Africa correspondent Koert Lindijer: 'Politicians are monsters'


About eighty to one hundred people filled the auditorium of the Marie Kamphuisborg on Tuesday 6 June for an interactive session with Koert Lindijer, Africa correspondent for NOS News and NRC Handelsblad since the 1970s. The session in the 'Pillars of Democracy' series was organized as part of the Honors Program in collaboration with Hanze Center for Development Cooperation and Hanze Culture and Debate. Tom Wilcox was the moderator.

Disappear for weeks

Lindijer does not like to talk about his 'career' in journalism. As he puts it, "Like any product from the 60s and 70s, I just did what I wanted to do." For him, that meant crossing the border, literally, and that's how he ended up in Nairobi for the first time in 1973. He also traveled through Asia and Latin America, but ultimately chose to settle in Nairobi and write from there because there was so much going on in terms of nation building, politics, cultural change and so on. Nairobi was a lot less busy then. Journalism was also different: you could disappear for weeks without any communication, so there was less pressure from your boss to produce stories, which gave you time to think about what your story actually was. “That was a kind of luxury that no longer exists,” he says.

Pillars of democracy

What, according to Lindijer, are the pillars of democracy in Africa? Certainly not forcing the Western concept of liberal democracy on African countries. 'Africa had democracy and religion before the whites came. The outside world, especially the white world, always thought they had to bring democracy and religion to Africa, but both were already there. So it's bullshit to say that the concept comes from outside, it was just different.' Issues have always been discussed at tribal, clan and regional levels. Leaders like Nyerere in Tanzania, Sanghor in Senegal, Kaunda in Zambia wanted to build on it and modernize it by including women and youth. After independence, however, the one-party systems adopted by African countries failed. In nine cases out of ten it led to dictatorship. “Like everywhere in the world, politicians are monsters and in Africa they have more freedom to be monsters,” said Lindijer. He therefore believes that change will not come from politicians, but from strengthening the judiciary and civil society.

Support Ugandan university, yes or no?

Questions from the audience ranged from what the influence of China and the West is on Africa at the moment and how Kenya is dealing with climate change to how Lindijer managed to distinguish all 47 tribes of Kenya. Which tribe is best known? Which tribe retains its culture? Which tribes follow all the rules? Which tribe has lost its culture?' asked a member of the Masai audience.

When asked whether Hanze University should stop supporting a Christian university in Uganda after President Yoweri Museveni enshrined the Anti-Homosexuality Act, one of the strictest in the world, on 1 June, Lindijer gave a thoughtful answer. That Museveni, who first said that homosexuality did not exist in Africa, claims that homosexuality is a Western product is clearly nonsense because research shows that at least five percent of the population is homosexual. But should we stop financing? No, Lindijer believes that we should 'go with the pace of the local population' and allow Africans to emancipate themselves. However, if it turns out that the university in question actively participates in anti-gay propaganda and hate speech, we must stop our support immediately.

Cold country

A nice bouncer is how Lindijer thinks we need to change our relationship with Africa. He advocates exchanges at university level and the sharing of knowledge on an equal footing. 'You don't have to worry about the Africans wanting to stay here, because this is a cold country. And not just in terms of temperature,' the Africa correspondent laughs.