Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The Military And African Politics

The reasons for military interventions (militocracy) in Africa are as varied as they are complex. They range from personal grievances of civilian regimes to the political and economic kleptocracy of civilian regimes.

By Mwalimu George Ngwane

In a struggle to cope with this predicament between the devil of tyranny (as in one-party system) and the deep blue sea of anarchy (as in multiparty systems) military rule has often been invoked. The balance sheet has largely been negative, with very few being benign, that is serving the interests of the people whether in a short or long political life span.

Soldiers As Power Mongers

The 1960 civilian leadership in Africa was basically pan-African to the extent that some failed to cover enough ground in their own national territories. This gave leeway to soldiers as power-mongers.

Among the prominent military take-overs in the 1960s were those in Congo (Kinshasa) in November 1965 by Colonial Joseph Desire Mobutu, and in the same year in Algeria by Colonel Houari Boummedienne; in Nigeria in January 1966, by Major Nzeogwu followed later by a counter-coup by Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi; a month later in Ghana, by Colonel Akwasi Amankwaah Afrifa; in Togo in January 1967, by Lieutenant Colonel Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadema; in Mali in 1968, by Lieutenant Moussa Traore; and in Libya in September 1969, by Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi.

The symbol of benign militocracy in this epoch is Muammar Ghaddafi. He, with a small group of unknown young officers, overthrew the monarchy of King Idris I to establish a participatory democracy based on people's congresses and committees.

Still in the leader of Libya today, Ghaddafi has succeeded in wresting power from the former colonialists by exploiting Libyan wealth and putting it at the disposal of the citizens. The results are for anyone (not wearing neo-colonial blinkers) to see.

Soldiers As Power Brokers
The 1970-1980 civilian leadership in Africa was basically nationalist to the extent that it wanted to have a tyrannical grip on every facet of national life. Torn between the exigencies of "under the tree" rule and the pressure of Cold War politics, the leadership opened avenues for soldiers to step in as power brokers.

Prominent among the military coups in the 1970s were the experiences in Uganda in 1971 by Idi Amin Dada; in Ethiopia in 1974 by Colonial Mengistu Haile Mariam, in Nigeria in July 1975 by General Muhammad Murtala; and in Ghana in 1979 by Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings.

The most benign of these take-overs was that of Muhammad Murtala. General Murtala's eight-month government gained a reputation for integrity and commitment to radical change and was welcomed by most Nigerians.

In the 1980s, there were take-overs in Liberia in April 1980 by Master-Sergeant K. Doe; in Ghana in 1981 once again by Rawlings; in Nigeria in 1983 by Major-General Buhari; and in 1986 by General Ibrahim Babaginda; in Burkina Faso in 1983 by Captain Thomas Sankara; in Guinea in 1984 by Colonel Lansana Conte; and in 1986 in Uganda by Yoweri Museveni.

The most spectacular of military rules in the 1980s was that of Captain Thomas Sankara. He instituted a nation in which all citizens participated in its development and brought the masses into political and economic decision-making. He lasted in power only four years.

Soldiers As Power Sharers

In spite of some of the positive records of some military rule, it has been observed that the military should stick to their legitimate places in the barracks. They should return to their roles as protectors of state security, not as custodians of political power.

The people of Africa saw the one-party tyranny as a front for militocracy, and the only way the military could be excluded was through the national constitutional reforms. The 1990s were therefore years of national debate. That debate was to provide Africa with a democratic system, which will enable it to aspire to a stable political and economic future.

Unfortunately most African leaders refused to budge and where they did, it was for political convenience not conviction, and so the military rode on.The 1990-2000 civilian leadership in Africa is basically globalist to the extent that it has yielded its power to international donors.

The masses have watched how their independent gains have been pillaged by the 'axis of economic evil' (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organisation); they have watched with pain their republican institutions turned into burdens of monarchy; they have watched in distress how their humble leaders have transformed themselves into demi-gods.

The social democracy that the masses were advocating has become so neo-liberal that the only (dis) credit one can give multipartyism is having expanded both the economic and political space for a simpering elite (across the political divide).

This simpering elite thrives on election manipulation, social exclusion and brazen corruption. If the masses were helpless, the soldiers thought they still could make contribution to national life.

Soldiers As Statesmen

Africa has tried both the single party (where there was discipline without democracy) and multiparty system (where there is liberalization without discipline) but the military seldom remained in the barracks. National debates were deferred until the late 1990s.

In 1999, Ghadafi -who thought the gains African countries had made during independence had all been lost back to the colonialists - called for a continental debate in Sirte. One of the main things to come out of Sirte debate was the transformation of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union.

Among the 33 articles that were adopted in the African Union Treaty was Article 30: "Government which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union." Was the word 'unconstitutional' to mean just coming to power by the bullet?

In spite of this resolution, the wave of military coups continues even in twenty-first century Africa. The early years of the new century saw coups from Robert Guei followed by Guillaume Soro in Cote d'Ivoire, from Francois Bozize in Central African Republic, from

Sekou Damateh Conneh in Liberia (although the transition was manned by a civilian businessman, Gyude Bryant), and General Verissimo Conneia Seabra in Guinea Bissau, with a transition that was also manned by a civilian businessman and from Ould Ahmed Taya of Mauritania.

From the utterances of these coup leaders, there seems to be a return to benign military. The coup leaders all established a short-term transition during which there was a national debate, national catharsis and national reconciliation.

Strangely, most of the coup leaders enjoyed maximum co-operation not only from their citizens but recognition and support as well from regional bodies in the continent. The Central African organ, CEMAC, gave Bozize a red-carpet treatment after he ousted elected leader Ange Patasse, who sought political asylum first in Cameroon and then in Togo.

The West African organ, ECOWAS, yielded to rebel pressure and presided over the departure of democratically elected Charles Taylor from Liberia. ECOWAS also negotiated the smooth resignation from power by Kumba Yaya in Guinea-Bissau to make way for a rebel-led agenda.

In the 1960s, coups were quickly and decisively condemned, but what is happening today that young Turks are given more prominence than opposition leaders? Is the African Union holding the tenets of the African Peer Review Mechanism more to its chest than Article 30 of its treaty?

Should we not now agree with Antonio de Figueredo, Basil Davidson, Claude Ake, Thandika Mkadawire, Adebayo Olukoshi, Samir Amin, Kwesi Prah, Micere Mugo and other African revisionist scholars that Africa's real political and development problem lies in copying the wrong borrowed Western models?

Finally, militocracy, whether benign or malign, has no legal binding, it is not the people's best choice, but as long as truncated elections and constitutional panel beating gag democratic avenues and as long as civilian leadership in Africa thrives by grotesque routine instead of by grandiose reform, the military will remain the people's hidden choice.


Last Updated October 31, 2006 7:02 AM

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