There are some bitter truths that those in the temporary house of power may not like to hear. One such truth is the fact that democracy is not a sure fire assurance that a country will prosper. Autocracy, its supposed opposite, is also not guaranteed to lead to misery. If Democracy was an infallible system of government, how does one explain the fact that China, a ‘autocratic’ state, is about to upstage America, the land of the free, in the world pecking order? What is responsible for the situation where Uranium-rich Niger, a democracy until the military struck some weeks ago, ranks 7th among the world’s poorest countries with about half of its population living in extreme poverty?
When Nigeria’s First Republic came to grief in 1966, close watchers of the country were not surprised. Only the politicians believed that they could carry on with their gangsterism, opulent lifestyles, corruption and atavistic machinations. When soldiers decided to vote with the barrel of their guns, democracy was interred until 1979 when we briefly resurrected it before another ‘gun-slide’ reminded us that our politicians had not learnt their lessons. We retraced our steps in 1999, but no man born of woman can guarantee that Nigeria will remain a democracy forever in the present shape and form.
Those who regurgitate the usual unwisdom that democracy is the only acceptable form of government in the modern world usually don’t have an answer when asked if a flawed democracy is to be preferred to a people-oriented autocracy. What do you do when democracy, as practiced in some countries, leads to the perpetual pauperisation of the people? Is the system operated by democratic Nigeria better than the autocracy (or communism) of China which is now firmly entrenched as Nigeria’s benefactor and favoured project partner?
Who defines democracy? Uganda is democratic by definition but its president has been in office since 1986. Ugandans have not asked for the help of self-appointed sheriffs of democracy to help them remove the army general-turned president. The man keeps confounding imperialists with his native intelligence and, arguably, unabashed determination to make the country better than he met it. If one is not conceited or arrogant, one must concede that Ugandans are capable of deciding how they want to be governed and by whom. It is their country, after all.
Duplicity is the bane of the West’s reaction to governance elsewhere. While they market their brand of democracy to Africa, they conveniently look the other way when they have to deal with ‘undemocratic’ governments or monarchies such as those in the Gulf states because of petrodollars. Take Qatar for instance. That country is a semi-constitutional monarchy with the hereditary emir as head of state and chief executive, and the prime minister as the head of government. There is a partially elected Consultative Assembly with limited powers. The emir is the embodiment of executive, legislative and judicial authority.
If Qataris are happy with their monarchical system, why would any outsider pretend to teach them how to govern themselves?
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy based on Sharia (Islamic) law and the Qur’an. The Qur’an and the Sunnah are the de jure country’s constitution. GDP in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach $1128.00 billion by the end of 2023. The West is very careful not to upset the conservative Saudi leadership. The kind of insult that the World Bank recently passed on Uganda with the cancellation of further loan facilities until the country legalised gay relationships cannot be contemplated with Saudi Arabia where homosexuality could attract the death penalty. All animals are not equal.
Western analysts describe the United Arab Emirates, UAE, as a “tribal autocracy”. The seven constituent monarchies are led by autocratic tribal rulers. The discovery of oil in Abu Dhabi in 1958 and the ensuing oil wealth has made the UAE largely a paradise on earth. The rulers have allowed tourism full bloom and Dubai is definitely the tourism destination of choice for many. The West has learnt to live with UAE’s style of not making any commitment to freedom of speech and having no democratically elected institutions.
If the Emirati are not complaining about their system which seems to have served them better than many democracies elsewhere, what level of presumptuousness would make anyone think that he can impose a foreign model of governance on them?
It is only in Africa and Latin America that the West flexes its muscles. Political leaders who insist on holding allegiance to their people instead of being slaves of neo-imperialism, are routinely deleted from the scene. The preferred mode of dispatch in the 60s and 70s was either assassination or an arranged coup funded by the former colonial masters and their allies.
Increasingly, the younger generation of Africans are voicing out their outrage at the level of thievery going on in several countries under the pretext of trade or ‘colonial debt’. Is there anything more preposterous than African countries having to perpetually reward France for enslaving them? America, the land of the free, has not found anything wrong with this. Had it been China or Russia that was exploiting Africans, America would have been at the rooftops crying more than the bereaved.
Apparently, the only kind of relationship that the US and many of its European allies are interested in nurturing in Africa is that of master/slave. All the unctuous declarations about partnerships are insincere. To underscore their selfishness, they agonise about BRICS, the grouping of the world economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa . And one wonders, if Africans cannot see a path to rapid development having sheepishly followed you all these years, don’t they have a right to seek new paths, or must they be your slaves forever?
Trust the Chinese and Russians for milking the situation with their reiteration of the fact that they never colonised any African country and therefore were coming as friends. The situation China has found itself by dint of hard work which took four decades of policy implementations and effective governance, to lift 800 million of its citizens out of poverty, recommends it for emulation. That was a country once colonised by Britain, Portugal and even Russia!
It is foolhardy for the West to think that the primitive exploitation being perpetrated by the likes of France’s mining company, AREVA, in Niger Republic would go on forever. As is becoming evident in Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and, now, Niger, the foot of the cadaver which the Western colonialists refused to bury properly is now sticking out of the grave. There is a wind of change sweeping not-too-silently through Africa. The younger elements among the population— and they are in overwhelming majority— will not tolerate the same indignities their parents lived with.
That is the context in which ECOWAS should look at the Nigerien coup. Democracy may smell of promissory roses but the way it has played out in many parts of Africa where unpopular leaders are celebrated by the West, can only lead to ‘gun-slides’. When, following a request from Niger’s civilian administration, the Buhari government donated exotic SUVs worth N1.4 billion to that country, we all wondered if Nigerien president had forgotten that half the population of his country was living in extreme poverty. Shouldn’t he have been asking for food instead of SUVs?
The wind of coups blowing across West Africa can be neutralised with good governance. First we have to come to terms with the fact that unconstitutional tenure elongation by incumbent presidents is itself a coup. When leaders refuse to vacate their seats at the end of their agreed term but opt to bend the constitution to their will, ECOWAS ought to rise up against them. That is how to prevent coups. Now, who is going to tell Alassane Dramane Ouattara, the Ivorian president, that this is his 13th year in office instead of the original maximum of ten?
France and America are closely monitoring the situation in Niger, hoping that an orchestrated black-on-black violence will dislodge the coupists and enthrone the interests of the ‘uraniumists’ (a new word for those desperate to continue exploiting Niger’s uranium for little or for free). ECOWAS should not be seen to be doing their bidding.
Back home in Nigeria, we should have, by now, realised that national security is beyond regime protection. If a government cares for its people, they will always rise to protect it in turn. The people of Niger seem to be on the same page with the coupists. That, in the current unwholesome circumstances, is some form of legitimacy. If Nigerien politicians were booted out for failing their people, that fact should be a lesson to all African politicians. The stone you ignore might pluck your eye.