Thomas Sutcliffe: Africa is dogged by a lack of leadership

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The Independent Online

I found myself in two minds about John Sentamu's pledge not to wear a dog collar until President Mugabe leaves office in Zimbabwe. On the one hand, the rationale for him cutting up his clerical collar on air sounded a little thin to me. He'd obviously decided that it would be an eye-catching thing to do and had then had to work backwards to find some explanation of why this was the form his protest was taking.

And it didn't exactly help that his explanation got things the wrong way round: "Do you know what Mugabe has done?" he said to Andrew Marr. "He's taken people's identity and literally if you don't mind, cut it to pieces". Well, no actually he's metaphorically cut their identity to pieces and you are literally cutting your dog collar up. And while we're on that subject, isn't it possible that you've over-estimated the importance of your neckwear to a man who is prepared to beat and kill his political opponents to stay in power?

On the other hand, the Archbishop said something that needed saying about the response of black African leaders to the issue of Zimbabwe and said it in terms that perhaps only a black African could. Can one imagine a white politician, let alone a white clergyman, describing the African statesmen in Lisbon as "sycophantic hero-worshippers"? More to the point, would a white politician have been able to take the exculpatory rhetoric of some African leaders and turn it against them quite so effectively?

"Africa and all the world have got to liberate Africa from this mental slavery and this colonial mentality," the Archbishop said. "Whenever there's anything, you blame somebody else instead of yourself." So while Robert Mugabe and several of his apologists would like to suggest that the battle against colonialism is still being fought out, Dr Sentamu argues instead that a strange self-colonisation has taken place that the tendency of African leaders to refer all problems back to colonial times effectively makes them prisoners of the past.

Dr Sentamu didn't identify particular leaders in his interview but the cap fits Thabo Mbeki in particular, who once talked of the African renaissance as being about "ending poverty and oppression, regaining dignity", but who has seemed decidedly reluctant to bring his influence to bear in a case where the poverty and oppression is the fault of a black African leader.

Mr Mbeki's deeply wrong-headed and for far too many South Africans fatal opposition to medical orthodoxy on the treatment of Aids also had its origin in a suspicion of "colonial attitudes" and what he saw as the exploitative instincts of Western countries. What he didn't understand then and still hasn't properly acknowledged yet is that a notional solidarity with the "colonised" may actually be a form of betrayal. And while there may still be legacies of colonialism that hinder African development, the most important declaration of independence would be to declare that it can no longer count as an excuse for current failures. That, unfortunately, would take the kind of leadership that is thin on the ground in Africa and, as the ANC descends into political infighting in advance of its own leadership election next week, there's no obvious prospect of that changing.

The man most South Africans think would be the best candidate, Cyril Ramaphosa, isn't even standing at present. The truth is that Africa, so rich in other resources, is desperately poor when it comes to political leadership. John Sentamu, to his credit, showed us what it might look like when it eventually emerges.

Maria and a chorus of worship

Sadly, tomorrow's sale of Maria Callas memorabilia in Milan seems a more upmarket affair than the garage sale in 2000 which allowed devotees to bid for her old coat-hangers and a Pyrex jug which was hallowed by contact with the diva's hands.

I expect a display of devotional insanity but, even before the figures are in, she has demonstrated her capacity to make people take leave of their senses. The film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli was quoted as describing Callas, left, as "the most important woman of the 20th century, apart from Mother Teresa of Calcutta". All we need is for one of her relics to be associated with a miracle cure and the formal process of canonisation can begin.

* I couldn't be bothered to stay up until the early hours to watch Ricky Hatton go down fighting at the hands of Floyd Mayweather the other night, but I did catch the Amir Khan fight "catch" being rather pertinent, since a moment's inattention would have meant I missed it altogether. The thing I really wanted to know was what Khan whispered in Graham Earl's ear when he gave him a consolatory hug afterwards. The usual verbal painkillers ("You fought a good fight mate" etc, etc) would just have sounded ridiculous, given that Earl hadn't landed a single punch, and "Sorry about that" would have been infuriatingly condescending.

The only bearable phrase I could come up with was something along the lines of, "You were such a threat I couldn't take any chances of it going into the second round," which is pretty transparent, frankly. Still, whatever was said, Earl probably wasn't in a condition to make fine distinctions about its plausibility.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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