12 April 2019

Africa: Extinction of the Dinosaurs

opinion

One critical thing which yesterday's military coup that ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir -- wanted by the International Criminal Court in connection with genocide in Darfur -- tells us is that dictators' time is now up in many African countries.

It's the end of the line, indeed end of an era, for African dictators.

Last week it was Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika removed by the army and now al-Bashir. Prior to that in November 2017, it was former president Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

So who is next? Will it be Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Paul Biya in Cameroon, Teodoro Obiang Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, Idriss Deby in Chad or Dennis Sassou Nguesso Congo Brazaville?

The unconstitutional removal of the dictators, of course, poses a different problem which makes the transition from dictatorship to democracy complicated, but that's a separate question for another day.

What is clear is that the fall of al-Bashir is the latest in a wave of changes sweeping away many of Africa's longest-serving rulers, from Zimbabwe, Algeria to Sudan. "It is the extinction of the dinosaurs," says Alex Vines of Chatham House, a British think-tank.

There is a growing people-power dynamic in Africa. Over the years dictators have died or have been falling one by one across the continent. Countries like Togo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Angola and Kenya, among others, have in recent years seen dictators going through natural causes, military intervention or other forms of pressure.

The Arab Spring, the popular uprisings that erupted and spread across the Arab world in 2011, also saw some dictators falling in Tunisia and Egypt.

The movement originated in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly took hold in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

While Africa has been slowly, but surely witnessing the fall of tyrants or getting rid of them, some are still remaining. However, their time is up. Yesterday al-Bashir went. This followed a military coup after months of anti-government mass protests against his three-decade rule.

General Ahmed Ibn Auf was sworn in last evening as chief of a new military council that will rule the country for two years, hours after declaring that Sudan's long-time ruler had been overthrown, arrested and detained.

However, the coup and installation of the council was rejected by the protesters, saying the moves did not meet their long-standing demands for a civilian-led government. They want a change of the system, not just al-Bashir's removal. The same thing was said in Algeria last week.

This is the mistake that was made in Zimbabwe when Mugabe was toppled. People celebrated his removal and forgot that the system had remained intact. That has now come to haunt them.

Power is sweet, and African leaders love it for personal aggrandisement. Once in power, they rule through repression, patronage and cronyism. They don't do much to democratise and develop their countries. They focus on power consolidation and retention to pillage and loot, while making sure their pockets, their families and friends -- and even girlfriends -- are taken care of.

That is why African presidents do everything possible to remain in power. From arbitrarily changing their constitutions to remove presidential term limits, to ensure third terms or more, to intimidating and arresting their opponents, rigging elections, to violating human rights and even killing, they are willing to do everything to cling to power.

Elections in most African countries are just a charade. Zimbabwe leads in that regard.

However, as Sudanese communications mogul and billionaire Mo Ibrahim has repeatedly warned dictators, people are no longer prepared to tolerate bad leadership and poor governance on the continent forever. The message from the Arab Spring and of late Zimbabwe, Algeria and now Sudan is clear to this predatory and parasitic generation of authoritarian leadership: your time is up.

So dictators, please retire; otherwise Tahrir square is coming to your country!

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