Mali: Endangering Africa’s Democracies
By: Deji Yesufu
Some days ago news filtered in that the government of the nation of Mali had been ousted by renegade soldiers. As we scrambled around for information to authenticate the situation on ground in that country, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK, like our own IBB) came on national television to announce his resignation. This brought an end to his seven year rule as President of Mali; having also served as Prime Minister from 1994 to 2000. Mali, as a nation, has known years of instability. It has the evils of economic challenges, further worsened by botched parliamentary elections in April, and the activities of terrorists groups that have been threatening to overrun the country for decades now. Despite the support of German and French troops, most of northern Mali has been taken over by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who are seeking an independent homeland for the Tuareg people. All of these is worsened by an economy crippled by corruption and a government rendered impotent by a mass of people protesting it. The soldiers simply felt that it was time to take over.
After writing my book Victor Banjo, I began to have an understanding into the way the minds of soldiers work. The military in a country are a group of person trained and equipped to protect the territorial integrity of that country. These men are equipped with weapons by the nation that employs them to service. Therefore it is morally wrong for the same set of people to take up the gun against the very people they are supposed to protect. It is these moral standards that prevent coups from ever taking place in Western democracies – where we got our example of government from. However, when a polity is being governed by irresponsible men; who spend most of the time that they ought to use to lead their people, to rather carouse in ostentatious living; fueled by unbriddle corruption, something snaps and soldiers feel that they also have the moral duty of stepping into government and helping to fix the political dilemma that the nation has plunged itself into. Someone may argue that they ought not to do this; others will urge them on. Coups are usually not carried by the results from plebiscites; soldiers, who are bold enough, simply pick their guns up and arrest leading politicians and senior military officers (in the case where the coups are carried by younger officers). My point in this essay is that every time a nation is being misgoverned, politicians in that country are endangering the democracy of that country.
While we grapple over the unfortunate incident in Mali, African nations need to remind themselves of the need for good governance. There are countries on the continent that still have sit-tight rulers. Cameroon’s Paul Biya has been in power for 45 years. President Teodoro Mbasogo of Equitorial Guinea has been leading that country for 41 years. Dennis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo has led the country for 36 years. Museveni has led Uganda for 34 years. Idris Deby of Chad has been in power for 29 years. Paul Kigame has led Rwanda for 26 years. The list goes on. These African leaders have turned themselves into emperors, while at the same time beating down opposition and ruling recklessly. They will usually employ senior army officers in the army to protect their government. They do not realize, however, that every day they spend in power leaves them more susceptible to a violent overthrow of their government.
Nigeria has also had her own history with sit-tight rulers. The government of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, that led the country from 1986 to 1993, held unto power at all cost until it was ousted by sheer pressure from the people. Babangida was succeeded by an evil machination in dark googles: Gen. Sani Abacha. If not for the merciful hands of Providence that routed Abacha through death in 1998, it can be argued that this country would still have been under his evil leadership. After Abacha’s death, Nigeria returned to civil rule. Following Olusegun Obasanjo’s two terms in office, rumors began to fly around that the farmer from Otta, Ogun State, was seeking to perpetuate himself in office through a third term. The rumor was so strong that even those who worked with him in his cabinet, like Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, admitted in his book “Accidental Public Servant”, that there were plans by Obasanjo to stay for another term in office. But his plans were defeated and Nigeria was rid of the sit-tight-ruler demon. Despite defeating this evil, our nation still finds itself bedeviled by factors that threaten her democracy. While the matter of a poor economy remains a challenge that most African countries have to deal with; and the matter of insecurity has gone on unabated, there remains one issue that many are not looking at but which might eventually endanger our 21 year old unbroken democratic rule. This matter is the issue of discontent among junior army officers in the Nigerian army and recent events in Mali is an apt reminder of this.
In the past year, two or three renegade soldiers have taken to social media to record videos concerning different issues in the Nigerian army. These men were protesting the fact that many of their colleagues are losing their lives in the fight against insurgency in the land, due to the army’s inability to adequately equip them for these conflicts. One of these soldiers was actually not on the front line but chose to put himself in harm’s way by speaking for the rest of his colleagues. This gentleman was promptly arrested by army authorities and is presently facing court martial with the possibility of being sentenced to death. Other soldiers have seen the treatment meted out to their colleagues and are no longer taking to social media for fear but we all know that there is deep discontent among these men. What usually would happen is that discontent will rise to a point of mutiny in the army. What many of us do not realize is that coups are simply extended mutinies in the military. The inability of the Nigerian government to rein in the army leadership and get them to do what they are employed to do, is further frustrating these boys who are the ones being killed on the battle field. No one knows why the President has not replaced the whole leadership of the Nigerian army up till this point – despite their dismal performance with the matter of security in the country. The Nigerian government should be reminded that they put our fledgling democracy at risk when they turn deaf ears to the plight of these young soldiers.
As Africa comes to grasp with yet another coup in the twenty-first century, every African leader should be reminded that they are sitting on a keg of gun-powder and the only thing that can secure their office is good governance. Certainly, not every person in a country will be satisfied with the way things are going on in that country. But you do not want the majority of the people in acountry to be against your government. You also do not want young men in the army, whom you have armed with guns, to continue in their frustration. Everyone has a breaking point and everyone reacts in different ways when they have their backs against the wall. A word, like they say, is enough for the wise.
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You have said it all. The situation in Mali had defied all possible civil solutions. Military takeover at this point should be seen as interregnum to necessitate a corrigendum. It is however a thing of assumption that the military will do the needful and quickly put in place a government through popular votes. Obstinate leaders in Africa should also beware. God Help Africa.