Early Warnings, Political Risks and Democracy In Africa, By Olalekan Waheed Adigun
In an earlier article, I argued for the importance of effective early warnings in the management and prevention of avoidable conflicts in African countries. In the said article, I also argued that conflicts don’t just manifest in their elaborate forms, that there were usually early warnings which went largely ignored by those who should have known better. Little things we hitherto take for granted might often turn out to be the most decisive. This is why early warnings must always be taken seriously, if not for anything, to minimise the effects of needless conflicts.
The great Prussian strategist, Carl von Clausewitz, in his classic, On War said, “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.” Invariably, the simplest things or warnings unheeded to, more often than not, turn out to be fatal. Let me quickly bring in the pirate Radio Biafra at this point. The station, I am told, has been broadcasting for about three years now, only with a few people taking it serious. Its sponsors must be aware that the project is a journey to nowhere in particular. Its financers might as well be those who are in need of political patronage or are, to say the obvious, attention-seekers.
It was only recently that the radio station began to enjoy a “popularity boom”. Why? In its series of attacks against the “president of the zoo” or “the Occupational Nigerian government”, the station in one of its programmes accused President Muhammadu Buhari of making “anti-Igbo comments” on BBC Hausa Service. The statement from the radio’s presenters should have been treated as insignificant, but the Presidency, out of tact, bothered to respond to a station that is supposed to be non-existent. The Buhari government went ahead to publicly announce the “jamming” of the radio’s signal. While I am for the liquidation of the notorious radio, I had expected the government would have been more strategic in its systemic annihilation of the pirate radio station.
The danger portent of Radio Biafra can be likened to that of Radio Television Libre de Millie Collines (RTLM), which was formed by Hutu extremists in Rwanda to broadcast messages of hate, racist propaganda, obscene jokes and music to “spur Hutus to action of flushing out the cockroaches (Tutsis)”. For those who do not know about the Rwandan genocide, this notorious radio station was perhaps the most influential in inciting the systematic extermination of the Tutsis in the 1990s. This, to me, is what Radio Biafra is trying to achieve, given its main presenter’s recent boast of training militias in fire arms “to counter the Occupational Government of Nigeria”. To be forewarned is to be fore harmed.
Still in East Africa, two countries that share historical affinity are Burundi and Rwanda. Both countries have gone through needless bloody wars, and have their fair shares of ethnic conflicts. Recently, violence erupted in Burundi as a result of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office, in violation of the Burundian constitution. At some points, there were rumours of a military coup in the country. The president made good his threat to run, and won in a poll largely boycotted by the opposition. Analysts fear that the violence witnessed in recent times since the President’s declaration for the illegal third term may continue.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s supporters have also urged his to amend Article 101 of the Rwandan Constitution to seek a third term in office. It is yet to be seen what becomes of both post-conflict societies after these, but political risk analysts are unanimous in their views that both presidential ambitions portend danger and the possibility of renewed conflicts in the two East African countries. The East African region is known for its volatility, considering the ease and speed at which conflicts spread. This is why the African Union, in particular, and the United Nations must do just more than condemning the actions of the two leaders; they must act now, as the signs are ominous. Innocent lives have been lost to cheer the ambitions of a few individuals already; losing more will just be too much.
I have cited these instances to show that despite the recent Nigerian presidential election, incumbency still plays a critical role in African democracy. The Laurent Gbagbo experience in Ivory Cost in 2011-12, Robert Mugabe’s in 2008 and the likes, reminds of this as a political factor in African democracy.
Even the much-celebrated 2015 Nigerian presidential election’s crisis was largely averted with former President Goodluck Jonathan’s quick acceptance of defeat at the poll. There were strong indications of plans to foment trouble in some parts of the country should the election go another way. The quick interventions of top international diplomats and those of crucial local stakeholders appear to have prevented the anticipated bloodshed of that presidential election.
This is why I am appealing to international diplomats to consider putting the sort of Nigerian pressure on the Nkurunziza and Kagame regimes to drop their toga of pride and personal ambitions for peace to flourish. In both Burundi and Rwanda, the opposition appears non-existent as a result of harassments, intimidation, or in some cases outright murder. About 200,000 people have fled both countries to neighbouring Congo, Tanzania, and Kenya. The media remains under permanent ban with the African Public Radio shut down by the Nkurunziza government for political reasons. All these have further weakened the political opposition.
The experiences of the 1993 Civil War in Burundi and the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda are still with us. The latter was what United States’ President Bill Clinton called his worst failure in office, for not being able to avert the genocide and humanitarian disaster. We have a chance to correct that, especially now that the warnings are clear.