The dilemma of African leadership

Source: The dilemma of African leadership | The Herald 06 JAN, 2020

Tapiwa Maswera Correspondent

The money system in Zimbabwe has failed the vulnerable: policyholders and pensioners.

“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws,” the founder of the Rothschild dynasty said. The money system is the core and backbone of every society.

It makes and breaks societies. Forget the laws. They are just pillars to protect the money system. When the money system does not serve the people first, society crumbles.

Our salvation lies in designing a sound money system that puts the people first.

The experience of Japan is instructive. The difference between Africa and the Asian Tigers is that the Asians understand the inner workings of the financial system. Africa still does not.

The dilemma of African leadership

Chinua Achebe’s book, “Things Fall Apart” (1958) deals with the life of Okwonkwo, an African leader. He is not a nice man. When his third wife goes to plait her hair, he beats her. How thoughtless! How could she forget to feed her children!

When his second wife cuts banana leaves to wrap food, he beats her too! How could she kill a tender young tree? Leaving the wife and her daughter crying, he calls for his gun. He wants to go hunting. The crying wife makes a snide remark.

Okwonkwo rushes to get his gun. He aims for her and shoots. Fortunately, he misses. He routinely brutalises his son for not being manly. And he kills his adopted son. The village must see how brave he is. And this means killing a helpless boy.

Okwonkwo lives to impress and intimidate those around him.

He has an outward appearance of strength and manliness, but on the inside he is hollow, empty and unhappy.

A caricature of modern Africa

In the first chapter, Achebe skilfully introduces Okwonkwo. He describes a wrestling match between Okwonkwo and Amalinze, The Cat. Amalinze is called The Cat, because his back will never touch the ground.

A wily craftsman, he symbolises life, which must be conquered. Our actions must always be grounded in the changing times.

The wrestling match fore-shadows an impending cultural conflict. Okwonkwo’s village, Umuofia must confront and deal with the encroaching white man. We also meet Okwonkwo’s father, Unoka. A man called Okoye has come to collect his debt.

As soon as Unoka hears why Okoye has come, he laughs until the tears come to his eyes.

“I will pay my big debts first”, he says between mirths of laughter. He takes a big draw of snuff, as if that is paying his big debts first.

The disgusted Okoye leaves. Empty handed. Like contemporary Africa, Unoka cannot pay his debts.

Failing to manage change

That Okwonkwo is a disaster waiting to happen, is clear from the outset.

He thinks violence is the ultimate solution to all problems. Killing people, kills problems.

This makes him unsuited to the radically changing times. He is way too invested in past glory. He acts without thinking. He is a poor communicator. And an automaton.

He has no capacity to acquire, process and act timeously on new knowledge.

He does not tolerate feedback and is incapable of improving. And he cannot fathom a context of life outside what he already knows. And so when the crunch comes, Okwonkwo rashly murders a policeman. And his fate is sealed.

The Japanese Okwonkwo

Japan faced a similar problem in the 16th century. Tokugawa Ieyasu, the last of Japan’s three great unifiers grappled with the problem of alien intrusion.

“To come to know your enemy, first you must become friends with him, and once you become his friend, all his defences come down. Then you can choose the most fitting method for his demise”, is one of Iyeyasu’s sayings.

This advice prevented 16th century Japan from becoming a colony of the Portuguese.

First he united all Japan behind him. And then he set up a financial policy that all his successors had to adhere to.

Over a period spanning his son who succeeded him and grandson, he squeezed out alien influences. Tokugawa Ieyasu created an ingenious power structure that lasted two and a half centuries. Power structures are kept alive by their financial spine.

Financial policy

Zimbabweans know that money is a delusion. Even the so-called hard currencies are just that; decorated pieces of paper that pretend to be something that they are not.

Through this delusion, policyholders and pensioners in Zimbabwe were robbed of all their life savings. Third world countries are also routinely manipulated and robbed of their valuable raw materials.

They exchange valuable raw materials for valueless pieces of paper. And then give value to these valueless pieces of paper when they buy the processed raw materials at inflated prices.

Tokugawa Iyeyasu understood that financial policy underpins the stability of any social structure. And so he set about crafting one; Sankin-kotai  the system of alternative attendance.

Japanese warlords had to be disarmed. And how best to do this? Impoverish them! The system he created required warlords to spend so much money on themselves; they had no money left to buy weapons.

This way, he locked Japan into peace for two and a half centuries.

Zaibastu and Keiretsu

When Matthew Perry forcibly opened Japan two-and-a-half centuries later, Japan had moulded a structure and a culture.

This allowed it to adapt very quickly to changing conditions. The easiest way to modernise was to develop a new alternative financial policy to replace the Tokugawa’s Sankin-kotai. The new financial policy reinvented the warlords as business leaders.

This enabled it to modernise quickly. It already had the governance structures. Large conglomerates called Zaibatsu were formed around the former warlord system. This led to a war like state.

After the vicissitudes of World War II, the victorious Americans demanded that the Zaibatsu be abolished.

Japan descended to a lower tier of its structural system. And formed smaller interconnected companies called Keiretsu. The keiretsu were the engine that made Japan the second biggest economy in the world. It took only 23 years.


Zimbabwe faces the problem of foreign intrusion. It is currently under sanctions. Its rich farmlands and mineral resources are envied.

But it would be suicidal to confront the big powers ranged against it head on like Okwonkwo. The solution as Tokugawa Ieyasu wisely counsels, is to seek friendship and craft a sound financial policy.

The strength of our society depends on how well our money system serves us.

If we can design a sound money system that serves us first, then we would have thrown the Amalinze. And make sure his back touches the ground.