By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Most of wars or military coups or invasions are done in the name of democracy against democracy” –Eduardo Galeano (Uruguayan journalist)
My dear faithful reader, let us begin with the all-important questions: Why do the citizens in the African countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and most recently that of Gabon involved in military coups take to the streets to rejoice with the putchists? Secondly, why are the current presidents of Rwanda and Cameroun making frantic efforts to rejig the military architecture in their countries, in a rapid response to the coup in Gabon? And what really is a military coup and who are afraid of it and why? The answers to these questions are not far-fetched; going by the empirical evidences on ground.
According to Wikipedia, a coup d’état which in French stands for ‘stroke of state’, or simply a coup, is “an illegal and overt attempt by the military or other government elites to unseat the incumbent leader”. On his part, Edward Luttwak , American writer states that: “A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder”.
Ordinarily, lovers of democracy would want to distance themselves from coups because as the Russian President -Vladimir Putin explained: “Respect for sovereignty means to not allow unconstitutional action and coup d’états, the removal of legitimate power”. This position however, triggers the pertinent question-is democracy being practised as it should in the African countries so far affected by coups-both military and civilian-instigated variant of it? It would be interesting to note that the recurring reasons given by the coupists for taking over political power from the democratically elected presidents, all dovetail to persisting insecurity, enslavement to some foreign colonialists, economic doldrums and corruption as reflective of course, by poor governance. These have been similar reasons given for that from the Sudanese coup d’état on April 11, 2019, following mass demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir, deposed by the Sudanese Armed Forces through to the Malian coup d’états on August 18, 2020 and that of May 24, 2021.
In a similar vein were the reasons given on July 26, 2023 for the coup in Niger Republic ,led by General Tchiani, an ex-UN peacekeeper who seized power and blamed rising insecurity and a lack of economic growth under the Mohamed Bazoum-led government.On their part, the Gabonese army officers who staged the coup on August 30, 2023 under the aegis of the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions to oust President Ali Bongo from power after 56 years of his family’s firm grip on power had their salient reasons for doing so. They stated that: “We are therefore forced to admit that the organisation of the general elections of August 26, 2023, did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon.
“Added to this is irresponsible and unpredictable governance, resulting in a continuing deterioration in social cohesion, with the risk of leading the country into chaos”. With all these thought-provoking reasons given by the coupists African leaders should have a moment of sober reflection and ask themselves the significant questions. For instance, the right feature to begin with is that of election. Was the election that brought me to the pedestal of power free, fair, credible and of international standards? Am I the right choice of the people, or have I deployed the Machiavellian, dictatorial doctrine of might-is-right to foist myself on the hapless people?
As for those who are currently holding the reins of political power it has become expedient to find out if the government is being run by the dictates of democracy. This brings to the political spectrum the matrix of governance that is in sync with the rule of law, with policies, programs and projects evolving from the collective wishes of majority of the people, instead of the vaulting ambition- as William Shakespeare would put it- of a few greedy, self-serving and avaricious political jobbers brow-beating their wishes on them. That brings us to the history of how democracy evolved from Ancient Greece.
According to H.A Clement, the author, of ‘The Story of the Ancient World’: “ At first the Greek tribes who had founded the city-states were ruled by the kings, but about 700BC the kings had been expelled in most of the cities…Monarchy then gave way to aristocracy, when only a few of the wealthy, noble families ruled. But this was found to be unsatisfactory…because the poor people were often ill-treated. Subsequently, “many cities came under the rule of one man again..who was not called a king but a tyrant,.. many of who were overthrown. It was then (500BC) that many cities adopted the third kind of government, democracy.” Kindly take good note of this aspect. “Their cities were small enough to enable all the citizens to meet together to make decisions, and they did not need to elect representatives as we do”.So, let us fast forward to the current African type of democracy. The situation raises some questions again. What is the cost of accessing political power? In a country such as Nigeria where presidential aspirants have to pay humongous sums of between N40 million to N70 million for nomination form , has the space not been overtly skewed in favour of the richest of the rich, not minding if they have the pedigree or the love of the people at heart? And what manner of political structure do we have on ground? In a situation whereby enormous political powers are placed at the executive arm of government –to literally do and undo at their whims and caprices-just how pro-people is that structure?
The answer is patently obvious. It means therefore, that by the time the winners get into office, the huge pay structure, appointments and the running of government would swing in favour of the rich rather than the vast majority. As it relates to some African countries that makes it a government of the rich, by the rich and of course, to satisfy the epicurean tastes of the rotten-rich individuals. So, when they begin to flounder and the people get poorer why would they not take to the streets to rejoice with the coupists? That explains the position of the former President of Algeria, Ahmed Ben Bella that: “Everywhere that the struggle for national freedom has triumphed, once the authorities agreed, there were military coups d’etat that overthrew their leaders. That is the result time and time again”.
Good governance, that is tailored towards satisfying the crying needs of the masses-to pull them out of the ignoble pit of poverty, ignorance and diseases- has therefore, become the alternative to the series of military coups in Africa.
Baje write from Lagos