By Ebou Gaye
The decision to change the name of the OAU (Organization of African Unity) to AU (African Union) sparked a heated debate. Opinions were divided among observers as to whether the move was necessary. Cons argued that it was more important for the African leaders to demonstrate goodwill in addressing the problems bedevilling the African continent such as maladministration and lack of respect for democracy, human rights and rule of law than to change the name of the organization. Pros countered by contending that changing the name was a sign of goodwill on the part of our leaders as the motive behind it, they claimed, was to give the organization a wider scope and a greater mandate so as to render it more efficient and effective.
My position at the time was to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt on the issue rather than condemning the move outright. I expressed this vantage point in an article I wrote in the Daily Observer newspaper of The Gambia. However, I am now inclined to believe that our leaders have failed to prove sceptics wrong, as they have not yet succeeded in resolving the African crises, numerous as they are. This lends credence to the belief held by many observers- my humble self included – that the change of name can be likened to putting old wine in a new bottle. Simply put, we are of the view that there is very little difference- if at all any- between the OAU and the AU in terms of achievement or living up to expectations.
Once again, our leaders have gathered to discuss issues affecting our continent – Africa. Many observers question the importance and rationality of the lavish gatherings of our political leaders arguing that they fail to remedy the situation or address the main problems plaguing the masses and that many Africans continue to suffer miserably from crises caused mainly by the very ones who claim to serve their interest as their leaders.
We yearned for independence but our independence has totally deceived its purpose on account of the bad behaviour of our leaders who are insensitive to the sufferings of the masses and care more for themselves and their immediate family members than other citizens. With the exception of few, our leaders are more interested in prolonging their stay in power, accumulating wealth and living flamboyant lifestyles than seeing Africa get rid of its crises and develop rapidly as the chatterboxes and blabbermouths among them always claim, calling their critics unpatriotic citizens and puppets of the West. Ironically, Africa continues to rely heavily on its colonial masters and other donors for its development needs for over 50 years after independence, with many of its citizens seeking refuge or trying to secure citizenship for their loved ones in the West- including those who blame all our woes on the West.
Like the OAU, the AU has proved to be unwilling and unable to address the problem of dictatorship accompanied by gross human rights violations and waste of meagre resources which plagues Africa. For this reason, observers describe the organization- aptly, I believe- as a club of dictators in which each member tries to defend the interests of the others and turns blind eyes to their misdeeds, no matter how grave such wrongs are.
Sometime after its inauguration, the AU issued a declaration claiming that it intended to crack down on coups d’état in Africa by imposing a ban on the practice. Based on the high frequency of coups in Africa as opposed to other continents and the fact that coups engender bloodletting, terror, economic crises and political instability in most cases, the move was cordially welcomed by many.
However, one is abundantly justified in questioning whether the move was a sincere one on the part of our leaders and whether it can help remedy the situation. In a continent where many of the leaders came to power through the barrel of the gun and overstaying in power is the norm, it is sheer gullibility, credulity and naivety to believe that such a move was meant for public good. Judging by the behaviour of most African leaders and their associates, characterized by blatant plundering and squandering of our limited, direly-needed resources, coupled with flagrant violation of human rights, it is utter short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness to believe that the move can help stop the practice once and for all.
There is every indication that the move was meant to safeguard the political interest of the incumbent leaders by guaranteeing their security and safety rather than just to ensure peace and stability for the benefit of the public as our leaders wanted to make us believe.
If our leaders were sincere in the move, those among them who mounted power by staging coups would repent their acts and apologize to their people or be asked by their counterparts to do so. But what we have seen is the contrary. Some coup-makers continue to glorify coups by celebrating their coups lavishly and remorselessly, insisting that they had genuine reasons for toppling their predecessors, endeavouring to convince people in this regard without being challenged by their counterparts. Thus, those coup-makers can be compared to a person trying to lock the door of a dining room just after entering in order to ensure comfort and enjoyment by preventing others from entering through the same door. The fact that our leaders have imposed a ban on coups without going a step further to take measures to prevent overstaying in power also casts a big shadow of doubt on their sincerity.
It can be cogently argued that banning coups without addressing the root cause of the problem will yield very little dividends, if any. The prevalence of coups in Africa can, to a very large extent, be ascribed to the behaviour of our leaders. The dictatorial, megalomaniacal, egocentric, sadistic, bigoted and corrupt tendency of some of our leaders is a causative factor of coups. Therefore, any action taken to crack down on coups without taking this factor into account may have very little effect or prove to be an exercise in futility.
Some African leaders labour to cling onto power at all cost. They use various means to achieve their aims, which include terrorizing the population through harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and summary executions; issuing threats to intimidate opponents; doctoring the constitutions of their countries to suit their political interests; promulgating draconian laws to gag the press, stifle dissent and suppress freedom of expression; meddling in matters appertaining to the judiciary; manipulating civil servants, parliamentarians and electoral officers; monopolizing the public media; denying citizens their rights or depriving them of basic necessities; and the like. In short, those leaders seek to obtain sweeping powers and control everything to rule with iron fists, making it extremely difficult for them to be removed from power through peaceful means. When their oppression becomes unendurable, unbearable and intolerable to the masses, they resort to violent means of extricating or liberating themselves, as a cat would do to save itself when chased to a wall over which it cannot jump. Some leaders, especially coup-makers and their associates, personalize state properties. They enrich themselves in the twinkling of an eye and lead ostentatious lifestyles, spending wastefully and excessively. This behaviour has the danger of encouraging coups. It arouses the envy or anger of others who may resort to violent, unconstitutional means to weed out those greedy, selfish people in order to enjoy themselves like them or save their compatriots from economic crises and human rights violations by freeing them from the clutches of the greedy, materially-minded, extravagantly-behaved and bloodthirsty clique.
Thus, any action geared towards cracking down on coups should not fall short of imposing an official term-limit and introducing strict, drastic measures to curb human rights violations and corruption. If our leaders really meant business, they would make efforts to mend the cracks on the wall rather than plastering them. Put in simple terms, they would try to address the root cause of the problem if they were sincere in their move. In so doing, they would not need to impose a ban on coups, for the situation would automatically take care of itself. No leader should be allowed to cling onto power or oppress his people continuously, for no one is indispensable or superior to others as some leaders and their sycophants want to fool people into believing. Believing in the indispensability of a leader or his superiority over others or portrayal of a leader as such is not only absurd and folly but also insulting to God’s intelligence. How can you expect God the Omniscient to endow only one person in a whole country with the capability or ability to govern that country? If only one person in a country has the ability to rule, what will happen when he goes to eternity or dies? Are those portrayed as indispensable leaders immortal? Given the fact that all human beings are made of bones, blood and flesh and share the seven characteristics of living organisms and that leaders are human beings, is it reasonable for a leader to be intoxicated with power or be so arrogant to the extent of feeling superior to others or be portrayed as such? Are there superhuman leaders or leaders made of materials that are more valuable than those mentioned above, unlike their fellow human beings? Hardworking or not, patriotic or not, leaders must relinquish power peacefully or step down to pave the way for others to contribute their quota. Patriotism and indispensability cannot be used to justify overstaying in power, for anybody can claim to be patriotic and indispensable or be portrayed as such by sycophants. The desire to perpetuate oneself or overstay in power can only be interpreted as greed and selfishness. That is the fact of the matter.
Coming back to coups, I would like to state that they can be eradicated or at least minimized with the imposition of presidential term-limit. Imposing a term-limit can render coups unjustifiable. For instance, coup-makers may find it difficult to gain national and international recognition after overthrowing a democratically elected president whose tenure of office is limited to eight or ten years. Cognizant of this fact, would-be coup-makers may be deterred. Besides, aggrieved, discontented or disgruntled parties may not feel the need to fall back on violent means of removing a president from office with the knowledge that his tenure of office is ephemeral or short-lived. Additionally, having a term-limit in place can help deter oppression or disregard of the rule of law on the part of leaders, which, in turn, can help deter coups. Knowing that they have very limited or short time in office and that they may be held accountable for their misdeeds when they dismount power, leaders may avoid wronging their people and think twice before acting or making decisions while in office. In other words, having a term-limit can persuade or encourage leaders to behave well or avoid malpractice, which can earn them the respect and love of their compatriots, thereby guaranteeing their security and safety by discouraging would-be coup-makers.
Given the fact that the African leaders overlooked the importance of imposing a presidential term-limit when they were contemplating banning coups, we should not the least surprised that coups continue to occur in Africa despite the ban on the practice. As pointed out earlier, overstaying in power and oppression must stop if we are to succeed in banning coups.
To recapitulate, I would say that our leaders must see reason and change attitude for the better, as their behaviour leaves much to be desired. They should stop playing with our intelligence if they really intend to crack down on coups as a way of ensuring peace and stability. I urge them to try this medicine. I am confident that it will prove to be efficacious.
Unless the AU succeeds in tackling the problem of dictatorship which is the root cause of coups and crises in Africa, it will be extremely hard or impossible to convince sober, right-thinking people that the AU is different from the OAU or that the former has succeeded where the latter has failed by making giant strides towards alleviating the sufferings of the masses as desired and expected of it.