THE recent botched coup in Gabon was swiftly condemned by the international community, to accentuate the world’s unequivocal rejection of military dictatorships. Apparently most societies now accord little or no sympathy to military hegemony, as it is antithetical to democracy.A group of presidential guards, on January 7, attempted to sack the government of President Ali Bongo, who just returned to the country after months of medical treatment in Moro” World leaders and international organizations, unanimously criticised the action, as illegitimate and inimical to human liberties.Chairperson of African Union (AU) Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned the attack, and reiterated its ‘total rejection of unconstitutional change of power.’
Similarly, United Nations(UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres berated the rebellion, urging ‘all actors to follow the constitution.’As part of efforts to strengthen his administration and restore confidence among the traumatised populace, the embattled president, appointed Julien Bekale, as new Prime Minister. Calm may have returned to the country, after the failed mission purported ‘to restore democracy’ to the oil-rich Central African Republic, which has been ruled by the president and his late father, Omar, for over 50 years.
However uncertainty pervades the country, amidst public concerns about the far-reaching consequences of the revolution and allegations of gross mismanagement of the country’s resources by the Bongo family. Opposition leader, Jean Ping, embittered by the outcome of 2016 polls, said ‘those in power today are covered in the blood and misery of the Gabonese people, who each time express their desire for a change because we’ve had 50 years with the same family in power.’
Gabon is sub-Saharan’s third largest oil producer, yet a third of its 1.8 million population is poor, according to World Bank reports. Bongo, who has been in power since 2009, along with his father, who ruled the country for over 41 years, are widely, accused of siphoning the nation’s huge oil wealth, with scant investments in infrastructural development.
Commander of the Republican Guard, Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, who claimed the military struck to revive the nation’s democracy, said Bongo’s New Year’s speech ‘heightened doubts about his ability to assume the office of President of the Republic.’ Obviously the ill-fated action, provides a veritable template to appraise critical circumstances undermining civil rule in Africa.
Generally, institutional deficiencies, dictatorial tendencies and corrupt practices, constitute major obstacles to the continent’s political stability. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is ruled by despotic characters, whose brutalities, brazenly, violate democratic principles, human rights and media freedom. Barely two weeks into the year, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Sudan and Zimbabwe clamped down on internet, allegedly, to muzzle civil liberties.
Africa has reportedly lost about $237 million to internet disruptions since 2015.These infractions often lead to perennial bloody conflicts and power debacles.The recent insurrection is, doubtless, a major blow to Bongo, as it signals serious grievances in the polity, over his policies and leadership style. Despite assurances from government officials, fears over the impact of the mutiny on the nation’s fragile economy and unity still dominate public discourses.The unfortunate incident is a clear warning to military and fascist governments, particularly in Africa to embrace good governance and rule of law, in order to promote democratic ideals and universal suffrage.
Bongo’s long sojourn in a foreign hospital, is not only ironical but shameful, as he reportedly failed to provide well-equipped hospitals and vital amenities in the country. African presidents are derided for their penchant for wasting state resources on expensive medical trips abroad. The continent continues to receive knocks over these ridiculous health junkets, which not only drain scarce resources, but also jeopardize governance.
The failed putsch has once more, resonated the dark side of Africa’s fragile democracy and virulent politics.Tyranny is the name of the game, in this part of the world, as draconian rulers collude with security forces to perpetuate themselves in office, engendering recurrent social crises.
Historically, tyranny, as personified by some leaders, is a major catalyst for most revolutions, either by soldiers or civilians. Sadly many African leaders seem fascinated by autocratic tendencies and sit-tight syndrome, which not only impede societal progress, but also epitomize the hubris that often consume their inordinate ambitions.
Clearly their predilection for power is largely, driven by self-aggrandizement, rather than altruism and service to the people. Zimbabwe’s ex-president Robert Mugabe, as well as his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, were virtually forced out of office, over allegations of corruption and oppression. Several African countries, notably DRC, Cameroun, Kenya, Libya and Egypt, have witnessed grisly uprisings, occasioned by political wrangling.
Apparently Gabon is deeply divided over the aborted military action, with fears of worsening political tensions, as the complexities surrounding the coup are still untended. The incessant hostilities, across the region are self-destructive, as they undermine peace and progress of the people. The regional body ought to develop mechanisms to curb the trend and rein in erring members, in order to save the continent from its current doldrums.
Unarguably, Africa urgently needs patriotic and incorruptible leaders, devoted to development and economic emancipation of the people. Credible leadership, would not only liberate the region from incessant conflicts, but will also guarantee its prideful position in global affairs.
Current African leaders should find the nerve to shed the ugly toga of authoritarianism and needless power struggles, in order to strengthen democracy.
Invariably, this requires maximum co-operation from the military, as the merits of democracy far exceed the affectations of totalitarianism. Evidently, the continent’s teeming youth population is highly intolerant of dictatorships, especially with audacious opportunities offered by emerging technologies, social media and educational innovations. The Gabonese incident is a tragedy that calls for serious introspection among African countries.
Ojukwu, a Hubert Humphrey Fellow and journalist writes via [email protected]