Africa shamed one more time

Sunday Monitor, Uganda
August 10, 2008 Editorial

Kenya kicked off the madness at the start of the year when depraved
politicians decided that a few thousand deaths were what their people
deserved for voting in the December 27 elections.

Then the totally inept and wicked government of Zimbabwe picked up the
button from Kenya. Egomaniacal Robert Mugabe simply chose to not hand power
to Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who had defeated him at the March 29
poll. For good measure, he unleashed his goons on Opposition supporters even
as the economy collapsed.

But just when we were feeling relieved with Kenya’s government of national
unity seemingly holding and the opposing sides in Zimbabwe talking – however
belatedly – the Mauritanian generals chose to insert themselves into prime
news. On Wednesday, they toppled the 15-month old government of President
Sidi Cheikh Ould Abdallahi, the country’s first freely elected president in
over two decades.

With a population of 3.4 million, Mauritania has been wracked by more than
10 coups or attempted coups since independence from France in 1960, a news
agency report said. With that sort of record, you would think the
Mauritanians had lost appetite for coups. Not so, obviously.

The generals have not given the reasons for their coup. But whatever they
are, nothing justifies a military coup in the present age. As Mauritania’s
own history shows, more coups tend to breed more coups.

And yet the military has not proven itself competent to run the state in
Africa, or anywhere else. This is because of the tendency of the military to
resort to the gun to resolve political disagreements.

Some would argue that the continent has seen civilian dictatorships as well.
True. But on the balance, one would rather have civilians messing around
than generals.

Civilians will much more easily grasp the need to resolve political
disagreements politically through talking and cutting deals. It takes time
but it is durable and it is the stuff of mature politics. Which is why we
think the political processes in Kenya and Zimbabwe are worth watching and

It is important to ask, however, why coups occur to begin with. We think it
is the result of the near-complete failure of political leadership in
Africa. One could explain away the golden age of coups in Africa in the
1970s as a manifestation of the crisis of state formation. Not now, really.

Today, the politicians simply appear to be selfish and duplicitous, doing
very little for their countries. This has tended to leave a leadership
vacuum that the military has been happy to fill with “revolutionary” or
“people’s redemption” councils. And the results have been woeful at best.


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