FOR many leaders, any change of direction is frightening. Most would rather not risk it — a fear of the unknown inhibits them. They are more comfortable with something they know.
Most will not admit that they are scared of change. They cook up all kinds of excuses. They might even invent phantoms, denizens of the political netherworld.
This is not to say that Fidel Castro could allow his country to compromise its sovereignty to accommodate the revolution that had overtaken the Soviet Union and China.
He probably saw little profit in just following those two Communist giants — without being shown concrete evidence that Communism was indeed dead and that those who clung to the myth that the dictatorship of the proletariat would last forever had been misled.
When illness intervened and Castro had to step aside and let his brother Raul take over the reins, there was no compromising with the state of crisis facing Cuba.
Raul did not hurry things: he strode very carefully. But in the end he knew what had to be done: a huge compromise was inevitable.
The dictatorship of the proletariat had to give in to the reality of what some of his critics might have told him was the realpolitic of bread and butter materialism.
People were told they had to leave state employment and go into the business world on their own — to make their own money, just as the capitalists do.
He was careful to warn that this shift did not suggest Cuba was going capitalist. But then again, he did not say pointblank that Cuba would remain loyal to Marxist-Leninism either — in plain language, Cuba would never be the same again.
For the first time since the movement swept in from the Siera Maestra mountains to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, its leaders would now call upon all the citizens to look after themselves — rather than look to the state to spoon-feed them.
Some critics might say Raul Castro should have moved faster. But his brother is not dead: he may be ailing, but he is not infirm or mentally incapacitated.
Fidel is a man of strong convictions. He has probably sworn to die a communist, even if the only other people still convinced that communism is still alive and well are to be found in parts of China and North Korea, where they are probably pilloried as old-fashioned ideologues longing for the good old days of Mao and Kim Ill Sung.
What may be truly saddening for Africa is that in spite of Cuba’s change of tack under Raul Castro, there are leaders who will insist that Communism is here to stay!
For them, the attractions of Communism are in the control of the levers of power. It is the “evil beauty” of the one-party system.
For them, the ability to control everything in their country, the ability to let no-one else decide anything at all is what is so beautiful about Marxism-Leninism.
A long time ago, when most African leaders were moving into leadership but were not sure if democracy, as practised in the West, was the ideal political system, the idea was mooted that Africa should bring back the chieftainships of old: the only difference would be that the chiefs would be called presidents.
Their word would be final.
If you traced the history of early independence, you would be surprised to find that most African leaders fell out with their people primarily because they wanted to see chiefs in their countries.
Some of them even wanted to convince their people that in traditional African society, total power was invested in the chief.
Others went further and likened their power to the power of the British monarch – never mind that the Queen had a prime minister, answerable to a Parliament representing ordinary citizens — the voters.
Only in South Africa, has Parliament come into its own. This is in spite of the regular absences “on official business” of cabinet ministers whenever questions are tabled in Parliament.
This is a disgrace: ministers are not being paid out of tax-payers funds to go shopping in London, Rome, Paris and New York.
Raul Castro might soon have to visit his African colleagues and lecture them on “leadership without frills”. He knows all about it.