|Written by:||Meshack Masibo|
It is said that former president MwaiKibaki was not a great democrat, despite the fact that his years as president saw the most liberal times in Kenyan Media. Some argue that he used freedom as a means of control. If people are free to speak as they want, your Cabinet ministers are fighting one another in the Press and there is a lot of noise everywhere, it means everybody is too busy fighting someone else to fight you.
Few strongmen in Africa — and, indeed, the world — see things Kibaki’s way. Particularly not Sudan’s embattled President Omar al-Bashir.Al-Bashir’s rule has been marred by civil wars and increasing street demonstrations. The latest wave of nationwide protests erupted in mid-December, initially triggered by rising prices and shortages but quickly turned to calls for al-Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup, to step down.
Recently, Bashir, who first came to power in 1989 in a coup, declared a yearlong state of emergency. He disbanded his Cabinet and dissolved the federal and provincial governments. Protests continued, and the economy tanked further, so he unleashed new rules on foreign currency and gold, and trading in or hoarding subsidised fuel products.
Seemingly bowing into pressure Bashir recently quit his position as chairman of the ruling party after more than two months of protests against his nearly three-decade rule, the party said. According to a party statement released on Friday, al-Bashir delegated his powers as chairman of the National Congress Party to its deputy chairman, Ahmed Harun, until the party’s next general conference.
Local media quoted Harun as saying al-Bashir took this step in order to “devote himself to the national tasks” as the country’s leader. Like al-Bashir, Harun is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed in Sudan’s Darfur region. He was appointed the party’s deputy chairman earlier this week.
In late February, al-Bashir banned unauthorised public gatherings and set up an emergency court in the capital, Khartoum, which recently sent eight people to prison over their participation in the anti-government protests that have engulfed Khartoum and its twin city, Omdurman, Sudanese news agencies reported.
Four were sentenced to five-year terms each and three got three-year sentences. One person was sentenced to six months. The same court also ordered the deportation of an Ethiopian national over the same charges. The sentences were the first handed down by the emergency courts in Khartoum set up earlier this week to investigate violations under the state of emergency that al-Bashir declared in
The Democratic Lawyers Alliance, which is part of an umbrella group spearheading the protests, said at least 870 protesters were brought before emergency courts in Khartoum and Omdurman on Thursday. What happened to the artful African dictator? Bashir’s way is, certainly, not the best way to oppress a country.
Besides Mr Bashir, the rogue’s gallery of infamous African strongmen includes Mobutu SeseSeko of Congo, YahyaJammeh of Gambia, Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola. Most of these African strongmen were either those who emerged from the successful “bush wars” against the former colonists (e.g. Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF was the militant organisation that fought the white colonists in “Rhodesia”, which later became Zimbabwe) or the totalitarian dictators who took charge after successful coup d’états (e.g. Uganda’s brutal dictator Idi Amin Dada deposed Milton Obote in a military coup).
The common narrative across the regimes of these African strongmen has been marked by blatant human right violations, suppression of civil rights and the Opposition, economic plundering, personal aggrandisement and unashamed attempts to perpetuate their regime. While Mr Mugabe’s marathon run of misrule in Zimbabwe lasted 37 years, his neighbour in Angola, Mr Santos, outran him by a few months. The ignominy of the longest-serving presidentship goes to TeodoroObiangNguemaMbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who has been in the chair since 1979 (Paul Biya of Cameroon had been a Prime Minister between 1975 and 1982, and a President only thereafter). The drama in Harare in the last few weeks showed the nonagenarian’s survival instincts as he tried in vain to hoodwink the irate masses, once-loyal ZANU-PF cadres and simultaneously placate the uprising Zimbabwean military with a reconciliatory tone by stating that the Zimbabwean military commanders were motivated by “a deep patriotic concern for the stability of the nation” and “did not amount to a threat to our well-cherished constitutional order”.
Earlier still, the bloody “Arab Spring” had accounted for the militaristic strongmen of North Africa — Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia after 23 years, the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt after 30 years and the gruesome end to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya after an unprecedented 42 years of iron-fisted rule and terror! The combination of regressive tribal and religious loyalties, ideological propaganda, sharing the ill-gotten spoils with the unprofessional military-men/mercenaries/militias and the cavalier posturing against the Western powers ensured that the wily strongmen of Africa could sustain their regimes by crushing the voice of dissent.
Even Western powers sustained these autocrats for their own ends and it was common to see these African strongmen getting feted at the White House and several European capitals. Mr Mugabe was bizarrely made a Knight Grand Cross in the civil division of “the Most Honourable Order of Bath” by Queen Elizabeth in 1994 — and even the subsequent withdrawal of the knighthood, coinciding with the white-farm seizing by Mr Mugabe, only strengthened his populist claims that “Africa was under siege of Britain — the former colonial power”! Sometime later, the situation became untenable even for Mr Mugabe, the man who had earlier outwitted and bludgeoned the Opposition into silence, as his own party colleagues started deserting, military men dropped their “commander-in-chief” and even his Cabinet colleagues started loud whispers of the ensuing “bedroom coup” that aimed at passing his legacy to his ill-reputed wife.
Mr Mugabe had forced himself and his country into a rotten borough. Now green shoots of democratic impulses in Africa are emerging in Ghana, Ethiopia, Liberia and Egypt. The lacks of popularity of these unelected strongmen have compelled Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt to say: “It doesn’t suit me as a President to stay one more day against the will of Egyptians. This is not talk for TV, those are principles I embrace and I am keen on.” As per African Development Bank data, there were 99 coup attempts between 1970 and 1989 in sub-Saharan Africa and in the period between 1990 and 2010 the number was 67. The young, fearless, hopeful and educated youth of Africa are waking up to the reality of the obvious opportunities that are intrinsically embedded in the African countries, and more importantly, the vagaries of accepting the African strongmen and their retrograde agendas. The long march towards democracy, prosperity and equality in Africa will surely rile against the phenomenon of these obstinate African strongmen.