Last week a one Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam came calling. Akon, as he is famously referred to, is according to Wikipedia, a Senegalese-American singer, rapper, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and actor from New Jersey. Many of us came to know about his presence in Uganda when VVIPs posted photos on social media of themselves with the visiting ‘dignitary’. Mainstream media also picked up the story and run with it. Don’t get me wrong, Akon is a star and his visit to Uganda is a very good thing.
However, what riles right thinking people is that Akon was rubbing shoulders with our leaders and elders whom we are supposed to esteem. Rather, he should have been hanging with Fool Figure, and Bebe Cool. According to the posts about him on Wikipedia, Akon is either a peddler of ‘alternative truths’ or a grey character. So what was he doing hobnobbing with people like the First Citizen and other supposedly respectable leaders? The answer is mental slavery if you ask me.
Because Akon is a celebrity of sorts, has wealth to his name and also lives in America, our leaders are smitten by the chap. According to the Washington Post of April 6th, Akon has yet to come anywhere close to realizing his ambitious vision for a “futuristic” city powered by a cryptocurrency called “Akoin” and built on land given to him by the Senegalese government. However someone has agreed to identify “a place suitable in Uganda that has not less than one square mile, which will be made available to him and his team,” …. and that Akon will be in charge of attracting investment and managing the project, and will consult with the Ugandan government to come up with a theme for the “satellite city.”
You cannot make this stuff up! Last year some fellow with a sombrero visited Uganda and offered to build a factory to cure Covid-19! He again ended up taking photos with the Speaker of Parliament and the First Citizen! We are still waiting for his Covid-19 cure. Before him, many others from foreign lands have visited and promised to move mountains for us. One of these visitors had a whole government school shifted for him to build a seven star hotel (sic). The site now boasts of some office block and parking!
Just as I wrote last week, Africa’s leaders suffer from a sense of self pride and belief in their own people. That is why they continually display an inverted sense of context and understanding of how the world really works. My people have a saying – “anamma ababe, nti leka abebweru balye”. Loosely translated, this is akin to saying that Akon is more deserving of a meal than our own people! There are more deserving Ugandans who should be attracting the ear of the First Citizen. They have more deserving ideas and a patriotic claim to helping our motherland. But that is not how life happens.
From time immemorial, foreign dignitaries bearing trinkets have found their way into the courts of our Kings. The tale is told of one such explorer who carried a gun which he said could kill a man with a single shot. His host asked to try it out on one of his subjects to see how it worked! I do not know if the story is true, but I am made to understand that was how Africans discovered gun powder! We must hark to the words of Marcus Garvey that were immortalized by Robert Nestor Marley. “We (must) are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. …. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind.” If every Akon can access the courts of our rulers, what are we to make of the rulers?
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Mat Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka