The end of the Cold War ushered the era of unprecedented democratic change in the so-called Third World. Although autocratic practices have been challenged by the wave of democratic reforms to enhance political security—yet dictatorships are still widespread in Africa. Some post-colonial pan-African leaders may have been schooled by traditional and expatriate dictatorial ideologies. Dictatorship has been described as a political system existing in undemocratic regimes that lacks democratic credentials such as political pluralism, periodic elections and fixed tenure of office, the rule of law—distributive justice, absence of civil rights, violation of fundamental human rights and absence of basic freedom of individuals. Dictatorship creates unfavourable political insecurities for a state where one man is at the helm of affairs—controlling the entire state apparatus or when oligarchic members rule in iron-fixed manner (Siegle Joseph, 2006 Democratic Divergence in Africa: Lessons and Implications for Aid; Lidén Gustav, 2014 Myths and Realities of Idi Amin Dada's Uganda).
Political security is also important as far as democratic consolidation and political development is concern. It is the dimension of human security that deals with the promotion of political freedom, stability, peace, democratic development and the transformation of political relations in inter and intrastate affairs through constitutional and democratic rule (UNDP, 1994 Human Development report; United Nations 2009 www.un.org/humansecurity).
We may be wondering why dictatorial leadership continues to threaten political security in Africa. What attracts some African leaders to massage constitutions to stay longer in power? Are they afraid of the aftermath of relinquishing political power? This paper takes the position that the longer African leaders exceed their tenure, the further they abuse and jeopardize political security.
Source of Dictatorship in Africa
I identify Africa’s dictatorship as an inspiration from internal and external anomalous factors: Western imperialism, Eastern communism and African traditionalism. Western Europe’s imperialist agenda mistreated Africa in slavery, persecution, racial discrimination and marginalization; dictatorial socio-political and economic colonization led by colonial governors. Marxist-Leninist communism from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union inspired many post−colonial African leaders to adopt an African version of socialism. Africa’s cherished traditional governance and chieftaincy system where kings and queens had unlimited tenure on the throne may also be a contributive factor (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980; Boafo-Arthur, 2002 Neo-liberalism, Human Security, and Pan-Africanist Ideals: Synegies and Contradiction; Rubin Barry, 1987 Modern Dictators: Third World Coup Makers, Strongmen, and Populist Tyrants).
Although the concepts freedom, common identity, racial unity and equal justice expressed in the works of W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Sylvester Williams and George Padmore suggested means for dealing with depressing, enslavement, colonialism and tyranny, the bipolar Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union misguided Pan-African Socialism (Boafo-Arthur 2002).
In that regard, Nkrumah in Ghana, Azikiwe in Nigeria, Kenyatta in Kenya, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia among others became strong Pan-Africanist influenced by these expatriate ideologies. In Ghana, the first president Kwame Nkrumah adopted and sowed the seed of African Scientific Socialism which was carried out through a mixture of democracy and dictatorship between 1957 and 1966. This led to massive indigenous development alongside the initiation of draconian legislations such as the Prevention Detention Act, the Avoidance of Discrimination Act and the Emergency Powers Act which targeted political opposition in the country (Boafo-Arthur, 2002; Boahen Albert Adu, 1975 Ghana:evolution and change in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries).
But Nkrumah’s socialist rule in Ghana may be considered mild dictatorship. It cannot be compared to what Idi Amin Dada Oumee did to his own people in Uganda [1971-1979]; as well as Jean-Bédel Bokassa [1966-1976] and [1976-1979] in Central African Republic or the brutal dictatorial regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in former Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo [1965-1991] (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980). To what extent did brutal dictatorship undermine political security in post-independent Africa?
In Amin’s dictatorial empire, the internal support he had from opportunistic Ugandans who were rather concerned with financial self-aggrandizement was crucial for his seven years political survival. These unscrupulous military men and civilians who supported Amin were consciously blind to the ruthless criminality and atrocities in the country. It took the intervention of Tanzania under Nyerere aided by some Ugandan nationals to overpower Amin’s rule (Nayenga Peter, 1979 Myths and Realities of Idi Amin Dada's Uganda).
In the case of Central African Republic, Emperor Bokassa probably tops them all though subsequent leaders like General André Kolingba and Francois Bozize exhibited some authoritarian and brutal characters. On December 31 1965, Bokassa overthrew the government of his own cousin David Dacko who had appointed him to the highest military office. Having dissolved the legislature and rescinded the constitution in 1966, in 1972, Bokassa became “Life President”, declaring himself ‘Marshall of the Republic’. But Bokassa’s human right abuses led to his overthrow backed by French troops (Dagne Ted, 2007 The Central African Republic; Encyclopedia Britannica 1980).
Congo Kinshasa (formerly Zaire) a country bordered by nine neighbours was a special case. Mobutu’s rule was characterized by dictatorial brutality and torture against nationals and abuse of resources backed by strong Cold War containment policies from the Western world. Spanning from the administration of four United States presidents; from Lyndon Johnson to Jimmy Carter; America’s association with Mobutu exposed the dangers of international friendship between liberal democracy and brutal dictatorship. What characterized his regime was endemic governmental corruption, mismanagement of the economy and the neglect of infrastructural investment. His dictatorship was even recognized as creating and amassing one of the largest individual fortunes in the world (Bechtolsheimer Götz, 2012 Breakfast with Mobutu: Congo, the United States and the Cold War, 1964-1981; Oelsner Andrea and Simon Koschut, 2014 A Framework for the Study of International Friendship).
In short, Mobutu Sese Seko of former Zaire led a dictatorial regime created and supported by expatriate financing, political protection, the liberalization of external public debt and huge capital flight at the expense of the larger Zairian population. Due to his long dictatorial rule, the collapse of his regime led to the unfortunate cataclysmic African world war in central Africa (Leonce Ndikumana and Boyce James, 2000 Congo's Odious Debt: External Borrowing and Capital Flight in Zaire p.195).
In the cases of Uganda, Central African Republic and Congo Kinshasa where Amin, Bokassa and Mobutu exercised brutal rule or even in Somalia by Siad Barre, Qaddafi in Libya or Eyadema’s brutal dictatorship in Togo—dictatorship became the grounds for the perpetration of brutality and torture against opposition under the protection of internal or external forces. They undermined the legacies of classical Pan-Africanism—freedom, identity, racial unity and humanism (Boafo-Arthur, 2002; Mbugua Joseph Kioi, 2013 Drivers of Insecurity in Somalia: Mapping contours of violence Mbugua; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980). How does the present day reluctance to relinquish political power in Africa threaten political security?
Present-day Dictatorship and Political security in Africa
In Africa, Wyk notes that the continent is experiencing a national and Pan-African leadership Renaissance with some African states graduating towards new democratic institutions and constitutional dispensations and the African Union systems moving towards its consolidation with initiatives like the New Partnership for African Development and the African Peer Review Mechanisms. However, because of the dictatorial legacy of the past, instability and marginalization; some African leaders have deliberately decided to retain their political iniquities symbolized in dictatorial oppression (Wyk, Jo-Ansie van, 2007 Political leaders in Africa: Presidents, Patrons or Profiteers p.30; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1980).
In Rwanda, Paul Kigame has dominated the politics of the country since 1994 when his rebel army ended the ethnic genocide. Quite recently, a referendum was held to extend his rule beyond 2017; a move that Kigame claims it was democratic because he could only accept what majority of the citizens want. He has received widespread praise for bringing economic development to the country but regardless of his records on economic security, critics say Kigame has not done so well in promoting political security (BBC News 2017, www.bbc.com; African Vault, 2016 Dictators-in-africa www.africanvault.com; UNDP, 1994).
Kigame’s reluctance to relinquish political power came at a time when other central African political leaders have also followed similar trend. In October 2015, Congo Brazzaville’s leader Dennis Sassou Nguesso got the thumbs-up in a referendum vote that massaged the constitution for him to run for another seven years. He ruled Congo between 1979 and 1992. After placing third in the 1992 presidential elections, he remained an opposition leader until five years later in 1997 when his rebel group staged a bloody coup—he has since been in power as of 2017 (African Vault; Planetrulers, 2016 Current World Dictators, www.planetrulers.com).
In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza has extended his tenure for a third term amidst human right abuses. In Congo Kinshasa, internal and external stakeholders are skeptical of President Joseph Kabila’s trivial reasons that has led to an extension of his rule beyond his full term which ended in 2016 (BBC, 2016). The longest serving leaders in Africa as of 2017 are also being keenly monitored. Teodoro Obiang Ngeuma Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Jose Edwardo dos Santos of Angola who has promised to relinquish power in 2018, Robert Mogabe of Zimbabwe, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and King Mswati III of Swaziland, a tiny monarchical state in southern Africa. These ‘political methuselahs’ of Africa have been in power for approximately thirty and over years (Buchanan Elsa April 2016 International Business Times, www.ibtimes.co.uk).
Others include Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan since 1989, Idris Deby of Chad since 1990, Isaiah Afwerki of Eritrea since 1993 and Abdul Aziz Bouteflika of Algeria since 1999 (African Vault; BBC News 2016).The first overthrow of dictatorial rule in 2017 was Jahya Jammeh (1994-2017) of The Gambia. He initially refused to relinquish power after losing the 2016 elections but was finally forced to flee the country to Equatorial Guinea when he was faced with military intervention from ECOWAS regional forces (BBC News 2017)
Will the current dictatorial leaders who have ruled beyond their tenure ever relinquish power or wait for mortal extinction? There are grave consequences when political leaders who have ruled for long abruptly die in office. For instance, in Gabon Omar Bongo’s 42 years reign suddenly ended when he died in 2009. His son Ali Bongo took over the mantle of leadership but there were allegations of political abuse against the opposition, electoral fraud and media censorship until stability was relatively restored later. The toppling and murder of Qaddafi in the Libyan Arab spring in 2011 has led to massive violation of human security, entrenchment of terrorism, the crisis of sovereignty and legitimacy in a once prosperous dictatorial state. In Latin America, the death of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is also a classic example of post-dictatorial crisis that affects states after the demise of a long serving leader. Venezuela has faced political and economic instability since the death of their long serving leader. On the contrary in democratic Ghana, when the President John Mills died in office in 2012, there was a smooth constitutional transition without any threats to political security. This is a noteworthy merit of democracy over dictatorship (BBC News, 2016; Planetrulers, 2016; France-Presse November 2012 LIST: Africa's longest-serving leaders, www.rappler.com; Bangura Yusuf, 1991 Autoritarian Rule and Democracy in Africa: A Theoritical Discourse).
The Reluctance to Relinquish Political Power
We may be wondering why since independence in the 1960’s and 70’s and the end of the Cold War in the 1990’s, dictatorial leadership keeps threatening political security. What actually attracts some African leaders to privatize political office? Are they really afraid of the uncertain repercussions when they relinquish political power? In a hypothetical situation; imagine Omar al-Bashir, the dictator of Sudan who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes against humanity and genocide. How would he consider his fate if he ever decides to relinquish political? (TeamAfrica, 2013; Bangura, 1991).
For the current dictators who are living in comfortable Pan-African palaces, one can only wish them well that their inevitable departure does not create a vacuum for political insecurity. For instance, in his 90’s Robert Mugabe continues to be defiant of internal and external pressures urging him to relinquish power. Irrespective of economic sanctions and crisis, Zimbabwe’s ruling elites have stood by him in the midst of his mortal fragility (Gandhi Jennifer, 2015 Political Institutions under Dictatorship).
In recent years, African dictatorship has been fought through civil revolution. This approach succeeded in neutralizing Blaise Compaore’s attempt to massage the constitution for another term in office; having ruled Burkina Faso for 27 years. In 2011, Hosni Mubarak resigned from office because of massive non-violent civilian protest. In Tunisia the inception of the Arab Spring, Ben Ali also fled the country because of vibrant civil nationalism ready to combat dictatorship in a civil revolution (BBC News).
An obvious factor that drives so many African leaders to extend their terms is the so-called human desire for authority and prestige and the hunger for continued power. For instance in Uganda, Yoweri Museveni in a rebel movement helped to overthrow Anim in 1979 with assistance from Tanzania. Since 1986, he has taken Uganda from an unstable political status to a relatively stable one, even making notable gains in economic and social development. The sacrifice he has made for his country is so great that he might feel the country owes him so much. Hence the extension of his rule is a reward no one must contest (TeamAfrica, 2013).
Another problem is the supposed meager incentives we offer in Africa for job motivation and the consequence of retiring gracefully. Van Woudenberg states that ‘retiring as a head of state in Africa doesn’t usually come with a lot of benefits…very few African countries—in fact almost none—have any kind of pension or security scheme for former presidents or heads of state. So out of power means out of money’. But from an egalitarian standpoint, the reformation of job motivation and retirement incentives in Africa must be done across board for the benefit of civil power holders just like political power holders. Again transformational leadership that can help transform Africa is all about sacrifice to the nation and not syphoning for a single person (Gaffey Conor, December 2015 Africa’s Third-Term Problem: Why Leaders Keep Clinging to Power http://europe.newsweek.com/africa).
Our memorable dictatorial leaders in Africa have before them the choice of liberty, civil rights, distributive justice and democracy on one hand and totalitarianism, tyranny, oligarchy and autocratic rule on the other. Democracy will promote government of the people, by the people and for the people whiles dictatorship will promote government of the dictator, by the dictator and for the dictator (Bangura, 1991).
The more African leaders remain in power, the more they abuse power and the further political security is threatened. Political security will flourish in political freedom and democracy and not in political captivity and dictatorship especially when state and non-state actors collaborate to promote the right kind of political system and strong impersonal institutions. The role of political globalization (i.e. international organizations) cannot be neglected as well in the area of research financing, security and sanctioning regimes—however the destiny of political security remain in the hands of Africans themselves. Strengthening civil society organizations in Africa, decentralizing political power to encourage citizen participation at the local level will further eradicate dictatorship and enhance political security.