The coup that ended the 37-year dictatorship of Robert Mugabe had to claim that it was not a coup. The reason was simple; it is very difficult to justify a coup in contemporary Africa for the simple reason that all our regional institutions and the international community have zero tolerance for coups.
Today, former Zimbabwean Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa would be crowned president as had always been planned by the regime. He is eminently qualified to takeover, having served his boss Robert Mugabe faithfully over the years. He has already gone down in history as the brutal loyal servant who supervised the massacre of 20,000 people in Matabeleland for daring to oppose their regime. Today, he is being celebrated at home and abroad as the hero who saved the country by disrupting and ending the thirty-seven year rule of Mugabe. The joys of the Zimbabwean people on the transition is however very real and we should all pray that Mnangagwa is a changed man and would deliver the democracy he promised on his return to the country on Wednesday.
The real disruption of the Zimbabwe regime was done by the infamous Grace, first lady to Mugabe, who wanted to takeover a regime that belongs to old war veterans of the liberation struggle. She had used the “other room” to get her husband to disregard the regime’s pecking order and seek to install her as successor to her husband who was supposed to have been all powerful. We now know that he was not more powerful than the regime. The ZANU-PF regime has always been powerful and the real illustration of the power was when they lost the general election to the opposition MDC party and refused to handover power, introducing the concept of a dual mandate in which the loser of the election remains the senior partner in a diarchy with the winner of the election as junior partner. The diarchy was a stepping-stone for returning the country to one party ZANU-PF rule, after battering and humiliating the opposition leader.
The coup that ended the 37-year dictatorship of Robert Mugabe had to claim that it was not a coup. The reason was simple; it is very difficult to justify a coup in contemporary Africa for the simple reason that all our regional institutions and the international community have zero tolerance for coups. At the same time, Africa and the world knew that it has been impossible to remove Mugabe from power through elections and democratic means. He had become part of the group of dictators who are the villains of democracy and are determined to rule for the rest of their lives.
Fifty years ago, Professor Ali Mazrui published his famous essay on: “Monarchical Tendency in African Political Culture”. He was talking about the first republic governments in Africa, which were characterised by personal authority of emerging dictators that were sacralising their authority. That was the process that led to political decay, economic regression and civil wars on the continent. The trend they set placed Africa at the bottom of all political, social and economic indices in the world.
There is however another tendency that is emerging within the continent that can checkmate the game of despots. African is breeding citizens who are increasingly able to confront their dictators and even remove them from power. In countries such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Tunisia and Egypt, citizen action has led to the chasing out of despots.
I have just returned from a dialogue in Cotonou, Benin Republic on three decades of democratic transition in Africa organised by International IDEA and the African Union. The meeting was reviewing trends in Africa since the second transition flagged off by the National Conference in Benin in 1990. We identified a number of positive trends that followed the second transition. The first is the end of military rule and the great difficulty of organising a coup on the continent today. The second is the spread of democratic culture with multiparty democracy, media pluralism and even alternation of power occuring in many African countries. Thirdly, mass protests and demonstrations have emerged as legitimate forms of political action in most countries.
These positive trends notwithstanding, there is a clear pattern of democratic regression, especially in Central and East Africa. Mugabe was not alone as a despot determined to rule to the end of his life, irrespective of the cost of his rule to the welfare of citizens. The 75-year old Obieng of Equatorial Guinea has been in power for 38 years and has concluded plans for his son to continue after his demise. The 84-year-old Paul Biya of Cameroon has been in power for 35 years and has no intention of ever stepping down as senility creeps into his rule. In Uganda, the former revolutionary, 73-year-old Museveni has been in power for 31 years. Idris Derby of Chad, El Bechir of Sudan, Sassou-Nguesso of the Congo, Kabila of the other Congo, Kagame of Rwanda and Nkurunziza of Burundi have all become despots determined to rule forever. In West Africa, Eyadema the father and his son have been in power for over fifty years. Yes Professor Mazrui, the monarchical tendency is fully back on our continent.
During the first Republic, African dictators were crude. They dismantled multiparty democracy and ruled through one-party regimes or military juntas. Now, they have become more wily. Except for the Eritrean dictatorship, all other despotic regimes in contemporary Africa today claim to run multiparty democracies with regular elections. They have mastered the game of playing democracy to defeat it. We have too many “democracies” that are not ruled by democrats.
There is however another tendency that is emerging within the continent that can checkmate the game of despots. African is breeding citizens who are increasingly able to confront their dictators and even remove them from power. In countries such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, Tunisia and Egypt, citizen action has led to the chasing out of despots. Sometimes, popular revolts fail to achieve their objectives after the first attempt but experience and skills are accumulating. The social media has also provided effective mobilisation tools that are broadening possibilities of action. Yes, the despots are determined to cling to power but the good news is that the people too are learning what is means to be citizens. People like Robert Mugabe who made the transition from nationalist hero to a rampaging despot are beginning to have citizens demanding for accountability.