Too often African leaders cry for help from the West. Too often, when they misbehave, they tell the West to stay out of their internal affairs as they are a sovereign nation. Too often Africa’s opposition accuse their government of being authoritarian and corrupt and not seeking the welfare of the people. Too often they fall into the same trap once they are in power. Too often those political parties that decry coups when they are in power welcome unconstitutional a takeover with open arms when they are in the opposition. Mixed conscience for ambivalent politicians; chequered destiny for the masses; and too costly for the future of the continent.
When in 1992 the National Provisional Ruling Council seized power from the All People’s Congress, members and supporters of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party capitalised on it if only to get back to power. In that time while the APC wanted respect for constitutionality, the SLPP could not care less. And in 1997 when the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council ousted the SLPP government, supporters and members of the APC rubbed their hands with glee. Such is the hypocrisy, such is the ambivalence, and such is the lack of decency and interest in the development of the country in the place of self aggrandisement!
But in all of this the indecision of the world community has a huge share of the blame. What is good for one country or a particular circumstance is not necessarily regarded as such for another. They did not speak out on Zimbabwe until white farmers started becoming the targets of agents of President Robert Mugabe, whose regime had bloodied its hands long before the seizures of white farms. They turned a blind eye to the situation in Guinea Bissau until the hair-raising killing of President Nino Vierra who has corrupted his military as much as the military had bickered within its ranks. Despite persistent warnings that the country was on the edge the international community would not listen let alone act.
Whereas the situation applies for most African countries, the apparent ambivalence of the world community has drawn my attention this time around owing to the situation where democracy has been kidnapped and murdered with the elected president now ousted by the military, and the opposition leader installed in his place. In what looks like the former yoghurt seller versus the former disc jockey, the situation in the Indian Ocean Island country has stunned observers and dealt a heavy blow to those who had fate in the stride believed to be being taken by the continent in goading and even strengthening democracy.
That hope for hope for the future of the world’s poorest continent seems to have been shattered in full view of the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations who have spent more time, energy and resources in condemning the coup than they did in forestalling it when it brewed for several weeks or even months.
Rather misleadingly, many have drawn parallels between the coup and what had brought the now-ousted Mark Ravalomanana to power. There may have been some similarities in that like the ousted president, the new man was a mayor of the capital Antananarivo. But while Ravalomanana ran for office and won and the incumbent Didier Ratsiraka did not want to respect the will of the people, the new 34-year-old head of state never even ran for office of the president – he did not even qualify to do so because of his age. The president even offered to hold a referendum to prove his popularity or for his challenger to do so if he had it.
In what looked like a carefully planned overthrow, apparently hatched outside the country’s borders, now-president Andre Rajolene simply mobilised his supporters in the capital and besieged the man elected just two years ago with an overwhelming majority. In what looks in part like the anger of an unfulfilled promise made to the military, President Mark Ravalomanana faced the wrath of the security forces just like Viera did in Guinea Bissau. They would not listen to him, they would not respect the will of the people and they would only follow their desire.
With all that brewed, only the Mauritian president was forthright in his condemnation of what at the time was only but threateningly nibbling around the edges. The regional grouping SADEC only paid sucking lip service to the threat against democracy. The African Union did not do any better, nor did the United Nations. With the coup now a reality and the new man now sworn in, the talking and threats of sanction are now coming in thick and fast. All in futility.
Mauritania does not give a damn about having been suspended from the African Union. Nor does Guinea. So will Madagascar not give a hoot about its suspension! The continent has to find better ways of responding to situations when and where democracy is under threat. And not wait until the genie is out of the bottle. From electoral fraud to state-sponsored violence, smart sanctions should be imposed. Travel ban should be slammed on leaders and families of rogue regimes.
And African leaders should stop the double-talking and ambivalence. Fundamental human rights should be universal. So when they are violated in Zimbabwe or in Angola, the response should be the same. No sacred cow, no high and mighty. The Africa Peer Review Mechanism should be strengthened and honesty should be its hallmarks. Its findings, which should be publicised, should be put together with strong civil society participation, and grey areas polished.
With the ousted president still very much around, the world must stand firm to restore constitutional order to Madagascar. That is the only way to forestall any such stupid seizure of power in future. You know when the first military coup was plotted in west Africa, that was in Togo, the chief of staff of Liberia was sacked because of comments he made in reaction. If a less than 100-strong army could successfully plot a coup, which was the strength of the Togolese army, the Liberian chief of staff wondered why a much larger army such as his could not. Contagion is the word. And the earlier and more effectively the continent and the world respond to bad governance and coups, the better for the masses. By Umaru Fofana