The trial of Egypt’s former President, Hosni Mubarak, began today in a court located in the Police Academy in Cairo. On the whole, the trial itself doesn’t evoke any extra-ordinary feeling. It is a matter-of-course, considering what Mr. Mubarak’s opponents had demanded to be done to him and all others fingered as part of the problems that necessitated the January uprising against Mr. Mubarak’s rule.
The 83-year-old Mubarak is being tried with his sons, ex-Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, and six other former officials. He is charged with corruption and ordering the killing of protesters when the uprising against his rule erupted in January, forcing him out of office on February 11. The charge of ordering the killing of protesters carries the death penalty.
What struck me as extra-ordinary was the circumstance in which Mr. Mubarak was. As reported by the BBC, “he was wheeled on a hospital bed into a cage in court to the astonishment of onlookers outside.”
The problem is not about his being on a hospital bed—after all, in his frail state, that’s the only option. The part that matters is his being wheeled into a cage! Was it for his protection or what? Or just as part of the scheme to ridicule him?
Who will ever deign to imagine that a powerful and well-cushioned political figure like Mr. Mubarak will be reduced to a commoner and put on trial to answer for charges related to abuse of office? Or that he will ever be presented to the world on a hospital bed—and wheeled into a CAGE in court?
Certainly, the spectacle attracted a nationwide attention. “I am delighted that I see them in a cage. I feel that my son’s soul is finally starting to be at rest and that his blood will cool,” Saeeda Hassan Abdul Raouf, the mother of a 22-year-old protester who was among those killed in the uprising, told the Associated Press outside the trial venue.
One of the protest leaders, film-maker Ahmed Rasheed, told the BBC that across Cairo people had gathered around television screens in shopping malls and shops, watching and arguing as the trial was broadcast.
And as the BBC’s Jon Leyne, in Cairo, reported, “Everybody was in shock as the trial began… because this was the moment that no-one in Egypt—maybe all of the Middle East—expected to see…. There was amazement and silence from the people gathered outside as they watched a screen broadcasting proceedings.”
The precipitous events that brought Mr. Mubarak tumbling down from the citadel of power, wealth, and privilege into this abyss of physical pain and mental agony have cast long shadows. Eye-popping as they may be, they also provide ample evidence to confirm that however patient, submissive, and tolerant a people may be toward an oppressive leader, they can take action to remove that beam from their eyes, knowing very well that they are the ultimate wielders of political power.
And when they succeed, that defeated oppressor becomes a sight for sore eyes. Shorn of all the political power that he had hitherto used to suppress dissension and to acquire wealth and privilege, it doesn’t take long for that fallen leader to wither away in misery. We see Mr. Mubarak in that state today.
For all the 30 or so years that he ruled Egypt, Mr. Mubarak had grown into a formidable potentate in the Arab World, African politics, and global affairs. Undergirding that status, however, was the rot that he presided over in Egyptian politics, and which would turn out to be his undoing. As an African politician, he epitomizes all that will go into qualifying African politics as dirty. That is why his fate means much.
Forced from office by mass demonstrations, Mr. Mubarak joins the tall list of African leaders who rose to power with great expectations to use the people’s mandate for the good of the country and its people but ended up serving personal interests and doing irreparable damage to their countries and people. By so doing, they have incurred the people’s hatred.
Mr. Mubarak may count himself lucky for not losing his life in the cataclysm that brought the roof crashing down on his rule. Others like him were not lucky and suffered the penalty of instant death at the hands of the aggrieved populace in reparation for their atrocities. Some (like Tunisia’s Zine al-Abedine Ali) run away and are tried and convicted in absentia. Atrocious ones like Chad’s Hissene Habre are alive in exile but not free from the stinging jabs of their conscience, whatever is left of it. Unlike those victims of self-centeredness, Mr. Mubarak is alive in his country to tell us his side of the story.
And he has already begun doing so. He and all the accused have pleaded not guilty, setting the tone for a trial that will dominate public discourse for a long time and reveal to us the anatomy of a corrupt and insensitive African ruler.
Like Mr. Mubarak, those African leaders who deceive themselves that they can do anything and get away with it had better think twice. The people may be patient and tolerant but once they decide to take decisive action to redeem themselves and their country from damnation at the hands of the political leadership, nothing can stop them.
Many African leaders whose rule has in one way or the other angered their people must gear themselves up to observe closely how Mr. Mubarak fares as he is grilled in court to answer for his steward to the Egyptian populace. After falling heavily from grace to grass, his experiences should provide clear eye-opening moments for them to be wary of. Probably, they will learn useful lessons to make amends.
The sudden reversal of Mr. Mubarak’s fate offers us a window through which to see what happens when political leadership goes awry. I am particularly intrigued by this development because it reflects the dynamics of how African leaders have abused political power over the years instead of using it to move the continent forward. It reveals the intricacies of calculated efforts to place personal interests above those of the country and what implications there are for the perpetrators and the continent at large.
I am particularly interested in the proceedings because of my conviction that one of the major causes of Africa’s perennial under-development is the crisis of leadership. I say so with the benefit of hindsight.
Many years after gaining independence, the continent is still tottering, not necessarily because it lacks the requisite natural and human resources to move forward but because it lacks the requisite leadership to galvanize the people.
Certainly, the negative effects of colonialism and an unjust World Economic (New) Order combine to drag Africa back; but such problems can be tackled if there were proper leadership. I insist that there is no justification for the continent’s perpetual underdevelopment in the abundance of material and human resources, and lay the blame squarely at the doorstep of the leaders of the various African countries.
And here is why. Since independence, almost all African countries have faced serious systemic problems and a leadership crisis that have worsened the plight of the people. Bribery and corruption stand out for attention because of their cancerous effects on governance. Who doesn’t know how African leaders scheme with foreign investors to loot their countries’ resources or how they collude with shady characters to launder money? Or how they tacitly promote bribery and corruption to benefit from?
Despite the pervasiveness and high incidence of bribery and corruption, none of the governments on the continent seems to be doing anything to tackle them. Mechanisms to eradicate that vice may exist only in official documents tucked away on shelves to gather dust or in the political rhetoric of the various government leaders. That is why it is easy for those in authority to get rich quickly by taking advantage of the system.
Because they condone bribery and corruption, they find it difficult to establish a strong legal regime to punish perpetrators. Thus, those with good political connections know no bounds in their manipulation of the system for personal gains. Is there any single country on the continent that we can point to as a shining example of a country that has succeeded in stamping out bribery and corruption or for institutionalizing and enforcing strict laws to punish perpetrators of corruption?
Because they become more invested in self-acquisition, they turn the corridors of power into a goldmine for their families, friends, and political party functionaries while exerting force to punish anybody who challenges their rule. So invested in this venture, they create needless tension, which causes social strife in the long run. The various countries on the continent have been riddled with one form of maladministration or another at various levels because of the craze for ill-gotten wealth.
Hardly does anybody leave office on morals grounds concerning bribery and corruption. It seems the more they specialize in the vice, the better their chances of retaining their portfolios become. Rather unfortunately, those who abstain or blow the whistle end up being victimized. That’s why corruption has become endemic in African countries.
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
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