Generally, there are five ways in which Africans can rid themselves of leaders they do not want.
1. THE DIGNIFIED WAY. The first is when they VOLUNTARILY step down from power and retire from office. This option, however, is very rare. In the entire post-colonial history since 1960, only 8 such cases can be reported among the 222 heads of state from the 54 African countries. They are:
1. El Ferik Ibrahim Abboud of Sudan in 1964
2. Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria in 1979
3. Jerry John Rawlings of Ghana resigned in 1979 after 3 months in office,
4. Leopold Senghor of Senegal in 1980 after 20 years in office;
5. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in1982 after 22 years;
6. Abdel Rahman Suwar al-Dahab of Sudan in 1986 after one year in office
7. Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali in 1992 after one year in office
8. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall of Mauritania in 2007 after 2 years in office
2. DEATH IN OFFICE. The second route is when they pass away in office. Initially, the death notice is greeted with mournful grief and uncontrollable wailing in memory of the departed leader. But most often it is crocodile tears that are shed. A few days later, champagne bottles are uncorked, serious partying, wild celebration and joy erupt in some quarters. The village brass band blows up a storm with chickens doing the “Disco Duck.” Then suddenly the music stops – that’s when the next “rat” takes over power. Here is the list:
1. Gabriel Léon M’ba of Gabon died of cancer in Nov 1967
2. Houari Boumedienne of Algeria died of a rare blood disease in Dec 1978
3. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya died of natural causes in Aug 1978
4. Agostinho Neto of Angola died in 1979
5. Samora Moisés Machel of Mozambique died in a helicopter crash in 1986
6. Seyni Kountché of Niger died of brain tumor in Nov 1987.
7. Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast died of prostate cancer in Dec 1993
8. Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo died of heart attack in Feb 2005
9. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa of Zambia died from stroke in August 2008
10. Lasana Conte of Guinea died in Dec 2008
11. Omar Bongo of Gabon died of heart attack/cancer in June 2009
12. Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi died of a heart attack in April 2012.
3. VOTED OUT. The third and normal way of removing bad leaders is to vote them out of office. However, this option has been limited since elections are held in only a few countries. In 1990, the number of democratic countries in Africa was only 4 (Botswana, Gambia, Mauritius and Senegal). Today, this number – after 22 years – has grown marginally to 14 out of 54 African countries. They are: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde Islands, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. Even then, this list is charitable.
If a strict definition of democracy is applied the following countries would not be on the list: Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia. Only 8 — Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal and South Africa – would remain.
Elections alone don’t make a country democratic. In addition to periodic elections, the following are needed:
· A freely-negotiated constitution — one that is NOT written to satisfy the dictates or whims of one person, group or party;
· Separation of powers; and
· Checks and Balances.
Separation of powers. The main centres of power in a society are the Executive, the Legislature (Parliament), Law Enforcement, the Judiciary, the Electoral Commission, the Media, the Central Bank and the Military. Separation of powers means that these 8 critical institutions are INDEPENDENT of each other and free from Executive control. Each has a specific role to play.
1. The Executive or the President and his administration run the country setting development goals, etc.,
2. The Legislature: Its role is to pass laws that make the society function better and to provide oversight over Executive actions,
3. Law Enforcement simply enforces the laws passed by Parliament,
4. The Judiciary upholds the “rule of law,” ensuring that all, including the Executive, obey the law. Those who break the law are punished by the court system with fines or jail terms,
5. The Electoral Commission’s role is to organize free, fair and transparent elections,
6. The Media’s role is to ensure free flow of information, exposing wrong-doing (corruption, human rights violations, etc.) or other societal problems (pollution, famine, diseases, etc.) in order for these problems to be solved.
7. Central Bank. Its role is to manage the money supply, ensuring that there is just enough money to facilitate trade, exchange and economic activity. Too much money in circulation causes inflation. Zimbabwe’s currency collapsed in 2009 because too much of it was over-printed.
8. The Military. Its role is to defend the territorial integrity of the country and defend the Constitution – by force, if necessary.
Checks and balances. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that one center of power does not careen recklessly out of control. If the Executive acts recklessly, Parliament can impeach the president or remove him with a “no confidence” vote. Or if Parliament acts irresponsibly, the president can dissolve it and call for fresh elections. And if Parliament passes a law that is outrageous, the Supreme Court can throw out that law as “unconstitutional.” This is what is meant by checks and balances. Separation of powers and checks and balances require INDEPENDENT institutions. All three go together.
In the vast majority of African countries, this democratic process has been debauched by vexatious chicanery, wilful deception, devious manoeuvres, strong-arm tactics and vaunted acrobatics. Autocrats initially yield to democratic reform after considerable domestic and international pressure but then control the process, manipulate the rules and the transition process to their advantage, believing that they could fool their people all the time. They empanel a fawning coterie of sycophants and cronies to write the rules of the game and the Constitution. Protégés are appointed as Electoral Commissioners. The electoral register is padded with fictitious party supporters or ghost names, while opposition supporters are purged from the list. State assets and resources – funds, vehicles, media, workers, etc. — are openly commandeered while the opposition parties are denied access to the state-owned media. On the eve of the election, government-hired thugs and militia intimidate beat up opposition supporters. Leaders of opposition parties may themselves be hauled into jail. Even worse, the vote count may be halted if it does not seem to the going in the incumbent’s favour. The votes are then counted in secret and the incumbent declared the winner. Such coconut elections have occurred in far too many African countries to recount here.
A few exceptions, however, must be noted. Some African leaders WISELY yielded to popular pressure and demands for democracy and opened up the political space – albeit reluctantly.. In doing so, they managed to save not only their own lives but their countries as well: Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia in 1991; Aristides Pereira of Cape Verde Islands in 1991; Manuel Pinto da Costa of Sao Tome & Principe in 1991; Daniel arap Moi of Kenya in 1992; Hastings Banda of Malawi in 1994; Ali Hassan Mwinyi of Tanzania in 1995, among others. Unfortunately, they are the exceptions.
4. THE GENTLE SHOVE When dictators adamantly refuse to resign, refuse to die in office or face a free, fair and transparent vote, then recourse to the next two alternatives becomes inevitable. The first is “The Gentle Shove.” A dictator may be found “unfit to rule” on health, mental or political grounds and quietly shoved aside. Such was the case of Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon — forced to resign in 1982 on health grounds on recommendations of his French doctor. He was furious when he later learned that he was “tricked” by the doctor and his health was fine. He tried unsuccessfully to regain power. Another was Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia removed from office in 1987 for being deranged and unfit to govern.
Then, following the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1989, winds of change swept across Africa. Under pressure to reform their abominable political systems, many dictators hastily convened Sovereign National Conferences (SNCs), which stripped them of power, set up interim administrations, wrote new Constitutions and set dates for new elections: Ali Saibou of Niger (1991); Mathieu Kerekou of Benin in 1991; Frederick de Klerk of South Africa, to name a few. In other cases where there was a political stand-off, dictators were forced to share power in a government of national unity (GNU) – Angola, 1992; Ivory Coast, 1993; Kenya, 2006; Zimbabwe, 2009; etc.
5. THE SLEDGEHAMMER: However, when all efforts at persuasion and reason fail, there is one final recourse – “The Sledgehammer” – assassination, military coup, rebel insurgency, mass uprising or a trip to The Hague (ICC). This is the weapon against “hardened coconuts” that are hopelessly blind to the suffering of their people, stone-deaf to the cries of their people and completely impervious to reason. They are VIOLENTLY removed from office with destructive consequences from civil wars, state collapse, crumbled infrastructure, economic ruination, etc. Chased by angry rebel soldiers, they flee into exile or meet untimely and gruesome demise. A few examples:
· General Samuel Doe of Liberia was killed in September 1990 when he bled to death after his right ear was cut off. He was hard at hearing;
· General Siad Barre of Somalia fled Mogadishu in Jan 1991 a tank, which ran out of gas just near the Kenya border;
· General Sani Abacha killed in 1998. He was either assassinated, poisoned or died from exhaustion from a Viagra-fueled sex orgy with Iraqi prostitutes.
· Ibrahim Bare Mainassara gunned down with heavy-duty anti-aircraft weaponry that shredded his body into smithereens in April 1999.
· Laurent Kabila of Congo DR, shot in the head by a personal security detail in 2001.
· Capt Moussa Dadis Camara shot in the head in Dec 2009. He survived — only a coconut could take a bullet to the head and survive. Alas, nothing inside, so no damage.
· Col Muammar Khaddafi, who vowed to hunt down the rebels like rats, was dragged from his rat-hole, shot in the head and killed in 2011.
· Hosni Mubarak of Egypt – in a cage serving a life sentence.
· Charles Taylor of Liberia – in the slammer serving a 50-year sentence.
· Laurent Gbagbo, after heavy bombardment, was dragged from his basement in his underwear in 2011 and now awaiting trial at The Hague.
Do they ever learn? Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.