How dictators fall

There are several ways in which a dictator can fall. Some, like death, are very obvious and have provided reprieve to many citizens who, were it not for this natural phenomenon, would have suffered many more years of dictatorship under the various strongmen who ruled their countries.

Zivai Mhetu - Zinasu National Spokesperson

Zivai Mhetu – Zinasu National Spokesperson

Early African dictators like Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, who both died of heart attacks, would have certainly continued ruling were it not for nature taking its course.

Nonetheless, not all ordinary citizens living under dictators are patient enough to passively wait it out till a despot dies. Neither are power hungry militants or members of the military who see the dictator’s human rights abuses, economic failures and long stay in power as excuses that can be used as a pretext to depose the despot and grab power for themselves. Such groups are the main architects of various forms of resistance against dictatorship that result in the despot’s fall such as civil war and military coups.
Charles Taylor’s dictatorship in Liberia was felled by the militant Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) which fought Taylor’s troops in a civil war that raged on till he resigned and left his Vice-President Moses Blah in power. In as far as tactics of deposing a dictator are concerned it can be argued that it is often impossible to remove a dictator who came to power through violent means peacefully. Taylor, who himself wrestled power from Samuel Doe through a civil war, was certainly never going to give up power as a result of public pressure or peaceful protests.
However, the example of Hastings Kamuzu Banda proves that while unlikely, it is not totally impossible to peacefully remove a despot from power even when he/she is in full control of the State apparatus. In the early 1990s Banda conceded to public pressure and held a referendum in which people voted overwhelmingly against his one party state political model. This was followed by the forming of a special assembly which stripped him off his title of life presidency and some of his powers. Banda lost multi-party elections in 1994 and conceded defeat.
Not all dictators, nonetheless, yield to public pressure like Banda. Some, like the late Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi ignore it till it turns from public pressure into a fully fledged uprising. Popular revolts have brought a nasty end to many dictatorships across the African continent. Zine Albidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak are some of the most recent examples of despots whose dictatorships were swept away by a wave of popular uprisings.
Other dictators are not fortunate enough to be deposed through mass protests which are not always fully-fledged when they start but grow more intense with time thus giving the dictator a chance to flee before he/she totally loses control.
Laurent Kabila of the DRC was shot dead by his own bodyguard.
Anwar Sadat, a somewhat benign dictator who governed Egypt in the seventies was also assassinated. Today’s dictators however, who live in a permanent state of paranoia, seem to have learnt from these historical assassinations and are thus more concerned about their security more than they are about anything else. This is probably the reason why there haven’t been any recent assassinations of dictators; their security is virtually impenetrable and those who surround them are of unquestionable loyalty.
Military coups, for some time, were the most fashionable way of removing dictators from power on the African continent. The Ghanaian dictator Kwame Nkrumah, a popular and revered Pan-Africanist but a dictator nonetheless, was removed by a military coup in 1966. Obote of Uganda was removed by a military coup each of the two separate times he served as Uganda’s President, first by Idi Amin and then by General Tito Okello.  
In conclusion, it can be argued that while some dictators manage to hang on to power till death, in Africa, civil wars, assassinations, public pressure, popular uprisings and military coups have also been responsible for the exit of a fair number of dictators from the stage of politics on our continent.  

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