HOW AFRICANS CAN HELP THEMSELVES (by George Ayittey)
Given the political situation and the intellectual climate in the West,
it has become apparent that Africans will have to fight their own
battles and expect little help from foreigners. They must join with Fela
Anikulapo Kuti, the Nigerian musician who declared: "I will fight any
government that has no respect for law and order" (West Africa, April 24
30, 1989; p. 659). This author will also fight any barbarous government
in Africa that has no respect for freedom of expression. In many places
in Africa, students, workers, and even peasants are already battling
Naturally, the strategies to fight tyranny will vary from one African
country to another. But broad generalities can be made. Violations of
human rights must be vigorously exposed by Africans themselves. This
requires the establishment of a free press or media, as we saw in
Chapter 9. But that alone would not be enough as wily despots develop
insidious ways of controlling the private media. Take Eastern Europe for
According to Paul Webster, of the Trans Atlantic Dialogue on European
Broadcasting in Washington,
"Three years have passed since the revolution in Eastern Europe that
overthrew communism . . . But freedom again is under attack in the
region . . . And freedom's best defense -- the free flow of information
-- is under attack. The written press, so far, has not been severely
curtailed, but in broadcasting, with television being the most powerful
political instrument, signs are ominous . . . Throughout the region,
from the Baltics in the north to Albania in the south, governments are
cracking down. In Poland, a broadcasting law is deeply flawed and
maintains firm government control over the major TV network. In
Slovakia, the new government is busy adding restrictions to the law that
gave a degree of independence to Slovak television . . . In Hungary,
Prime Minister Jozef Antall has forced out the heads of radio and
television (over the objections of the president) and has put the budget
of Hungarian television directly under the control of his own office,
thus establishing a possible line-item veto over any program he doesn't
fancy (Washington Post, Jan 31, 1993; p. C4).
Similar reactionary resurgence has emerged in Africa. In Ghana, The Free
Press had been quite critical of the policies of the ruling
military-turned civilian government of Flt.-Lte. Jerry Rawlings. On May
12, 1994, "persons believed to be agents of [ruling] P\NDC sneaked into
the premises of The Free Press and littered the whole place with human
excrement" (The Free Press, June 10-16, 1994; p.7). More incredible, the
Minister of Information, Mr. Totobi Kwakyi, and the Minister of Local
Government, Mr. Kwamena Ahwoi, defended this barbaric form of silencing
However, defamation or libel suits have now become the choice tactic of
corrupt regimes. In Angola, BBC reporter, Gustavo Costa, was slapped
with a defamation suit in June 1994 by oil minister, Albna Affis, after
filing stories about government corruption (Index on Censorship,
April/May, 1994; p.232).
In Cameroon, Emmanuel Noubissie Ngankam, director of the independent
Dikalo was given a one-year suspended sentence, fined CFA 5 million
($8,800), and ordered to pay CFA 15 million in damages, after publishing
an article which alleged that the former minister of public works and
transportation had expropriated property in the capital Yaounde (Index
on Censorship, April/May, 1994; p.235).
Also in Cameroon, staff at two other newspaper, La Nouvelle Expression
and Galaxie, were sued for defamation by Augustin Frederick Kodock,
state planning and regional development minister, over newspaper
articles alleging that the minister's private secretary had embezzled
large sums of money.
Freedom fighters should remain vigilant and demand that such lawsuits be
thrown out of court. A public servant cannot sue. H/she is entrusted to
guard the public treasury and serve the people. As such people have
every right to investigate and question how he/she manages their money.
If a newspaper publishes a false report or allegation, he can demand a
retraction and an apology but cannot file a defamation lawsuit. How else
can the public know how their money is being managed? The example set in
Malawi should be emulated across Africa.
In a May 1994 issue of The Malawian, journalist Chimwemwe Mputahelo,
published a photo of Malawi's new president, Bakili Muluzi, in jail garb
holding his prison identification number. According to the article,
Muluzi, then 23-year old, stole six pounds (sterling) and ten pence from
Msinja local court in the capital Lilongwe where he worked as a court
clerk, and was convicted and sentenced to six months with hard labor.
The publication of the story and the photo led to initial prosecution
and defamation threats by Muluzi. But human rights groups forced to
president to drop the threatened lawsuit. Said Professor Francis Kasoma,
head of the Press Association of Zambia, "Whilst I believe that the
story casts a heave and unpleasant pall over Muluzi's credibility as a
leader, I think he has acquitted himself by dropping the charges against
the reporter who wrote the story." "This is as it should be" (The
African Observer, Nov 15-28, 1994; p.21).
All Africans must demand of their governments strict adherence to the
United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the OAU's
African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights. Fortuitously, a group of
African professionals from different walks of life met in Brazzaville,
Republic of Congo, in 1989 to form the African Commission of Health and
Human Rights Promoters, or in French, Commission African des promoteurs
de la sante et de droits de l'homme (CAPSDH). It is a non-governmental,
non-political, non-sectarian and non-profit organization dedicated to
the defense and promotion of the ideals enshrined in the UN and OAU
charter on human rights but with emphasis on the health and
rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations.
In May 1992 a branch of CAPSDH was opened in Accra, Ghana, and its
director, Dr. Edmund N. Delle, told West Africa that, "the idea to
establish the Ghana branch was born some five years ago, in Geneva but
it was only last year that he and a group of concerned Ghanaians, who
had recognized the ignominy, degradation and waste of lives of victims
of human rights abuses, became concerned enough to want to take positive
steps to redress the shameful and dehumanising situation" (June 15-21,
1992; p. 1008). The Ghana branch will cater for Anglophone Africa, while
the Brazzaville office is for the Francophone countries.
Africans must not only expose the appalling human rights record of
tyrannical regimes on the continent but also go after the external and
internal props of such regimes. African dictators cannot survive without
such external and internal support. The trick is to identify these props
and sever them methodically. In the past various groups--African and
non-African--have sought to sever the external support by lobbying for a
cut in U.S. or Western aid to a tyrannical African regime.
Unfortunately, this strategy has not proven itself to be effective. For
one thing, the aid was never suspended permanently. It was restored as
soon as human rights conditions improved in some nebulously defined way.
For another, the strategy had little effect on tyrannical regimes on the
left that did not receive much Western aid. As we saw in Chapter 11, not
only the West supports dictatorial regimes in Africa. The Eastern bloc,
Third World nations, and even African governments have their puppets in
That Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and the Central
African Republic have been client states of the former Eastern bloc is
well known. Also known is the support Cuba has provided to governments
in Angola, Ethiopia, and Ghana. Iraq supplied arms to the Eritrean
rebels, the Bashir regime in Sudan, and the government of Mauritania.
Saudi Arabia provided funds to the Renamo (Resistencia Nacional
Mocambicana) rebels in Mozambique. Renamo also enjoyed support from the
Moi government of Kenya. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya provided military
support to governments in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ghana, Sudan, and Uganda
as well as to the Liberian rebels led by Charles Taylor. Taylor's forces
were also backed by the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
Regardless of the origin of these external supports, they have operated
to the detriment of the African people, the very people so many profess
to care about. There is only one way to end this hypocrisy and
outrage--by adopting measures to stanch the flow of external and
internal support of governments that oppress their people.
In a report drafted during a 5-day forum hosted by UNESCO in Paris (Feb
10, 1995), more than 500 African political and civic leaders urged donor
nations to cut off funds to African dictatorships and called for free
elections in such nations within two year. The report also said "Africa
must increasingly rely on its own forces." It asked the Organization of
African Unity (OAU) to compel leaders who were not democratically
elected to arrange for elections within two years If the West can impose
sanctions against Libya and South Africa, then Africans can call for
sanctions against their own illegal regimes. This was exactly what Nobel
laureate, Wole Soyinka, called for after Gen. Sani Abacha seized power
in Nigeria on Nov 18, 1993:
"Our message to the international community is that it should not say
or do anything to give hope to this [Abacha] regime. It is a regime of
infamy and it should be isolated. This is going to be the worst and most
brutal regime that Nigeria ever had. This regiem is prepared to kill,
torture and make opponents disappear (New York Times, Nov 25, 1993;
Any foreign government or institution--Western, Eastern, Third World, or
even African--that extends Any foreign government or
institution--Western, Eastern, Third World, or even African--that
extends credit to a military or one-party state in Africa should do so
at its own risk.
AIn the field of international law, a loan to an illegitimate government
constitutes illegitimate debt to its people. After 1992, any foreign
loan or credit to a military dictatorship or a one-party state in
Africa, without authorization of their people, will not be paid back. If
foreign governments and agencies wish to throw away their money in
Africa, they are at liberty to do so. But they should not expect
Africans to pay for that indiscretion (Author's testimony before the
House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Africa, U.S. House of
Representatives, Nov 12, 1991 in Congressional Record. This testimony
was reprinted in the following African publications: Ghana Drum
Gaithersburg, Md, January 1992; p. 6), The African Mirror, (Silver
Spring, Md, January 1992; p. 8), and African Economic Digest (Nigeria,
Dec 2, 1991; p. 21).
In November 1990 the main opposition parties in Bangladesh warned donor
countries and agencies that aid given during the. rule of President
Hussain Mohammad Ershad would not be paid back.
"The military junta of President Ershad is plundering public money, and
to make that up every year new taxes and levies are being
imposed...People will not pay the loans back," said Sheik Hasina Wajed,
the head of the Awami League. Donors should help a representative
government and not "a government run with the power of the gun," she
said, adding that proper accounts of aid funds are not available.
Begum Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, accused
Mr. Ershad and his cronies of hoarding aid in foreign bank accounts and
said, "people will not bear the pressure of paying back the debt" (The
Washington Times, Nov 7, 1990; p. A2).
Two weeks later, the military government of President Ershad collapsed
when aid donors withheld funds
For example, President Mobutu, not the Zairian people, should be held
personally liable for any foreign loan contracted. In Tanzania, Chama
Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the sole legal party, should be held liable for the
country's foreign debt; in Angola, the MPLA; in Burkina Faso, the
military; in Ethiopia, the military; in Mozambique, FRELIMO; in Kenya,
KANU; in South Africa, the whites; in Zambia, UNIP; in Zimbabwe,
ZANU-PF; and so on. The African people are fed up with huge foreign
loans that have allegedly been contracted on their behalf but without
their authorization or ultimate benefit. Ethiopia, Liberia and Somalia
now lie in ruins with their people starving. Yet they must shoulder huge
foreign debt burdens. What benefits did they derive from those loa
Said Christopher Hitchens, a reporter:
AMost of those promiscuous loans were made during the years of
grandiose dictatorship and one-party statism, when men like Mobutu were
being supported by the West, and other profligate and sanguinary
regimes, such as Ethiopia's Dergue were being indulged by the former
Soviet Union. Now the emerging civil societies (and their children) are
being compelled to pay for crimes they did not commit and for
blundering, ecologically foolish prestige projects that they had no hand
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for one, has proposed a modest 6-month
moratorium on debt repayment, in order to provide a breathing space (or
at any rate a panting space) for good government. "The money saved this
time should be used not to benefit the elite, but the so-called ordinary
people," Tutu said. (Vanity Fair, Nov 1994; p.112).
But many other Africans are already taking Tutu's proposal a step
further, especially members of Zairian opposition groups: "Because
Mobutu is openly accused of corruption and embezzlement by the U.S.
Congress, by the UDSP and other opposition parties, these groups
threaten that the moment they come to power they will obtain the
repatriation of Mobutu's assets abroad. They think that Mobutu's private
hoard could wipe out most of Zaire's $9 billion overseas debt" (New
African, June 1990; p. 19).
The most treacherous support for tyrannical regimes in Africa, however,
has come from within Africa itself -- the military, the civil service,
journalists profession and the intellectual community. In fact, the West
could not impose a Mobutu on Africa if there were no internal supports.
And where these internal supports have been lacking, many dictatorships
have been overthrown despite Western or foreign supports. Therefore the
internal supports--the military, the civil servants, intellectuals,
urban workers, trade unions, and the mass media--must also be cut off.
As we saw in Chapter 7, the military itself has become the problem in
many African countries. Obviously a general movement toward establishing
professionalism in the military would reduce its involvement in
politicas. But this is unlikely because most military regimes seldom
return to the barracks. Nevertheless, the people can reform and check
the military. It needs to be recognized that the military is an
institution. Therefore another institution should be used to fight the
Consider the following excerpt from an article by former Jamaican Prime
Minister, Michael Manley, on the Haitian crisis:
AThe root of the Haitian problem lies in the fact that it has never
developed the institutional foundations of civil society. The reason Mr.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide was so easily overthrown and is so hard to
restore to power is that there are no democratic civil institutions or
habits of democracy in Haiti . . .
The army could overthrow Mr. Aristide and defy the international
community because it is currently the only viable institution . . .
All the Haitian groups, within and outside of Haiti, including Mr.
Aristide, should be brought together to address the question of how to
build effective institutions in the country -- in the education, in
health, in the civil service, in the judiciary, in the police, in the
customs service and so on . . .
If the international community would offer a package that focuses on
institution-building and reform as on economic development, there would
be a basis for actually moving toward a permanent solution to Haiti's
crisis. This institutional approach should be a part of the negotiations
(The Washington Times, Nov 27, 1993; p.D3). (Emphasis added)
An institution is an established organization which is dedicated to
public service and therefore essential to the life of the community or
society. Apart from the military, these are the other institutions of
society: the civil service, the universities (or educational
institutions), the legal system, the monetary system, telecommunications
system, the trade unions, the media, and so on. Each of these
institutions is vital for the smooth functioning of the society but, of
course, some are more vital than others.
In the event of a military take-over, shut down any of these
institutions. For example, the military's superiority in weapons can be
neutralized and its numerical inferiority exploited by staging a civil
service strike. The military does not have the manpower to run the civil
service. For example, in Benin the strike by civil servants and students
that began in February 1989 ultimately drove Brig. Gen. Mathieu Kerekou
from office by virtually paralyzing the operation of all of the
government offices (Africa Report, March-April 1990; p. 8). In Ghana two
successive civil service strikes created environments that enabled
palace coups to topple the military governments of General I.K.
Acheampong in 1978 and Lt. Gen. Frederick Akuffo in 1979. No civilian
lives were lost. It turned out that the military government of General
Akuffo itself set up a commission of enquiry into the civil service
strike of November 1978. The report, which was published in April 1979
and freely sold to the Ghanaian public, detailed the planning and
execution of the strike and concluded that the civil service was the key
to the successful operation of the central government: "The fact should
not be overlooked that the Civil Service is, in the final analysis, the
machinery of Central Government. Without it, the policies and plans of
Government will fail, and Government itself will collapse" (Report of
the Commission of Enquiry into the Civil Service Strike of November
1978, Accra: Government Printer, paragraph 291, page 67).
Word of the success of civil service strikes is spreading. Consider:
"Zairean civil servants have now been on strike for nearly two months
and there appears to be little prospect of a settlement. The strike
began on July 9, 1990 with the strikers seeking a 500 percent increase
in salaries. The government has offered 100 percent but this has been
rejected. The strike has severely disrupted work in a number of
ministries, with the customs service particularly badly affected (West
Africa, Sept 3-9, 1990; p. 2410).
Independent trade unions, the removal of price controls, and a free
press should also help weaken some of the internal supports that enable
tyrannical regimes to survive. Over the decades, African dictators have
used price controls, ostensibly imposed to make food less expensive, to
solidify political support among urban workers. The use of price
controls partly explains President Kenneth Kaunda's dilemma when, in
1987 and in 1990, he reluctantly attempted to remove subsidies on
cornmeal, a local staple. His moves provoked urban riots; the peasants
did not participate. He reinstated the subsidies to end the riots.
While urban workers can be bought politically with a few subsidies,
African intellectuals, journalists, and even opposition leaders, who
should know better, can be bought even more cheaply. Africa's tyrants
get away with it because the elites do not exact any punishment for
collaboration. For example, in March 1992, opposition groups in Burkina
Faso finally managed to put together a coalition to confront the
barbaric military dictatorship of Blaise Compaore in a national forum.
AOnly a day to the forum, the already-divided coalition broke even
further when one of its leading members, the Alliance for Democracy and
Federation of Herman Yameogo, announced its withdrawal . . .
Yameogo's compensation for his withdrawal came 10 days after the
suspension of the forum, when he was appointed a minister of state in a
surprise cabinet reshuffle. He joined the government together with three
other opposition figures, thereby strengthening Compaore's [hand] . . .
It had been rumored that Yameogo had struck a deal with the authorities
for this post (West Africa, March 9-15, 1992; p. 41).
Yet another example is Gwanda Chakuamba of Malawi, the chairman of the
"presidential council" appointed by Life-president Hastings Banda. As
The Economist (Nov 20, 1993) reported: "Chakuamba was an old Malawi
Congress Party (MCP) and ex-minister, who was jailed in 1980 for
sedition and released only last July. He then flirted briefly with the
opposition United Democratic Front, but while Dr. Banda was in hospital
suddenly emerged as secretary-general of ruling party and acting head of
state" (p.47). Chakaumba's move was roundly denounced "as a betrayal to
the opposition, who had tirelessly campaigned for his his release
following local and international pressure on the MCP government's poor
human rights record. Reliable sources have reported that whilst he was
in prison, Chakuamba was subjected to immersion in water and was chained
hand-and-foot for months on end" (African Business, Dec 1993; p.29). How
in perdition could someone, educated at that, whose basic human rights
were viciously violated in detention suddenly decide to join his
oppressor? No wonder the communists call their detention camps
African elites should learn from the "illiterate" peasants. During the
struggle against colonial rule those chiefs who collaborated with the
oppressors were destooled, some even disposed of. Even today, in some
parts of Africa, the peasants still go after collaborators of evil
regimes. For example, in July 1991 Zairean opposition leader Tshikesedi
was warned that if he accepted a prime ministerial post from Mobutu, his
house would be burned down. Tshikesedi backed off. Later, he accepted
the position with the full approval of the opposition but in October was
"fired" by Mobutu. Bernardin Mungul-Diaka was appointed as the new prime
minister. He was also warned not to accept the position. His house was
burned down when he refused.
These peasant efforts should be replicated by placing the elites on
notice: "After 1992, any African intellectual or civilian who serves
under a military regime or a one-party state system in a capacity above
that of Assistant Principal Secretary (for example, principal
secretaries, ministers, ambassadors, governors of banks,
vice-chancellors, etc.) will be disqualified from serving under any
future democratic civilian government, from holding employment in any
such government agency or institution and from any contractual dealings
with such a government Collaborating with an alien regime is just as
treacherous as collaborating with the colonialists. There should be no
place in a future democratic Africa for intellectual collaborators of
dictatorial regimes. Said Chinua Achebe:
AOne of the most urgent matters for Nigerians to address when they
settle down to debate the National Question is the issue of
collaboration by professionals and technocrats with corrupt and
repressive regimes. We must devise effective sanctions against our
lawyers and judges and doctors and university professors who debase
their professions in their zealotry to serve as tyranny's errand-boys,
thus contributing in large measure to the general decay of honesty and
integrity in our national life (Africa News Weekly, Oct 1, 1993; p. 32).
Angry Africans are now taking action against collaborators, although not
in a fashion that should be condoned. In Senegal, following a
contentious parliamentary elections which President Abdou Diouf's ruling
Socialist Party won, amid allegations of vote rigging,
AThe vice-president of Senegal's Constitutional Council, Babacar Seye,
was killed amid a fresh row over election results. The Constitutional
Council is the final arbiter in disputes over election results.
Seye was found dead in his car, apparently the victim of an ambush,
investigators said. According to the independent daily Sud Quotidien, a
group calling itself the `People's Army' claimed responsibility for
Seye's murder, the first political assassination in Senegal's history.
Sud Quotidien said an anonymous called telephoned the paper to say the
People's Army carried out the attack. `This is a warning for the other
judges in the Constitutional Council, so they really respect the
people's will,' it quoted the caller as saying (African News Weekly,
June 1993; p. 9).
AVice-Admiral Babatunde Elegbede was killed on June 19, 1994, at noon by
unknown gunmen along the Gbagada/Owonshoki Expressway in Lagos. About 72
bullets were extracted from his body, while his attackers left the young
man who was in the admiral's Mercedes Benz untouched . . . Elegbede was
a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) and held among other
positions, the post of Chief of Defence Intelligence under the Babangida
administration (African News Weekly, July 8, 1994; p.1).
The worst of the lot are Africa's chameleon diplomats, who strenuously
defend repressive regimes at home and then, come a change of government,
suddenly start to sing a different tune. For example, after the military
coup that brought Gen. Sani Abacha to power on Nov 18, 1993, Nigeria's
Ambassador to the U.S., Zubair Mahmud Kazaure, wrote:
AGen. Sani Abacha, a disciplined and highly respected officer, did not
force out the former head of state, Chief Ernest Shonekan. Chief
Shonekan resigned voluntarily. Nor did Gen. Abacha oust former President
Ibrahim Babangida. Gen. Babangida resigned, in keeping with his promise
to step down on Aug 27 . . .
What is required of the United States and other countries is not
economic pressure, which would be destabilizing and therefore
counterproductive, but cooperation and moral support in this march
toward our common objective of genuine and lasting democracy (The
Washington Times, Dec 2, 1993; p.A16).
A more blunt view was offered by The African Concord (Nov 29, 1993):
"With the return of the military, Nigeria is again saddled with men who
are all brawn, no brains." The Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S. of course
did not understand "democracy." In another letter, he wrote:
AA few people masquerading as pro-democracy activists and seeking
political power through nondemocratic means have tried to frustrate the
[transition] process by inciting violent civic unrest. Their failure is
certainly not attributable to public apathy. It is because Nigerians are
fed up with senseless acts of terrorism and with strikes that pushed the
national to the brink of disintegration last fall (1993).
It was in those circumstances that politicians of all persuasions
invited the military led by Gen. Sani Abacha to intervene peacefully and
save the nation. It is therefore wrong to accuse Gen. Abacha of grabbing
power or to say that the present military rulers are delaying the return
to democracy (The Washington Post, May 29, 1994; p.C6).
In Ghana, an irate Kabena Kofi of Tema warned:
I would like to remind Messrs E.T. Mensah, Prof Awoonor, Obed Asamoah,
Harry Sawyerr and others, that if the unexpected happens as a result of
their sycophancy, they and their families would be the first to bear the
anger of Ghanaians" (Free Press, April 10 - 16, 1996; p.2).
Angry Africans abroad are now demanding that, from now on, political
asylum should be denied to diplomats of military regimes when they are
overthrown. Some of these diplomats have over the years willingly and
actively support brutal policies of oppression and slaughter at home.
Send them back home to face the music when the governments they
represent are overthrown. In fact, Western countries are now listening:
"Former Vice President in the deposed Momoh regime, Dr. Abudulai Conteh
has been deported from Britain, following a failed attempt by his
lawyers to convince the UK authorities that Conteh was a genuine refugee
. . . The British High Court Judge, Mr. Simon Brown agreed with the Home
Office that though Conteh was not personally corrupt, he should bear
some responsibility for the corruption of the Momoh government which
played a major role in bankrupting Sierra Leone" (West Africa, Aug 31 -
Sept 6, 1992; p. 1496).
Other African countries are watching too:
ACameroon has refused political asylum to four Rwandan Hutu officials
accused of having played a significant role in the genocide there in
1994, a foreign ministry official said. One of them is Ferdinand
Nahimana, former director of the state information office and a founder
of Radio Mille Collines, the Kigali radio station who inflammatory
broadcasts egged on Hutu soldiers and ethnic militia to kill Tutsis.
The others are Justin Mugenzi, president of the Liberal Party and
former trade and industry ministry, Joseph Nzirorera, former interim
president of the National Assembly and head of late president Juvenal
Habyarimana's National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development
(MRND) party, and Pasteur Musabe, former director of Rwanda's National
Bank. . . The decision followed an intensive campaign by Cameroon's
private press against granting asylum to the four (African News Weekly,
May 5, 1995; p.3).
These should serve as warning to other intellectual collaborators.
In August, 1994, The Campaign for Democracy, an alliance of 52 human
rights and political groups, asked the European Union to repartriate the
men who annulled Nigeria's 1993 president election. Fomer military
president, Ibrahim Babangida and his deputy Augustus Aikhomu were both
believed to be in Europe. "The popular opinion in Nigeria is that these
elements must be tried for the untold hardship inflicted on the nation,"
the group said in a letter to the European Union. "We therefore, with a
high sense of responsibility, request their expulsion from Europe where
they are currently domiciled" (African News Weekly, Aug 26, 1994; p.29).
Africans are also using the U.S. court system to go after perpetrators
of gross human rights violations. When Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, who
played an instrumental role in the 1994 Rwandan massacre, attended a
United Nations session in New York in 1995, he was hit with a lawsuit
filed by five U.S. citizens whose relatives were butchered in Rwanda:
AJudge John S. Martin ruled that Barayagwiza engaged in conduct so
inhuman that it is difficult to conceive of any civil remedy which can
begin to compensate the plaintiffs for their loss or adequately express
society's outrage at the defendant's action . . .
He therefore ordered Barayagwiza to pay $105 million to the American
relatives of the people killed in the 1994 massacre.
Jean M. McCarroll, a lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, told the
New York Law Journal that her clients will now seek any assets
Barayagwiza might have in the U.S. (The Washington Post, April 11, 1996;
New democratically-elected heads of state should clean up Africa's
diplomatic missions abroad by assigning new functions and clearing out
the "career diplomats," who have served one brutal regime after another.
The new democrats should then extend the crusade to neighboring
countries and the OAU itself. At an AFL-CIO function in Washington, D.C.
on February 15, 1992, Zambia's freely elected president, Frederick
Chiluba observed: "In Africa today, the era of dictators, of hypocrisy
and lies is over...In this present crisis, government alone is not the
solution to our problems. For too long, the government was the problem."
Excellent message, but delivered at the wrong place. Chiluba should have
taken this message to neighboring Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania,
Zaire, Zimbabwe, and on to the OAU. But as soon as democrats like
Chiluba are elected into office, they forget that other Africans are
waging the same struggle and therefore need help too.
All of Africa's newly-elected presidents, academics, intellectuals, and
journalists must stand for diversity of opinion and the freedom of
expression to air their views. Intellectual pluralism ought to be the
objective. Furthermore, each profession should practice group as well as
inter-group solidarity. It is true that journalists, writers, and
academics have been persecuted in the past but nobody is going to defend
them if each profession is not willing to defend itself. One useless
body has been the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA). Like the OAU,
PAWA meets for an annual jamboree while numerous writers are jailed and
killed in Africa. It has yet to pry one member of its own from prison.
AOne reason why the press is relatively free in Nigeria is that if one
editor is detained, all journalists demand his release. Henceforth, if
one editor/journalist is seized, all must go to his aid and demand his
release. If one lecturer is snatched, all must go to his aid. If one
student is detained, all must go to his aid.
If the educated do not understand what group solidarity is, they should
beat up just one soldier and see what the military establishment will do
(Interview given by the author to Christian Messenger, Accra, Jan-Feb
1992; p. 3).
Some pro-democracy forces in Nigeria should be commended for their
courage in tactics. On June 15, 1992 the Nigerian Bar Association called
a strike to demand that the Babangida regime produce four human rights
activists, who had been detained without charge. "Authorities finally
presented the activists (Campaign for Democracy Chairman Beko
Ransome-Kuti, lawyers Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana, Baba Omojola, and
student leader Olusegun Mayegun) before a magistrate's court in
Gwagwadala, a village in central Nigeria" (Washington Post, June 16,
1992; p. A16).
On June 23, 1994, Chief Moshood Abiola, winner of Nigeria's June 12,
1993 presidential election which was annulled by the Babangida regime,
was arrested by the barbarous Abacha regime. Immediately, protests
against military rule and the arrest of Abiola erupted. Opposition
forces formed an alliance, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO),
to demand that the Abacha regime not only free Abiola from jail but also
to surrender power to him.
AIn Lagos, the oil workers' union, NUPENG, said its members would go on
strike if there was no end to military rule and political detainees,
including Abiola, were not freed. `If the authorities fail to address
all the issues . . . the union will resort to a sit-at-home action from
4th July,' NUPENG Secretary, Frank Kokori, told a news conference. `We
have fully mobilized our members' (African News Weekly, July 15, 1994;
But when three Ghanaian judges were abducted and brutally murdered in
1983 by PNDC operatives, the Ghana Bar Association did nothing. Nor did
the Ghana Journalist Association when George Naykene, editor of the
Christian Chronicle, was detained in November 1991. He wrote that
members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which ruled
briefly in 1979, benefitted from an illegal loan the civilian government
of the PNP took from an Italian businessman.
If a student body or any other association is under siege, all other
professions and associations must go to its aid. Remember that "the
stick used to beat your enemy is the same stick that will be used to
beat you too," says a Fanti proverb. Translation: the powers used to
clobber a student organization are the same ones that will be used to
beat the bar association. The essence of this proverb was expressed by
the Rev. Dartey, General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana, at
a symposium on multi-party democracy in January 1992. He warned
Christians that if they do not take steps to fight creeping dictatorship
they may one day end up like Pastor Nimbohlor, who before he died
recorded in a confession as follows: "First they came for the Jews, but
because I was not a Jew I did not speak out. Then they came for the
gypsies, but because I was not a gypsy I did not speak out. Then they
came for the trade unionists, but because I was not a trade unionist, I
did not speak out. And then they came for me. But by then, there was no
one left to speak for me" (West Africa, Feb 7-23, 1992; p. 283). (The
original version is attributed to Martin Niemoeller).
In France, many spoke out for one African writer: "A Moroccan dissident
expelled from France as a danger to state security returned to Paris
after a court overturned a Government decision to deport him . . . The
June 20, 1991 expulsion of the writer, Abdelmoumen Diouri, raised a
furor in France from rights groups and opposition politicians. Critics
accused the Government of expelling Mr. Diouri because his forthcoming
book accused Morocco, a French ally, of corruption" (The New York Times,
July 17, 1991; p. A4).
The final internal support has often been the opposition itself. In past
efforts to democratize Africa, the focus was on tyrannical regimes. But
democratic values have to be instilled in the opposition, too. As we saw
in Chapter 12, the opposition in many parts of Africa inspires little
confidence. It is often fragmented and given to petty bickering. Facing
a disorganized opposition, an African dictator does not require much
skill to survive. The opposition in Africa needs to improve its
preparation and organization.
Political events in Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia, Nicaragua, Poland, and
other countries outside Africa have demonstrated eloquently that one
person alone seldom succeeds in the battle to remove a tyrant. Nor does
one political group or organization. A coalition of forces, groups, or
organizations is imperative. This implies that coordination of
pro-democracy activities is mandatory.
In Nicaragua a coalition of 13 opposition parties, including
ideologically mortal enemies (communists and capitalists), succeeded in
ousting the Marxist dictatorship of Daniel Ortega in March 1990. The
opposition coalition did not field 13 presidential candidates. Sensibly,
they put forward only Violeta Chamorro. Had they put forward six or even
three candidates, Daniel Ortega would have won easily since the
opposition vote would have been split.
Here is the mathematics of it. A tyrant in power always has some
supporters. Let us assume this support to be, say 30 percent, of the
vote. That means the overwhelming majority of the electorate is opposed
to the government in power. Now suppose the opposition fields five
presidential candidates. If they split the opposition vote equally, each
would get only 14 percent of the vote, which is not enough to defeat the
tyrant with 30 percent of the vote. This was exactly what happened in
Kenya's 1992 election. Moi won with only 37 percent of the vote over a
divided field. The second place candidate won 32 percent of the total.
"President Daniel arap Moi's Kenya National African Union won 1.5
million votes in 1992, compared with a combined 3.5 million for the
opposition" (The Washington Times, June 22, 1995; p.A18). They repeated
this folly in the December 1997 elections. Kenya's opposition parties
numbered 26, which fielded 13 presidential candidates to challenge Moi.
Imagine. It also happened in Benin's 1990 election (only a second runoff
election defeated Mathieu Kerekou) and in the Ivory Coast where 42
opposition parties were registered in 1994, although there was some
election rigging. Similarly in Tanzania, 12 opposition parties were
formed to challenge the ruling CCM's monopoly lock on power in 1994. As
New Africa (May 1994) reported:
AEveryone is asking why the opposition was so badly defeated in the
by-elections by a scandal-ridden government party. One obvious
explanation is that that opposition was divided between seven parties,
mud-slinging and bickering between themselves rather than forging a
common alliance and clearly explaining their policies.
The opposition parties were underfunded. They had no local party
organizations. They lacked experience in fighting elections and left
campaigning far too late. The existing political system is also heavily
rigged against them. The local media and press is still mostly
government controlled and gave the opposition minimum coverage (p.41).
In Zambia's Dec 27, 2001, presidential elections, the ruling party's
(MMD's) presidential candidate, Levy Mwanawasa, won with just 29 percent
of the vote. "The 70 percent of voters who opposed Mr. Mwanawasa split
their loyalty between 10 power-hungry rivals. The withdrawal of one or
two of them would have helped Mr. Anderson Mazoka to victory" (The
Economist, Jan 5, 2002; p.38).
There are three ways in which this can be prevented. The first is to
insert in the constitution a clause stipulating runoff elections if no
one wins at least 50 percent of the plurality of votes. In the case of
Benin, Mathieu Kerekou was eliminated in the second round of balloting.
The second is to adopt a system known as preferential voting--a system
in use in Australia since the 1920's. Under this system, voters do not
vote for just one candidate but rank the candidates in terms of
preference, placing a "1" next to their first choice, a "2" next to
their second choice and so on until they no longer want to support any
remaining candidate. The "first choice" candidate with more than 50
percent of the vote is clearly the winner. If not, the candidate with
the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the ballots of voters
who indicated that candidate as their first choice are redistributed to
their second choices. This process continues until a candidate gains
over 50 percent of the vote. [John B. Anderson, an American who ran an
unsuccessful independent presidential campaign in 1980, believes
preferential voting has decisive advantages over runoff elections. He
"As with runoff elections, majority preferential voting insures that the
winner has majority support but has several advantages as well.
It is cheaper, as no second election is required. It increases the
likelihood of having a high voter turnout in the determining election;
in runoff elections, supporters of eliminated candidates often do not
vote. It promotes positive campaigning: Because candidates may need
votes transferred from eliminated candidates, they will not want to
alienate other candidates' supporters (The New York Times, July 24,
1992; p. A24).]
The third way to defeat a tyrant electorally is for the coalition of
opposition parties to field only one candidate, as in the case of
Nicaragua and Zambia.
If a coalition president (like Chiluba) is chosen, he should be
restricted to only one term of office and if an interim president is
chosen to oversee the transition process, he should be debarred from
running in the coming presidential elections, as was the case of
Liberia's interim president, Amos Sawyer, in 1991. He was to serve only
one term. In 1993, South Africa appointed an interim government to
oversee the transition from apartheid to democratic rule.
Obviously a great deal of coordination and calculation are required on
the part of the opposition in strategies adopted to remove a tyrant
through the ballot box. But squabbling inevitably erupts. The main
reason why opposition leaders bicker is that they lack focus. Personal
ambitions and beliefs get in the way. Each leader's secret ambition is
to be president and, since each sees the other as a rival, it is
impossible for them to trust and work with each other. For public
relations consumption they may put up a facade of cooperation and amity.
But beneath the surface they are busy tearing each other apart. This
arrant stupidity can only aid the tyrant in power.
Opposition leaders claim they are fighting for "democracy," yet they do
not practice it in their own organizations. They denounce the
tribalistic tendencies of the government in power. Yet the opposition
groups are no better, drawing their memberships overwhelmingly from
particular tribes; for example, the ANC from the Xhosa, Inkatha from the
Zulu, and UNITA from the Ovimbundu. How are these ethnically-based
political associations different from South Africa's Nationalist Party,
composed mostly of whites? Obviously each opposition group in Africa
needs to broaden its support base to include other ethnic groups.
Every year each opposition party should hold a vote of confidence in its
leader. Voting should be by secret ballot. Some leaders run their
organizations like their own personal property and refuse to stand down
even when they have lost all credibility. How are they different from
the tyrants they seek to replace? Those who preach democracy ought to
practise it "at home" -- in their own organizations.
Every opposition leader must take an oath to the effect that he is
prepared to step down should a majority of members so desire. Too many
opposition leaders are driven by personal ambition and the obsession to
become head of state. One does not have to be the head of state of an
African country to be a "somebody." As a matter of fact, the presidency
can be hazardous to one's health. How many of Africa's numerous heads of
state are alive and still living in their countries as free men? In 1991
the number was less than seven, out of over 150 leaders Africa has had
since 1960. But it is the smell of loot that keeps attracting hyenas.
Here is an excellent example of selfless leadership set by the new
Kenyan opposition party, Safina, which means Noah's Ark. The party was
formed by Richard Leakey, a renowned conservationist, human rights
lawyer Muturi Kigano and Njeri Kabeberi. After submitting the party's
registration papers, "they guaranteed they will resign their offices
within 12 months to ensure party leaders are elected democratically"
(The Washington Times, June 22, 1995; p.A18). Now, that's leadership
worthy of emulation.
Once a year, membership rosters of all opposition groups should be
reviewed. If there is a preponderance of one ethnic group in the
organization, it is an indication that the leader has failed to broaden
the base of the organization and he should be replaced.
It is probably true that opposition to a hated regime often comes from
a motley coalition of groups with diverse interests and beliefs, which
disintegrates into factionalism once the common enemy is vanquished. It
is also true that when a people, long kept in a boiling cauldron of
oppression, suddenly find the lid removed, they spend their remaining
energy battling chimerical enemies. But such explanations offer little
comfort to the victims and the wanton destruction.
Steps should be taken to avoid destructive internecine feuds and
competition for political power. The first step is to educate the
opposition leaders on the requisites of true democracy and political
maturity. The second is to define the focus of the struggle, and the
third is to get all parties to sign a covenant of rules which all must
agree to play by.
Education of Opposition Leaders
It is sad and painful to admit that the level of political
sophistication and intellectual maturity of some of our opposition
leaders is disgustingly low. All opposition groups and leaders must
recognize that the political arena is a free marketplace and they are
like merchants, peddling political ideas and solutions. If they demand
the right to propagate their political philosophy, they canot deny
anyone else the right to do so. If their philosophy has any merit, the
people will buy it. If not, they will reject it. It is not up to the
opposition leaders to make this determination for the people.
Furthermore, most opposition leaders define "democracy" only in terms of
their right to form political parties, to hold rallies and to criticise
foolish government policies. But as we saw in the previous chapter,
institutions, such as the rule of law, freedom of expression, free
media, and an independent judiciary are far more important.
Many opposition leaders who insist on "free and fair" elections do not
realize that this is a fantasy so long as the media is controlled by the
tyrannical incumbent regime. In country after country, this has been the
case, leading to opposition defeat amid charges of "fraud" and
"rigging." Consider this:
AIt is clear that President Robert Mugabe's incumbent Zimbabwe African
National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is assured of victory in the
April 1995 elections. The opposition is splintered and ineffective and
Zanu-PF, in power since 1980, boasts a well-oiled machine including
control of the television and radio networks and the country's main
daily newspapers (African Business, Nov 1994; p.29).
The primary focus of all opposition groups in Africa should be on
removing the tyrant in power and establishing a level political playing
field. If the tyrant is crafting a dubious transition process, the focus
should be on halting or changing that process. All other issues (such as
who should be president, what type of ideology the country should
follow, a political platform, whether the country should have a new
currency or flag) are irrelevant and secondary.
Quite clearly, the opposition in Africa needs to "get its act together."
One effective way of doing this is to draw up a covenant, a set of rules
by which all opposition groups agree to abide by. It is instructive to
note that in 1991 the Nigerian Trade Union Congress adopted a covenant
that mandates a general strike if a civilian government is overthrown in
a coup. The civil service in every African nation should draw up and
adopt such a covenant
At a meeting of all opposition leaders, a covenant should be signed
containing the following stipulations:
1. All opposition groups must condemn in no uncertain terms, any
military take-over in Africa and vow never to serve any military regime.
For example, the New Patriotic Party of Ghana "unreservedly condemned
the latest military intervention in Nigeria and called upon the
Government of Ghana and all other governments in the ECOWAS sub-region
to do the same. The winds blowing in Africa today is on the side of
democracy and in the end all those who still cling to the authoritarian
habits of the past will be rejected and repudiated by the African
masses" (The Statesman, Nov 28, 1993). After Lte. Yahyah Jammeh
overthrew the government of Sir Dawda Jawara on July 22, 1994, The
Gambia's Peoples Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism
refused cabinet posts in the military regime. All political parties in
Africa do the same.
2. Politics is a competitive game, and therefore the rules of
competition must be established and respected by all. The term of the
president will be limited to two terms (of four years each) in office.
3. All must agree on the safeguards and the necessary structures to be
adopted to ensure free and fair elections. Political maturity requires
accepting electoral defeat graciously and congratulating the winner.
Political violence and voter intimidation must be eschewed. Severe
sanctions, such as disqualification or heavy fines, must be imposed
against any political party that is guilty of murder of political
4. Ultimately, it is the African people themselves who must determine
what is best for them; not what one person imposes upon them. To do
this, the African people need the means and the forum as well as the
freedom to participate in the decisionmaking process.
5. Each opposition leader must agree to respect and honor the OAU's
Charter of People's and Human Rights. This Charter is explicit on
freedom of expression, freedom from arbitrary arrests, press freedoms,
and so forth.
6. No one person or party shall monopolize the means or the forum by
which the people can participate. All leaders will undertake to respect
the right of every African to air his opinion freely, without harassment
or intimidation, even if his view diverges from that of the head of
state. Tolerance of diversity of opinion is a sign of intellectual
7. The media, the Electoral Commission, and the judiciary shall be taken
out of the hands of the government. The Voters' Register must be
revised. The coalition of opposition groups must demand this as a
condition for participation in elections.
8. Religion and foreign ideology must be kept out of government. All
leaders must pledge to build on or improve Africa's indigenous
institutions and culture.
9. All must agree on sanctions to be applied against any leader or
political party acting in violation of this covenant. Such sanctions
must be determined by the leaders themselves.
After all is said and done, it becomes apparent that it is the educated
elites -- the leaders and the intellectuals--who have failed Africa. The
Vai of Liberia have a proverb most appropriate for this situation. If
after spending their meagre savings to educate a child, he returns to
the village an ignoramus, Vais elders may look upon him and ruefully
remark: "The moon shines brightly but it is still dark in some places."
Doesn't this describe postcolonial Africa and its elites?
Common sense has probably been the scariest commodity among the elites
in postcolonial Africa. Most of the "educated" leaders lacked it,
intellectuals flouted it, and the opposition, in many cases, woefully
deficient. The peasants may be "illiterate and backward" but at least
they can use their common sense. Obviously, a common sense revolution is
what is urgently needed in African government.
It would be fitting to end this book with a poem written by Mahjoub
Mohamed Sherif, known in Sudan as "The People's Poet." The poem is
dedicated to African dictators. [Mahjoub Sherif was repeatedly arrested
and jailed in 1971, 1974, 1976, and 1979 by the Numeiry regime for
writing "seditious" and "dangerous" poems. The poems were banned by the
two government-controlled radio stations in Sudan. He was again arrested
on September 20, 1989, by the Bashir regime and held without charge in
Port Sudan prison.]
beware falling apart,
beware and be all alert
and lend your ears to every move
and look as well to your shadow
and when the leaves rustle
it is so dangerous
Fire on everything, bullet everything
every word uttered
every breeze passing without
Teach the sparrow
the village lanterns
the towns' windows
and all stalks to report to
Make the ants infiltrate
and join the securitat
ask the rain drops
to write its reports
(Translated from the Arabic by Africa Watch and reprinted by Index on
Censorship, Feb 1991; p. 22).
While battling current despots, Africans should be vigilant, think
ahead, and formulate strategies against the next buffoon. Since the
winds of democratic change began sweeping across Africa in 1990, all
sorts of intellectual crackpots, corrupt former politicians, charlatans,
and unsavory elements have suddely jumped on to the "democracy
bandwagon" to hijack the democratic revolution. In 1992, Kaunda, and
Nyerere, for example, were all preaching multiparty democracy. Where
were they back in 1985 when true democrats were laying their lives on
the line to demand political pluralism? As this book has attempted to
show, the African story is one of betrayal -- by one buffoon after