Opinions Thu, 13 Feb 2014

Prof George Ayittey on "African leaders and the African people"

Always distinguish between African leaders and the people; the two are not synonymous.

The leaders have been the problem, not the people. You may not like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe but that does not mean you hate Zimbabweans or black people.

True, the leaders come from the same stock of people but a bad leader is not a reflection of the true character of the people. For example, the African people believe in reconciliation; do the leaders?

The statement that a people deserve the leader that they get is NOT true in most African countries. The statement would be true if and only if the people participate in the process of choosing the leader. But that requirement is often vitiated by two common mal-practices.

The first is when a military officer stages a coup and imposes himself on the people. The second is, though the people participate in choosing the leader, the selection process (voting) is rigged and their votes nullified. Under those two circumstances, one cannot say the people deserve the leaders that they get.

The cause of bad leadership is systemic, not cultural. Bad leadership is the product of alien political systems and ideologies blindly copied from abroad with no cultural underpinnings; for example, one-party state systems, Marxist-Leninism, Confucius Institutes, etc.

In Africa’s so-called “primitive and backward” traditional system, bad chiefs and kings are removed from office. A bad chief is removed by the Queen-Mother of the royal family since he becomes an embarrassment. He may also be removed by the Council of Elders, who would refuse to work with him.

Or, failing those two checks, a bad chief is simply abandoned as his people vote with their feet to go and settle somewhere else. Africa’s history is replete with migrations of people.

In most countries in modern Africa, however, we cannot remove bad leaders without destroying our countries. They stay, stay, and stay in office – 10, 20, and even 40 years, grow senile with cobwebs dangling from their ears because the presidency is their own family property. So they groom their wives, sons, cats, dogs and even goats to succeed them.

Hardened coconuts are hopeless blind, stone deaf and impervious to reason. They insist on praising them – even when their tail is on fire. The only way to remove is through VIOLENCE: A military coup, assassination, popular uprising, or a rebel insurgency: Egypt (2011), Ivory Coast (2011), Tunisia (2011), Libya (2011), Rwanda (1994), Somalia (1991), Liberia (1999), etc.

Even then, those four modalities do not always produce the desired result. Recall the African aphorism: “We struggle very hard to remove one cockroach from power and the next rat comes to do the same thing. Haba!”

From cockroach to rat: General Samuel Doe to Charles Taylor of Liberia; General Babangida to General Abacha (Nigeria); Mengistu Haile Mariam to Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia); General Robert Guie to Laurent Gbagbo (Ivory Coast), etc.

The Arab Spring is kaput; the Egyptian revolution has completely been reversed. The “feloulahs” (remnants of the Mubarak regime) and the “deep state” are back in charge.

Any political system that concentrates a great of power in the hands of a buffoon degenerates into dictatorship and tyranny. To fix the problem, reform the political system, not just change the leader through elections.

Holding elections alone does not make a country democratic. In addition to periodic elections, the following are needed: An independent media, an independent judiciary (for the rule of law), an independent central bank, an independent electoral commission (for a free and fair vote); neutral and professional security forces; and an autonomous (not a rubber stamp) parliament.

No dictator has brought lasting prosperity to any African nation, period. And there is no such thing as a benevolent dictator. The only good dictator is a dead one.

Columnist: Prof George Ayittey