In the first place, dictatorship is not an informed, enlightened and scientific project. It is purely and solely based on illusion, deception and violence. It succeeds for so long as the people of a particular society remain obedient to the dictator as a leader and to dictatorship as a system of governance and management. Hence dictatorship is either maintained or destroyed by the people. This is the fact of history in the past and the present, and so shall it be in the future.
Campoare and the Burkinabe
In Burkina Faso, the people made Campoare a dictator when he overthrew Thomas Sankara, whom a large part of the population feared because he posed a direct and present danger to their undeserved status quo. These were business people, traditional and religious leaders, government elites, senior military leaders and other citizens such as the middle class who were given undue advantage as a result of the neo-colonial and feudalist corrupt systems that prevailed in Upper Volta. Sankara wanted to create a society of upright men and women who uphold the values and standards of honesty, truth, openness and equality in all matters and manners of governance and management at all levels of society. This is why he changed the name of the country to Burkina Faso; Land of the Upright People.
Thus these people who felt threatened because such open and equal society will deny them their illegal and illegitimate prestige and privilege were openly and discretely opposed to Sankara. Remember, this was a man who owned not even a vehicle, and continued to receive the salary of a captain even as head of state. Thus even though Campoare was described as a ‘comrade’ and a childhood friend and colleague of Sankara, yet Campoare never shared the values and standards that Sankara promoted. Thus when he killed Sankara, the high and mighty of Burkina Faso together with the dishonest privileged middle class and the vast majority of the unconscious and indifferent masses of the country created the space for the entrenchment of dictatorship in that country. One would remember that Sankara had said that a soldier without political consciousness is a virtual criminal. This description does not only fit soldiers but indeed any other individual without political consciousness hence the ability for the creation and maintenance of dictatorship.
The Errors of Dictators
The first error of Campoare therefore is to reject a governance system based on democratic values and standards. As is typical of dictatorship, he completely disregarded transparency and accountability and respect for human rights as pillars of governance. Where it suits him, he turned and twisted the rule of law and personalized state institutions and processes in his favour. Furthermore, he employed naked violence on the people where the laws and institutions were unable to protect him from exposure and resistance from the people. This is why he murdered the journalist Norbert Zongo including carrying out uncountable summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and forced exiles. Further, he conducted series of constitutional amendments only to continue to protect and shower more power on himself and his regime. The most recent was just this week when he wanted to quash the limitation on presidential term limits leading to the upraising.
The second error of Campoare, just like all dictators who have fallen such as Gadhafi is their failure or disregard of the fact that no society is stagnant. This means no people are dormant forever. No people will ever remain under subjugation all their lives, but that people will always move towards freedom sooner or later. Failure to understand this basic scientific fact has been the bane of each and every dictator in history.
Campoare stole power 27 years ago. It is common sense, backed by science that by 2014, more than 60% of the population of the country will be less than 30 years. Thus it makes no sense to assume that one person could still be relevant to that society for three decades. The levels of human consciousness thanks to modern technology and socio-economic and political developments around the world prove that in any normal society, five years is even too long for one person to remain at the helm. But dictators are not imbued with such critical intelligence to realize that after five years in power, one will find it hard to convince anyone else that the society still needs one person to remain in power.
Thus the third error of dictators is that they mistook the popular outpouring of people in their ceremonies and the apparent peace and stability in the country as a show of support for them, and an indication of their power and effective control mechanism. What they failed to realize is that there will always be a semblance of peace and stability, and popular participation in regime activities simply because the people are not speaking with one voice with a common vision. Also thanks to the prevalence of conservative ideas and systems, coupled with high levels of poverty, the tendency of the unenlightened and dishonest majority to hobnob with the dictator is very high. The apparent lack of resistance therefore does not primarily indicate support, rather this is as a result of the culture of division and suspicion that dictatorship generates in society hence the inability of the people to speak with one voice and act together even though all feel the hardship and frustration of life. Such scenario is further helped by the fact that the dictator has always employed a punishment and reward system for the people that forces individuals to keep in line. Thus it could take a while before the majority will become fed up and agree to undertake a joint action even if it is spontaneous and disorganized as has happened in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
More importantly, because dictators usually control state institutions and processes and religious, traditional and business leadership structures, it means change can only come from the masses of the youth and the disadvantaged adult population. The elite or the middle class is the last to take part in any change project because they are direct or indirect beneficiaries of the status quo even if they despise the dictator. The elite and middle class have acquired so much that they fear losing their privilege and materials hence their reluctance to become the first agents of change. Thus what Campoare did not realize was that he was speaking and relating to the sector of society that were beneficiaries of his regime directly or indirectly and thus they would not rock the boat. But he failed to realize that he had already been there for 27 years and therefore 60% of the population was not present when he took over. They only came to see and know him, and thanks to a more open world today, these 60% do not see him as relevant, great or necessary. This means there is a huge disconnect between him and the 60%. Hence it would be easy for the 60% to challenge him and which they did, successfully.
The Costs of Dictatorship
The cost of dictatorship is that it stagnates a society, disempowers a people and forfeits national development for a long time. Above all, dictatorship brings untold suffering and destruction of life. Look at the number of casualties in Uganda under Amin, Zaire under Mobutu, CAR under Emperor Bokassa and then Bozize, Liberia under Doe, Nigeria under Abacha, Mali under Lansana Conteh, Libya under Gadhafi and Egypt under Mubarak just to name a few. Hundreds of lives were lost just to remove these dictators after many years in power.
But while they last, dictators entrench division, suspicion and disconnect between communities and individuals in a particular society. The current crisis in Libya is a major example. In all the 42 years of his misrule, Gadhafi ensured that he maintained a tribalized society in which the various clans are disconnected, while each and every one of them relate to only him. Consequently, when he was removed, the country lacked the capacity for national mobilization and direction under any recognized leadership because it never existed. Hence the stage was set for internal struggles to control the affairs and resources of the country. Part of the conflict was also for clans to provide themselves security simply because no one trusted the other. Hence the multiple militias and the unfolding brutal and senseless civil war.
Another cost of dictatorship is that it also kills the capacity of the nation to be honest, truthful and patriotic. Dictatorship seeks to control all centres and spheres of power and resources. These are the military, business, academia, media, religious and traditional institutions, youth and women leadership and civil society as well as natural resources. Dictatorship does not allow independent-minded and self-reliant individuals and communities and institutions. This is because dictatorship survives only on obedience of the people hence if there are sections of the population that are outside of the orbit or control of the dictator, this is perceived as a threat. Hence the dictator has to control all institutions and processes in the society, be they public, private or civil society. By controlling these institutions and processes, dictatorship succeeds in undermining their power, capacity and growth. Again one needs to look at Libya: after 42 years, the country could not produce any single individual who has garnered the necessary respect, attention and recognition in the country to which the nation can relate to. Gadhafi had succeeded to either ostracize or neutralize any well meaning and respectable Libyan, and if he cannot co-opt you into his government, he will either force you to leave or kill you. Since no individual has any national appeal, it means there is no voice or face that can bring the people together and calm them. In this regard, only violence will be the avenue that will provide a national leader because one force will eventually emerge dominant.
In a dictatorship, the dictator has to control the media so that there is only one source of information because information is power. When there is free flow of ideas, then the dictatorship is under threat because it means the ideas of the dictator will no more be dominant hence he faces potential exposure and resistance. Dictatorship is built on lies and falsehood intended to create awe in the people in order to inject fear, love, respect, admiration and tranquility in the people. Thus it is in the interest of dictatorship to control the media to promote vain propaganda based on lies and deception.
Similarly, the dictator also controls the academia because, just like the media, the academia is a major platform for the production and exchange of ideas and change in any society. Thus the dictatorship will control universities and colleges, and what is taught and who teaches in them. The same applies to religion and traditional authorities because these are basic pillars, which have deep-rooted influence on the people. Thus any control of the clergy and chiefs, the dictator succeeds to control the people thru an elaborate system of patronage and punishment. In fact in Burkina, Campoare had extensively and ruthlessly exploited not only traditional and religious structures, but also socio-cultural beliefs to the extent that he was touted as a savior of the nation! Just like the media and academia, Campoare had also tried so much to stifle the vibrant civil society in that country to no avail. Every year, the civil society marks the birth and death of Sankara with huge rallies and parades. All attempts were made to downplay and discourage this activity but without success.
This is why in some dictatorships such as in Libya, one would see that Gadhafi had created his own ‘NGOs’ which became very powerful to the extent that independent CSOs where almost absent in the country. These trends could also be noticed in other dictatorships around Africa and beyond to the point that Obasanjo had always rejected the idea of NGOs which he deliberately called ‘Non-Governmental Individuals’. This is because as a dictator himself, he was totally uncomfortable with the activism of NGOs in Nigeria and tried all tactics to disempower them including demonizing them.
Thus the cost of dictatorships on society is far reaching and can remain for a long time. This is because dictatorship is not only social, economic or political. It is also mental. Dictatorship survives on, through and by deception and violence, which create the effect of obedience of the people. By this, dictatorship therefore affects the psyche of the people to the point that the people doubt their own capacity, despise each other, and pit them against each other, which can go on for a long time. These effects of dictatorship can still be felt in eastern European countries more than 30 years after the fall of the communist regimes there. These effects can also be felt in the countries in our region, which experienced and overthrew dictatorship.
Obedience to Dictatorship
And finally, Obedience…
What is obedience to dictatorship? In a nutshell, Obedience to Dictatorship is the total absence of Resistance, which manifests in several ways. The mere silence of the people, even if they will complain within the confines of their offices, homes or street corners, either in twos or threes or more people, demonstrate obedience, so long as they are not organizing in order to resist and bring about change. Secondly, associating with the dictator at any level even if one is pretending is obedience. Thirdly, fleeing the country even if you faced clear and present danger or just utterly angry and frustrated is obedience. Fourthly, open support and participation in the activities of the dictator is obedience. This is because silence, association, running away and open support and participation all remove resistance, and create a semblance of control, power and stability for the dictator. For 27 years this was how the Burkinabe acted towards Campoare. But the moment they turned their silence, association, and open support to resistance, within 36 hours they crumbled a 27 year-old dictatorship! In Libya, the moment the people decided to resist, within 100 days they flushed out 42 years of the Gadhafi Cancer! Just as it is in Libya or Burkina, so it is in any society that is plunged in a dictatorship. The basic truth is, the people make and break dictators and dictatorship. Not God, not spirits!
To the Dishonest Military Leaders
To the so-called new military rulers rivaling each other, let them learn from Campoare and all dictators of the past. They must step down now and allow the civilian population to work out a solution for the future of the country. The military has only one role and that is to submit to the legitimate civilian authority in place, and refuse to be used as tools for the oppression of the people. The new military rulers need to realize that no dictator ever survives dictatorship. Not even a society can survive dictatorship. After all, this change is not their making. Rather, these military leaders were direct protectors and beneficiaries of the Campoare Dictatorship. Therefore after the people have liberated themselves, these military nincompoops cannot now push themselves up as the spokesmen and saviors of the people. They are dishonest and unpatriotic and they must be sent back to the barracks. Now. A word to the wise is enough!
Bravo Burkina Faso, The Land of the Upright!