Even as the crisis in neighbouring Niger Republic remains intractable, with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), still hovering between the use of diplomacy and military to settle the crisis, another major crisis reared its head in Central Africa, with the announcement early this morning by the military that they have taken over the reign of government to restore ‘peace’.
The Gabonese people were actually looking forward to hearing the results of last weekend’s presidential elections, an election that was widely condemned by observers as not credible nor transparent but which the incumbent President, Ali Bongo was expected to win by a ‘landslide’. This new development is a huge setback for French influence in Africa and for democracy, a system that has been at the receiving end of a people who are determined to end dictatorship and mis-governance foisted on them by selfish and greedy rulers. And with the reactions of the people so far on the streets across the country, it’s very clear that the coup has been widely accepted by the people no thanks to the unpopularity of the Bongo dynasty, a family that has ruled the oil rich country for more than five decades.
The deposed president’s father, Omar came to power in 1967, with his son, Ali, succeeding him in 2009, after his father’s death. So, it’s easily discernible that the Gabonese people are tired of the Bongo’s family and their cronies holding on to power for so long. They were therefore ready for the change that the coup brought. Needless to add that the deposed president had a stroke a few years back, a sickness that made him spend several months in a French hospital. Most people had expected him to resign and leave the stage for another person, but trust African rulers, that is far from their DNA. Bongo had since been recuperating and visibly struggling to perform the duty of the leader of a country that is poor because the country’s oil wealth has been mismanaged by the Bongo family.
So, even though military putsch should not be an option in the transfer of power, the inability of African rulers to follow the constitution they swore to protect and promote makes military intervention attractive. Once they get to power, elected presidents become tyrants and see their citizens as subjects; they no longer believe in the efficacy of constitutionalism and rule of law; they find it easy to circumvent due process that was brought in and want to change the rules of the game to prolong their stay in power. Of course, they find easy support from Britain and France, the so called advanced democracies and colonial powers, who in most cases, looked the other way while democracy and rule of law are being desecrated in the continent.
Examples abound in Africa, From Senegal to Cote D’ivoire; from Guinea to Burkina Faso and from Central African Republic to Democratic Republic of Congo. These leaders, sorry, rulers trample on the rights of the people and would do anything to retain their hold on power. So, the only way a military coup would cease to be an option is for African leaders to allow the people to make their choice at the ballot box, in other words, there must be free, transparent and credible elections that reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people. Those in power should not circumvent the rules guiding democracy which is embedded in the constitution. Alhassan Quatarra in Coted’voire succeeded, albeit wrongfully, in changing the constitution to enable him contest for a third term, when he had pledged to serve for only two terms.
For sure, it would be difficult to keep people indoors or from the streets not to celebrate military takeover when they have been serially pauperized and decimated by the ousted regime. They would surely come out with a sigh of relief, jubilate and see the new rulers as savior, who came to rescue them from the pangs of misrule and subjugation. The lesson therefore is for African rulers to follow the examples of the Great Nelson Mandela; the leaders of Botswana; recent leaders of Tanzania who do not believe in ruling forever or dying in office.
Hence, the antidote to stop the military boys from coming out of the barracks to the public space is good governance; knowing when to press the reset buttons to put a smile on the faces of your citizens and more importantly, making sure the constitution and rule of law are sacrosanct. I am not one of those who believe that democracy and its core values are antithetical to the nature and character of Nigerian or by extension, African politics. I have severally argued that with all its deficiencies, democracy remains the only veritable way of ensuring fair and credible representation of what the citizens want. There should however be room for a mixture of our peculiarities and culture when setting the rules, which will guide all the players in the democratic arena.
Without a doubt, the development in Gabon has further weakened the influence of France in the continent. Yet to recover from the humiliation in Niger and the consistent bashing from the rulers in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, the French would have to find a way to stop the people from moving against them and their interests in their former colonies. Paris never saw it coming! It has for centuries subjugated these countries and made them to be subservient to the metropole-Paris- even after their so called independence. The structures that were planted by the departing colonial power was to make these countries dependent on the French, both politically, economically and militarily. This is why there are French military bases in most of these Francophone countries.
These military formations were to act as a buffer or to assist the various regimes they put in place in Africa, to wade off internal and external threats, for them to have easy access to the natural resources in these countries. Thus, they don’t care if the democracy that they so revered in their country (France) does not work in Africa, insofar as their interests are protected by the regime in power. Given the above context therefore, we are likely going to see more military takeovers in the continent if the rulers, most of whom, are ruling with impunity, do not quickly return to the table and negotiate power with the people and France will be the ultimate loser.