By Faruk Kirunda
The West African nation of Guinea-Conakry is in the news for the wrong reasons. An “undemocratic” coup has taken place, snatching power from President Alpha Conde whose election came into serious question last year.
West Africa is notorious for coups since independence. But the African continent in general has seen several leaders depart unceremoniously in recent times-from Robert Mugabe (RIP) in Zimbabwe, Bashir in Sudan, issues in Mali and so on.
Africa seems to be getting back to where it was a few decades ago; a continent of coups and civil wars. Much as the reasons for these may be genuine, these approaches will continue to set us backwards. I think a coup is worse than a bad election and Africa should aim to play smarter leadership and smarter transfer of power. That is why we need strong leadership in the hands of the people where the security apparatus jealously guards the people’s mandate.
I did not follow the Guinea elections last year until protests broke out after announcement of Conde’s contested victory where he aimed for a third term. Not to judge him harshly as a foreigner, I still say that he played with fire; he failed to manage the transition to himself by including all “stakeholders” in his bid. He failed to justify and protect his victory, but I hope that he is handled well by those who overthrew him as an example that they are different or better.
Many leaders have attempted to work through their countries’ Constitutions to stretch their stay in power but ended up collapsing badly. If they have been trying to copy President Museveni, that’s not how it is done. It’s not a matter of copy and paste! Our countries function differently, due to unique historical factors and circumstances. What works in Guinea may not work in Chad or Kenya and what works in Uganda may not work in Zimbabwe or C.A.R. This, serious leaders must know and find the appropriate approaches to maintain their power with people’s support.
Museveni has since justified why he deserved a third term in 2006 by building on that foundation to lead now up to the sixth. Conde was a relatively new leader, having been in power only since 2008 when Museveni had already led for 22 years. That “Guineans” could not tolerate or save him after such a short spell in power when Ugandans are still firmly behind their liberator tells the difference that true democracy makes. If “overstay” in power was the biggest concern of Africans, leaders who have stayed longer would be the first to go but we are seeing some literally walking through their “State Houses”, “Executive Mansions”-variously as they call them-while tested and trusted ones stay on and on. It has to do with ideology and the overall worth that someone has to offer.
My hope is that there was no foreign influence behind Lt. Col. Mamady’s action but that hope can only be dim. Suspicion is high that the coup leaders were instigated by external hands, even though the soldiers had grudges against their Commander-In-Chief. It’s said that after he secured this ill-fated term, he chopped their emoluments and increased those of parliamentarians and ministers. So, could it be that the other excuse of a badly-woven third term may not apply and we are dealing with fortune hunters.
Guinea is rich with minerals, an irresistible endowment to large international players and local merchants. Anyway, it is up to our brothers and sisters to deal with the “transition” their way that best fits our circumstances. President Museveni is available to consult in the Pan-African spirit. We don’t want to see another Libya or C.A.R in a region still struggling with stability, sustained development and full democratisation.
I have always argued that any government that cannot protect its authority loses legitimacy. That is what has seen successive leaders lose grip including the decorated Generals and those touted as most charismatic and revolutionary. All factors go together. Popularity without firmness amounts to nothing!
The government in Uganda, led by President Museveni, is still popularly strong and can justify its authority using both civilian and military means. From the civilian angle, there is nothing about democracy and elections, human rights and transparency, freedom of expression and association, etc, that Ugandans hear in the news. It is a reality they live with daily.
In terms of military, the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) is a distinguished professional army that is celebrated as the most efficient institution in government-and whose contribution is appreciated across the African continent. That is because President Museveni understood early enough that civilian authority is nothing without the backing of a sharp-ended army. Without a good army, the civilian masses are exposed and unhinged, lying at the mercy of forces of disruption, local and foreign.
It is ironic that a nation that has never experienced a coup d’etat should be so obsessed with the idea of conspiracy. Coups are not solutions to problems affecting common African people but they do favour foreign interests.
Firstly, the country has been here before. The military came, it promised, and it failed. The coup following Conteh’s death in 2008 was staged by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who was later forced out by his colleagues after appearing to renege on his promises of transferring power to a civilian. That experience will be in the minds of many Guineans with the promises coming from this new Junta. There is also the issue of ethnic division, which has been a historical phenomenon, but which critics say reached a crescendo under the watch of Conde. Whoever becomes president in the near future will have the uphill task of dealing with that.
Finally, there is the common enemy — corruption — which is the main reason the military gave for taking over on Sunday. Many soldiers who overthrow governments in Africa are not serious about protecting human rights and democracy. Ironically, they invoke these as some of the reasons for overthrowing governments yet their true objective is to enrich themselves, their families and ethnic groups.
There is only a 2% chance of a coup in Uganda. The two percent are servicemen who are disgruntled for one reason or another but even those have no moral political justification to stage anything.
The author is a Presidential Assistant in Charge of Media Management
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