7/16/2015

Africa's descent into dictatorship?


Two neighbours, in Africa, make interesting news lately.

While next door President Nkuruzinza hangs almost by a thread as he crushes his people to fit into his power hungry plans, in the other house President Kagame almost could have rubbed off his citizens the wrong way if he had accepted the term limits of the constitution.

The Rwandan constitution, like most other African constitutions, apparently suggests that a President should have a maximum of two seven-year (others it's five) term limits. Now, the curtains appear to be drawing on Kagame as his two term limits come to an end in less than two years' time. But, his people, have said not yet.

In the wake of the Parliament endorsing Kagame's plans to hold on, the voices of reason or confusion (depending on the part you are sitting on) have arisen again. Kagame, the hero whom most of Africa has come to hold with a regard they could only offer Mandela, has suddenly slumped into a villain. The most brutal actually are likening him to Mugabe - the Zimbabwean polarising figure.

There was no better time for Kagame to be in a position he is in such as this. For, next to Rwanda is Burundi where people have risen up to challenge President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid to continue misleading them.

As Kagame got a 3 million plus endorsement of Rwandans who see nobody outside the figure of Kagame to keep holding the torch for them, a number that is yet to be quantified for statistical purposes but nevertheless bigger has denied Nkurunziza the same generosity. And, this number, has laid down their lives just so that Nkurunziza's greed is tamed.

If Kagame had decided to step down at the end of his constituational mandate without any hullabaloo, you can bet the pressure could have been on Nkurunziza to follow suit. Now, with his decision to flirt with power just one more term apparently has cast him in the same light as Nkurunziza. Nkurunziza the man who goes to town riding a bicycle, playing football, smiling and waving the Bible, while his nation burns.

This Nkurunziza has now come to be said in the same breath with Kagame. Kagame who world over has(or had) been hailed as a statesman. A leader of not just words but action. One of the new generation of African leaders. Like Ian Khama of Botswana. Not Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

However, the people pulling the two into this inglorious comparison are deliberately rubbing off the doormat of memory this obvious fact in the role of the people in the subsequent third term bids.

I know there is a fallacious reasoning that allowing Kagame to get away with a third term is allowing Buhari of Nigeria, Mutharika of Malawi, Zuma of South Africa, Lungu of Zambia, Sall of Senegal and all the other leaders to do the same. I have heard this argument countless times. The ending, to that fallacious argument, has been that Africa now is breeding a new group of dictators: hungry for power, at any cost.

This argument is tempting, especially when we remember that Uganda has Museveni who has forgotten what it means to not be a President, Zimbabwe has Mugabe whose story is well known, Cameroon has Biya, Gambia has Jammeh and well...there must be others to add to this list. Considering the history of Africa as well it appears this worry is genuine.

However, one question I think is important as we attempt to pass a judgment should be: for whom is democracy supposed to serve?

My basic knowledge of democracy is that it is a government for the people and by the people. I know the illusions embedded in this definition and I know the refinements that have been done over the years to this wholesale and vague definition that is almost a lie in its claims.

Nevertheless, going by that definition, should we not say Africa has started to define its own operational democracy in the case of Rwanda?

Now, I must concede that Kagame is not popular to everybody in the country. But, that is the case with governments world over. There are always some who are against your policies, some who think life would be better minus you. But, the presence of opposition does not invalidate the legitimacy of a government or its popularity.

In my opinion, if that opposition is that widespread as in the case of Burundi, one really must cease and desist. And leave. This, eventually, is a different understanding from the books that are read by Pierre Nkurunziza.

Rwanda's case, I opine, however has presented us with an opportunity to evaluate our democracy. Perhaps it is time we accept the limitations of the constitution and agree that it is just a brainless and unemotional piece of paper subject to dance to the winds of change prevalent at that time.

I mean, do we get to fire a performing President and have him replaced with an incompetent hallucinator who confuses his hallucinations for dreams simply because a piece of paper says it is time for the performer to step aside?

By this question, however, I am not beginning to presuppose that among a population of over a million then there is only one competent and able person. That will be a gross lie. An overblown argument, fallacious in its own accord. But, there is a reason why a company retains the same experienced person for years before letting them quit.

Taking my opinion wholesale has its own traps. We might end up having Nkurunzizas riding on that argument while they drag countries to their death. That will be unfortunate. It is, apparently, for the same reason that those thinking Kagame should have just thrown in the towel are justified to argue thus.

In a continent in which ruling is mostly by terror and elections are rigged you would not justify people's calling for your stay to be genuine (except when they are 3 million against a population of 11 million, me thinks, with the voices that criticize you swallowed into the abyss of fear in the diaspora).

Apparently, arguing that if there is anybody unhappy with the leader will defeat them at polls is untenable as well. These systems, broken and adulterated as they are,  present a challenge as their reliability is illusional. They cannot be used to redefine democracy.

That is why this third term, maybe noble among most Rwandans, might just be a creation of an excuse by corrupt power hungry leaders to cling to power.