TRUTHS KNOWN ABOUT security lapses in Africa may continue to be frankly discussed at the office corridors, on dinner tables, in beer parlours, at the bus stops, newspaper stands or in political science and history classrooms while officials and discussants in government and diplomatic circles continue to do window dressing and talking tongue-in-cheek. The official responses and handling of Africa’s security crises over the years seem comparable to that of the decadent and historically unpopular Nero, who reportedly “fiddled while Rome burned.” It is hardly conceivable that anyone can be an impartial judge in matters involving him, or – more precisely – in matters in which he himself is guilty.
Since African nations have been under indigenous leadership, especially dating back to the beginning of the independence wave after the exit of the colonialists, roughly six decades ago, the experiences from the national leaders have been near uniform. Their tendencies, inexperience, idiosyncracies, prejudices, incompetences and sometimes wilful official misconducts have slowed down the continent’s development, fractured national polities, dampened economies and triggered social upheavals in many cases as well as sustained hostilities in many others. Leaders show worthy examples if the followers are to take them seriously. But the tendencies of a good number of African leaders, past and present, are anything but worth emulating.
Many innocent lives have been lost in the process of many public office seekers’ needless stranglehold to power or inordinate quest for it. Many African nations have lost precious souls to wars, hostilities and conflicts directly spearheaded or remotely instigated by power seekers. The continent of Africa therefore continues to suffer deprivation and poverty where abundance should have been the order. Is it not surprising that the DR Congo, in spite of the enormous wealth in mineral resources, is one of the most volatile, insecure and unstable countries of Africa today? Nigeria, the self-acclaimed ‘Giant of Africa,’ has oil revenue surpassing any other African country’s revenue; yet Nigeria is reckoned as one of the leading poverty-ridden countries of the world and one of the most insecure countries of the world.
The security meeting of the African heads of state therefore provides a basis for inferring hypocrisy from their acts. Although fewer African leaders are in military uniforms today, the styles of leadership of those in civilian garbs are not significantly different from those who military leaders. Many military leaders transmuted into civilian leaders while in public office and some implanted their children into the positions as their succession strategies. Faure Gnassingbé was declared the winner of Togo’s presidential election for a fourth term in office earlier this month in an election that produced results considered as controversial and disputable. Faure and his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, have ruled Togo for 53 years since 1967 within which period Faure has been in the saddle since 2005 after his father’s death. Laurent Kabila, a warlord who took over power in DR Congo after Mobutu, the long-term dictator, was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila, who reluctantly stepped down recently two years after the end of his constitutional term limit.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who rode to power in a popular acclaim, would later destroy many good deeds he earlier did in office as leader of Zimbabwe. He sowed seeds of discord while in office, which would lin ger long after his death. Omar al Bashir of Sudan spent 30 odd years in office shedding military uniform to become an authoritarian civilian leader. His era was marred with violence and war. Notable among them was the four-and-a-half years of Darfur war that claimed an estimated 400,000 lives under al Bashir’s watch. It is on record that al Bashir still has to answer for his misdeeds. This is not including the consequence of his initial defiance and refusal to step down in 2019, but later buckled to pressure from the unrelenting countrymen and women in protests that claimed over one hundred lives.
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who forced his way to power since 1986, still wants to remain in power against the people’s wish. Pierre Nkurunziza, who became the first democratically elected president in democratic elections since 1994, has refused to quit. He still wants to stay in power despite people’s opposition. Muammar Gaddafi who took office in Libya since 1969 didn’t want to leave office until he was killed. The legacy of insecurity he left behind is still ravaging Libya today as Tripoli remains under siege in unrelenting attacks that have led to many civilian casualties. The list of African leaders who are culpable for their parts in creating suitable conditions for insecurity, that is presently Africa’s Achilles, is long. Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has been over 40 years in office, since 1979. The over 80-year old Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria couldn’t stand the protests of his people and had to step down in 2019. Although Paul Kagame promised to transform Rwanda, his plan to stay on since 2000 easily puts him within the same bracket as sit-tight leader.
The economic crises and social dislocations caused by earlier leaders who had to leave office without proper succession plan through democratic elections had created power vacuum and political turmoil in many countries. The reluctance of Ibrahim Babangida to cede power to a democratically elected candidate in Nigeria in 1993 pushed the country near the brink. The death of Félix Houphouet Boigny in 1993 after more than three decades in office prepared the ground for the bitter civil war that followed in which many lives were lost. The same applies to Libya’s post-Gaddafi era. Egypt is yet to know peace since the exit of a long-serving Hosni Mubarak as the nation’s political leader. Somali, today, is a global hotspot for terrorism and a great security threat to the East African sub-region. It didn’t just get there overnight. The seed was sown some 30 years ago. The sudden overthrow of Said Barre’s government in 1991 was followed by splinters of power centres that couldn’t be brought to work together for Somalia’s larger interest, leading to the present failed state and a haven of terrorists.
The failure of ECOMOG (the ECOWAS peace keeping force) could be discerned from its lack of sustainability: in funding, personnel, equipment and training. Yet, insecurity festers in West Africa – in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all of which have become breeding grounds for terrorists invading other countries in the sub-region. The geopolitical advantage afforded Boko Haram terrorists in the Lake Chad region has become an embarrassment for the governments of four contiguous countries sharing common borders at the Lake Chad region. Cameroon’s secession crisis has persisted for a while. Beginning as a socio-political issue rooted in Cameroon’s colonial legacies, the Anglophone agitators have been branded as separatists in a nation that’s torn between French-speaking and English-speaking groups. The seeming reluctance of President Paul Biya to recognise and engage with the these agitators is a significant part of Cameroon’s persistent security crisis, which can only escalate to war if the President continues to choose heavy handed approach to resolving the problems.
Inequalities, social injustice, deprivation, pollution, climate change and over-exploitation of a region’s natural resources by central governments are parts of what trigger insurgency, militancy and wars. Youth from Nigeria’s Niger Delta, took up arms after seeing the inequitable allocation of benefits to their region from the proceeds of petroleum export, considering the devastation suffered by their land, water and air, which become heavily polluted and pose health risks to inhabitants of the region. The persistence of Niger Delta’s pollution problem reveals the inability of successive governments of Nigeria to prevent or solve security problems. Although Jerry Rawlings who led Ghana for two decades could easily be categorised as a sit-tight leader, he was recently quoted as saying that leaders stay on in power for so long when they don’t empower their people who could stand up to them if empowered.
Failure to empower the citizens holds them down and prevents them from unlocking the potential in them. They mostly become subservient and dependent on others instead of being self-reliant. Endurance under these conditions has limit. Citizens living in very hard lives, and experiencing abject poverty tend to express anger towards the government in forms of civil disobedience, protests or violence, which could precipitate political instability, crime and revolutions. The failure of institutions disempowers people even further. Weak legal system and dysfunctional judiciary places majority at a disadvantage. People will resort to self-help. Insecurity will thrive where basic laws are not applied, judiciary is weak and the legal institutions fail.
Many leaders in Africa are content with mediocrity and survive on double standards. Moreover, the fear of accountability drives them to actions that make existing security crisis even worse. At the continental level, African leaders are obsessed with fears of accountability and are obsessed with self-preservation at the expense of their countrymen. In 2013, at the end of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, the leaders and heads of African states sought to save and protect two of their own by resolving tacitly on immunity for any sitting African Heads of state. Their actions in that meeting reveal their conspiracy against their countries and against the continent of Africa, as they sought their own personal benefits. Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenyan and his Sudanese counterpart then, Omar al Bashir, had International Court of Justice (ICC) cases to answer. Their alibi for supporting the duo (Kenyata and al Bashir) was to complain that the ICC was unfairly aiming at them. To shield their colleagues, obviously in anticipation of reciprocity in the future, the African leaders at the Addis meeting advised Kenya to write to the UN Security Council seeking a stay of execution in the ICC case against Uhuru Kenyatta, who was facing charges of crimes against humanity. Their unanimous resolution was that “no sitting African Head of State should appear before an international court.”
The proliferation of small arms in many parts of Africa is not without the knowledge and tacit understanding of some individuals in power in their respective countries. It is inconceivable if such a group of people, with such a common mind set, will ever tackle security problem with sincerity, seriousness and sense of urgency in their domains. Africa is thus in a quandary on solutions to current security crisis. We patiently wait for the time African leaders will separate themselves from being part of the continent’s security problem and become only a part of the solution. How long we have to wait, time will tell.