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The renaissance of the political ball game has started again in the continent called Africa. Just when the world is learning a new lesson in its chapter of civility, then an unkind reminiscent of the 80s is rearing its head. As an African living in the west, just listening to other students from other continents talking about Africa and its military khaki boys toppling democratic government freaks you out. Why is it that some nondescript men in uniforms always consider themselves as the best species to disrupt people’s lives in the guise of coups? Why is the military always staging coups? This question has been unanswered by many pundits though some have attributed the use of guns as the sole reason. But what about the police in some countries that are empowered to carry guns and whose responsibility is to defend the constitution? What about countries in West Africa where other forces are constitutionally mandated to carry guns? Why are they not organizing coups? (Photo: Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray, author)
The considerable confusion, despair and total disgust have been caused by the recent military takeovers in Niger, Mali, Guinea and now the failed state of Guinea Bissau is alarming. In the 80s, it was a contagious disease to see coups led by Thomas Sankara, Jerry Rawlings, Yayah Jammeh to name but a few toppling democratic governments with less international condemnation. But those days are gone. The military in Africa is obsessed with power and only few countries in Africa can boast of democratic governments since independence without the interruption of military rule.
Just when the Malian fiasco was about to be settled by the rejuvenated Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) under the stewardship of Alassan Outarra of Ivory Coast, another disgraceful bunch of military thugs have descended their wrath on the Guinea Bissau populace. The whole world saw the role of ECOWAS under the chairmanship of the Ivorian President, Alassan Outarra in the Mali crisis. In the past, the regional body would just issue piles of press releases and urge the coupists to return the country to civilian rule with no punitive and immediate effects as seen in Niger. See how Alassan Outarra has started transforming the claws of ECOWAS? As a chairman, he did not only condemn the coup but asked that the coup leaders act quickly to restore civilian rule and threatened the use of sanctions and consequences. This is what leadership is about. This uncompromising position taken towards military coups in West Africa will act as a checkmate to uncouth coupists whose intention in joining the military is to seize power. One begins to wonder, how the Sierra Leone crisis would have been resolved with leaders like Alassan Outarra being at the helm. The norms, values and principles taught at military schools are not replicated at the national service. At a recent panel discussion on campus, I had the privilege of asking the former US Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell about the role of the military in politics. The former diplomat was categorical and authoritative in answering my question about military in staging coups. He sympathized with me as an African where some military leaders have tasted power and always think they are the custodian of power. He lamented on the age of modernization and espouse about the role of the military to defend the country against foreign forces. Colin Powell rhetorically asked about countries with over thousands of military men in uniform but not in politics. There is a difference between a politician and a soldier.
Ostracizing military regimes will lead to many improvements in governance in many African countries. Though many governments that rose to power through democratic elections have acted in a weird way that is no justification for the military to step in and disrupt the lives of peaceful citizens. The contempt towards these regimes is widely shared and Africans seem to have concluded that these regimes have nothing to offer. This fast pacing regime change is worrisome and a major blow to peace and prosperity in the African continent. It now seems junta rule is being used to kill the seeds of democracy.
The international community should draft a new charter under the United Nations and other regional organizations outlawing coups. Coups should also be considered as a crime against humanity especially where people are killed in the guise of acquiring power. Though some African leaders have violated the constitutions in some countries, it should be also included in certain charters especially the African Union that term limits should be respected and leaders violating it are liable to face the music of the law. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this grim story is the undisguised contempt with which these leaders justify their actions in the name of democracy.
Africa should wake up from this doldrums of barbarity and allow the civil societies, press and the citizens to enjoy the seeds of democracy. There cannot be a democracy without a civil society, none without a media and it is unthinkable without vibrant and responsible opposition political parties, as there is no democracy without the state.
It is against this reason that I will always respect the people of Sierra Leone for their resilience against military regimes. May God bless the people of Sierra Leone.
By Ibrahim Sourie Mansaray, Philadelphia, USA
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