knee to European chicanery.

And Liz Hunt of The Daily Telegraph wants us to believe that Sentamu “started to cut the collar into pieces with a pair of scissors that just happened to be handy”. Come on, since when did pairs of scissors “just happen to be handy” in BBC TV studios? I have been to a few BBC studios over the last 20 years, and pairs of scissors don’t just happen to be handy there. You plan to make it handy. Either Sentamu asked for it before the programme started or he brought it from home. In which case a security issue arises – how did he get the pair of scissors through the stiff security at the BBC without being detected? – unless, as Liz Hunt reports, “some have dismissed it as an organised stunt”. Which, sadly, paints Sentamu in his true colours!

The other day when Sentamu made similar remarks about Zimbabwe in front of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he was said to have just “dropped by” No.10 Downing Street – on a Sunday. But only the downright gullible will believe that the whole event was not choreographed to appear (as one Son of the African Soil put it), “as a chance drop-by of a holy man on the home of one of his flock. Come on, let us be serious! You don’t just drop by No.10 as if you are alighting from a train at Victoria Station. I know the rigmarole of minding schedules of leaders.” Sentamu even went on TV thereafter to reinforce his message. And in the UK, you don’t just pick up a phone and tell a TV station that “my name is Sentamu, I want to come on your programme today. Expect me at 11 o’clock”. It doesn’t just happen like that. But … well … let’s leave Sentamu aside for a while and tackle other matters. We will come back to him in a jiffy.

Our friend at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Brother Don McKinnon, has finally called it a day and decamped to his farm down under in New Zealand. Last year, when New African reported that his tenure as Commonwealth secretary general had engendered – in the words of seven Commonwealth staff members who came before an official Investigation Panel set up by McKinnon himself – “a climate of fear” at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, his PR Office, again headed by an African (another Ugandan!) tried to rubbish our story and the magazine itself.

And so it happened, thank God, that just before McKinnon’s second term as secretary general ended in November, Prof Victor Ayeni, the Nigerian senior staff member at the centre of last year’s Commonwealth story, who contended that he had been subjected to discriminatory treatment on the grounds of his race and nationality, won his appeal before the Arbitral Tribunal of the Commonwealth Secretariat against McKinnon’s “unlawful” refusal to renew his contract. The Tribunal’s judgement, given in October, could not have been a stronger rebuke of the abuse of power at the Commonwealth HQ.

“The discretion of an administrative authority is not absolute,” the Tribunal said in its 26-page judgement. “… While it cannot be disputed that the secretary general, as head of the Commonwealth Secretariat, is entrusted with the overall responsibility for the employment of staff and in the discharge of other responsibilities, he has to discharge those responsibilities within the fundamental parameters which the Agreed Memorandum together with the Staff Regulations and Staff Rules as laid down in the HR Handbook have prescribed… We are satisfied on the evidence before us that the discretion was not properly exercised… Consequently, we must find that the refusal to renew [Ayeni’s] contract was unlawful and that decision is set aside.”

I don’t normally have a drink (my favourite drink is water, because of its medicinal purposes, and water has been kind to me, and will be kind to you if you drink more of it), but on the day I received a copy of the Tribunal’s judgement, I allowed myself a celebratory drink. For it was not only Ayeni’s victory, it was New African’s as well. Truth and propriety had triumphed.

Which gave the hitherto intimidated Commonwealth Senior Staff Association (CSSA) to editorialise in its newsletter thus: “The judgement sends a strong message to [the Commonwealth] management – present and future – that they are accountable for their actions which are subject to challenge and an independent review…”

In the “Have Your Say” column of the CSSA Newsletter, one senior staff member calling himself “Verum-i-et Aequitas” added for good measure: “The [Tribunal’s] decision has brought us closer to the end of this rather unsavoury episode in the life of the Commonwealth Secretariat. Staff looked on in silent horror as the Ayeni saga unfolded. In the minds of many of us, while Prof Ayeni’s electronic missives to all staff might have been ill-conceived, we never had any doubt that he was the victim of some injustice, and possibly, even discrimination… Now that [the Tribunal] has given its judgement in the matter, we hope that senior management will at least learn one important lesson: This is the 21st century and it is no longer tenable for managers to operate arbitrarily as has clearly been done in this case – and in many other cases that I can readily call to mind. Indeed, the proclivity for arbitrariness has been a characteristic of management decision-making at the Secretariat in recent years.”

And the Commonwealth goes around the world teaching governments, African governments, the ethics of good governance, rule of law, and arbitrariness. Healer, heal thyself! We pray that the new man at the helm at the Commonwealth,  Kamalesh Sharma, will take due advice from the Tribunal’s judgement and improve conditions at the Commonwealth HQ.

Now, let’s return to the other Ugandan at Yorkminster and his “dog chain”. Now tell me, who wears a “dog chain” with his eyes open? Yet this “world-class showman” from the rolling hills of Uganda, says “as an Anglican, this is what I wear to identify myself, that I am a clergyman”. Well, from the way things are progressing in Zimbabwe, between the opposition MDC and Zanu PF, this Anglican may end up standing in the pulpit wearing absolutely nothing. And what a great sight that would be! Yes, Bishop Sentamu has the right to cut his “dog chain” (and even his cassock) into pieces live on TV, but his take on Zimbabwe, and recent utterances on black and African issues, have been wrong – dead wrong, precisely because he has refused to acquaint himself with the full information available on the ground. For example, he blames President Mugabe alone for the economic difficulties in Zimbabwe. Imagine this, Bishop Sentamu: Robin Cook, the former British foreign secretary (now deceased), tells a Zimbabwean cabinet minister in early 2001: “You must get rid of Robert [Mugabe]. If you don’t, the economic hardships that will descend on you will make your people stone you in the streets.” Cook had accosted the Zimbabwean in the corridors of one of those international conferences where Zimbabwe is always a feature. The Zimbabwean was shocked! “What did you just say, Robin,” he inquired after composing himself. Cook repeated his demand. “You must get rid of Robert or the economic hardships that will descend on your country will make your people stone you in the streets.”

Zimbabweans are a tenacious people. “You want us to get rid of Robert,” the minister asked, still incredulous. “For the same reasons that you want him out, we want him in,” he told Cook matter-of-factly. “Well,” Cook said, shrugging his shoulders, “it’s your choice; but don’t say I didn’t warn you – your people are going to stone you in the streets.”

A few months later, Robin Cook left the Foreign Office, and another British foreign secretary told the same Zimbabwean cabinet minister: “I never knew that there is such hostility against Zimbabwe at the Foreign Office. But I am not going to jeopardise my political career fighting your cause.”

So, Bishop Sentamu, even British foreign secretaries know that Zimbabwe has a “cause” to fight for. And since Robin Cook was not a prophet, you may want to know how he knew about the “economic hardships” then in the offing that would make Zimbabweans stone their leaders in the streets? I say he knew because he was privy to what the British and their allies were planning to make Zimbabwe suffer.

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Written by Baffour Ankomah

Baffour Ankomah is New African's current Editor at Large. He has spent much of his 39 years of journalism at the magazine, having served as its Assistant Editor for 6 years, Deputy Editor for 5 years, and Editor for 15 years, retiring from active service in 2014. In 39 years of his journalism career - Africa and his many causes have been his passion. His personal column, Baffour's Beefs, which has been running continuously in New African since 1987, is a big hit and a must-read for the magazine's worldwide readers. He is now based in Zimbabwe, where he and his wife Elizabeth run their own media consultancy and fashion house called "African Interest" which trades under the trademark "I am African".

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