If there were no Christmas, Mugabe would’ve invented it


    There is a part of me that goes through a lot of pain during Christmas.

    First, there are the small things; having to send Christmas cards and reply to good wishes from people whom you don’t really care for, just because they send you cards and gifts you don’t need. And the cheap decorations in shops, streets, and malls make you sick.

    The really tricky bit about Christmas is its politics, particularly in our half-democracies and full-dictatorships in Africa.

    The thing is, Jesus Christ is the longest ruling leader. He became the Christ in a very old-fashioned way. He was born into it, not elected.

    Since then he has reigned unchallenged, as The Man. God didn’t get involved in our worldly affairs. As a result, we have sensibly leave God out of our drinking and dancing.

    However, every Christmas, we remember the birth of Jesus and begin proclaiming his greatness, until Easter, when Christians all over the world throw him a big party to crown it all.

    Not even Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe or Swaziland’s King Mswati, who are notorious for throwing themselves birthday parties that cost a portion of the national budget, get two big shindigs a year.

    The only thing that changed about Jesus’s starring role in over 2,000 years is that pan-Africanist Christians these days smuggle in a black Jesus, claiming the Christ was one of us from the Nile.

    Having one man hogging the limelight on Christmas as Jesus does actually undermines the idea of term limits.

    You cannot accept that Jesus be the top man for 2,000 years and then argue, for example, that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni cannot scrap term limits, or that Madagascar’s DJ president Andry Rajoelina cannot have a referendum, as he recently did, that gave him the power to be president-for-life.

    Indeed, extremely devout Christians and Muslims are not famously pro-democracy.

    So a deep belief in the underlying political logic of Christmas is bad for democracy. Put another way, Christmas is pro-status quo, and therefore counter-revolutionary.

    This might be why, in Africa, all the leading rebel leaders and very many of our Independence leaders (with the exception of folks like Zambia’s accordion-playing Kenneth Kaunda) were not great Christians.

    They begin going to church only after they have taken power — as a strategy for protecting their office. If former priests like Haiti’s Aristide become presidents, they turn into disasters.

    Then, if you look at Islam, the hardline Muslim regimes in the Middle East are dictatorships.

    However, look at the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia. Excepting the fundamentalist fringe, its version of mainstream Islam is flexible and comfortable with secularism.

    The same is true of Turkey. No surprise, then, then these two countries are leading democracies.

    Christmas is one big campaign for a life presidency. Which is why, I suspect, if hadn’t been there, some African strongman would have invented it.

    Having said that, have a good one nevertheless.

    Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com