HARARE – I first set eyes on Oprah Winfrey on US television on a trip to Seattle, in Washington State in 1987.
I had heard of her and seen her on her show. Like everybody else, I thought she was too…
She was not exactly the way a TV star ought to look like.
Many of her fans called on her to cut down on everything, except her repartee.
I was embarrassed, as were many others, mostly African-Americans and Africans.
Why didn’t the good sister do something about her weight? We all pleaded with her.
It was almost natural for her to resist all attempts to change her diet, which we all concluded was the chief cause of her overblown condition.
We all imagined her wrestling with her conscience.
I am not sure at what point she decided it was time to listen to the voice of reason — or to the voice of someone who loved her and had threatened to commit an act of hara-kiri if she did not take up the challenge.
The rest is history. Oprah recreated herself.
Today, when people see her show, they wonder how she did it.
But we all know it took a lot of guts. It has turned out to be all worth it.
She is among the richest women in the United States.
What is amazing is that she is going to go on to even bigger things.
Her lesson for the world is that, if you set your mind to it, you too can achieve the impossible. I use the Oprah example to make an appeal to all African leaders to shape up or ship out…in the fight against poverty.
Once again, there was no winner for the Mo Ibrahim prize for an African head of state who has set an example for the rest of our leadership.
For some of us, this is a shameful example of African leadership. We all know that most of the leaders believe this is a “Western” plot to show them up as the greedy, slothful and self-centred politicians they are.
But wait a minute…
Since 1957, Africa has launched a drive to fight colonialism — and won.
Later, the continent launched another war — against poverty, which we know was brought about by colonialism.
That war has been largely unsuccessful. Of the two largest economies on the continent — South Africa and Nigeria — neither has been recognised as having won the fight against poverty.
South Africa has residential areas in which there are still no proper lavatories, nearly 20 years after apartheid.
The country has had four presidents.
Only Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela decided he would step down voluntarily.
He, according to many experts, offered the country its greatest hope of achieving its goals.
Those who have succeeded him have done little to raise the people’s hopes.
Nigeria, independent since 1960, still has incredible poverty, for a country with so much potential.
Apart from the oil, it has other resources, including a very educated population.
Its problem is the same as South Africa’s — a leadership stuck in the reverse gear of progress.
The truth is, there are people in both countries who could shake things up and propel them to new heights of prosperity.
What is stopping them is the attitude of the current leadership.
Most are trapped in a world in which only they will run the countries for the foreseeable future.
It does not occur to them to forecast the future without them at the helm.
This is where Oprah could help. Change is possible.