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With the latest seizure of power by the military in Gabon that swept away President Ali Bongo re-elected for a third term in a controversial poll in which he shut down the internet and barred both local and foreign observers, the ongoing shift in leadership dynamics across Africa should be a matter of deep concern to lovers of democracy, constitutional development, rule of law and good governance on the continent.
Sadly, the coup in the oil-rich Francophone Central Africa nation which came on the heels of another overthrow of a sitting democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger Republic also, by a power-hungry military junta speaks volumes of the current imperfections in most democratic governments on the continent and the urgent need for incumbent leaders and the legislatures to speedily address same in the interest of consolidating democracy adjudged as the best form of government which derives its legitimacy from the people.
Consequently, we join all well-meaning patriots and democrats to demand urgent action in resolving all remote and immediate causes of the increasing spate of military takeovers of democratically elected governments some of which were recently identified by the junta in Gabon. In other words, these abnormalities should serve as a wake-up call to the African Union, AU to fast-track this initiative to avert more takeovers of power by soldiers.
Before the latest seizure of power, it is on record that Niger Republic, Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and Chad had fallen to the military with spontaneous celebrations on the streets of respective capitals by their nationals indicating mass acceptance by the people who apparently, were tired of bad governance and autocratic rule.
We are, therefore, not surprised that the sacking of Bongo followed the same pattern with thousands of Gabonese thronging the streets of Libreville to celebrate the exit of their leader.
In the readout statement, the junta declared: “Our beautiful country, Gabon, has always been a haven of peace. Today, the country is going through a serious institutional, political, economic and social crisis. We are, therefore, forced to admit that the organisation of the general elections of 26 August 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”.
However, beyond the above-enumerated grouses, it is common knowledge that experts, domestic and international observers of democratic dispensation in Africa had listed several factors including under performing sit tight dictators, dubious amendments of the constitution to extend tenure limits, corruption, poverty and hunger, manipulation of the electoral system by incumbents, the frustration of the electorate with the political system that is not delivering democratic dividends, a crackdown on opposition and dissent, exploitation of natural resources by former colonial masters to the detriment of the citizens and meddling in the internal affairs of ex-colonies among others make coups very attractive to ambitious military officers.
It is our strong opinion from the foregoing therefore, that the time has come for all stakeholders to tackle these factors militating against democratic governance headlong not only to make coups unattractive and unacceptable but in the interest of the people, their survival, social, economic and technological development of the continent which harbours some of the world’s poorest nations. For example Niger and Chad are ranked among the top ten poorest countries globally in 2023 by Gross Domestic Product per capita as estimated by the International Monetary Fund, IMF.
Specifically, we believe that the AU and the international community should go beyond mere rhetoric of expressing ‘’deep concern” over the resurgence of autocratic contagion spreading across Africa in the 21st Century when other nations in the world are consolidating their democratic, social and political systems to the benefit of their people even though we totally agree with President Bola Tinubu viewpoint that power belongs “in the hands of Africa’s great people and not in the barrel of a loaded gun” and that the “rule of law and a faithful recourse to constitutional instruments of electoral dispute resolution must not be allowed to perish from our great continent”.
Similarly, African leaders should as a matter of urgency adopt a comprehensive consensus on the next steps forward to address the several cases of dictators perpetuating themselves in power for decades with 81-year-old, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea being both Africa’s and world’s longest-serving president for 44 years while his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, holds the position of Vice President.
Others include 90-year-old President Paul Biya of Cameroon, (41-year rule); Uganda President Yoweri Museveni (37 years); President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo (18 years); President of Djibouti, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, (24 years) and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda (23 years). Recall too, that before the recent coup in Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba had in 2009 succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who governed for an extensive 42-year period, before winning a controversial election for the third term that was annulled last week.
Unfortunately, we note that contrary to the universally recognized separation of power between the executive, legislature and judiciary in a democracy, some of these leaders possess the constitutional authority to rule by decree which grants them significant decision-making power alongside legislators to retain their grip on power at all costs and against the wish of majority even when human and economic growth indicators are negative.
It is worrisome that these aberrations have created genuine concern that the spate of military takeovers of government may not abate any time soon if genuine efforts are not made by African leaders and regional blocs such as ECOWAS to correct the failing governance model on the continent with Nigerian former aviation minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode predicting imminent coups in Francophone countries of the West and Central African where autocratic leaders continue to hold sway after soldiers seized power in Gabon and expressed doubts on the efficacy of sanctions by the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS and AU to remedy such takeovers.
We strongly believe that his recommendation for urgent practical solutions to the root causes of violent change in government on the continent, rather than addressing the symptoms, totally agrees with former American President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible” relating to democracy “will make violent revolution inevitable”.
In this vein, it is our strong recommendation that African leaders must be mindful of the fact that power is transient and exercised for the common good and not for personal aggrandizement; stop further tenure elongation and embrace good governance, harness natural resources for improved living conditions for the people; stop manipulating the electoral process to their advantage, respect term limit, shun corruption and temptation of amending the constitution to remain in power for life and stop continued exploitation of natural resources by erstwhile colonial masters against the national and economic interests of respective countries.
Above all, we strongly proffer that public office holders on the continent imbibe utilitarianism, the moral system founded by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) containing the principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number” as the bedrock for good governance to make military coups unattractive.
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