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Friday, January 1, 2010

Africa Union must rid itself of Corrupt Dictators and their Sons

By Lord Aikins Adusei

At its inauguration in 2002, the Africa Union (AU) sets itself ambitious goals "to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent; to promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; to promote and protect human and peoples' rights. It also aims to establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations and to promote co-operation in all fields of human activity (in order) to raise the living standards of African peoples. The ultimate goal of the AU is to establish a United States of Africa" Source:

There are many issues that may derail the AU from achieving the goals it has set itself however the most critical of these issues has to do with the very kind of people who constitute the AU leadership. For example the current Chairman of AU in the person of Gaddafi has been a dictator since 1969. For forty years he has ruled his country with iron hand jailing opposition members, restricting freedom of speech, assembly and limiting political activities in attempt to stay in power for good. He frowns on any idea about democracy and has consistently argued that democracy is foreign and unAfrican.

Museveni of Uganda came to power in 1986 and has since ruled his country as his personal estate. In 2003 he had the presidential term limit set by the constitution abrogated so he could be president for life. Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea came to power in 1979 after overthrowing his own uncle and executing him. In that same year Dos Santos of Angola took over power and begun to rule. Both are still president today. In Burkina Faso Blaise Campore has been in power since 1987 and is still adamant about leaving office. Congo Brazzaville´s Denis Sassou Nguesso has used every means just to stay in power. Since 1982 Paul Biya of Cameroon has won every election is his oil rich but economically impoverished country and likewise Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who since 1981 has been president of the North African country. Ben Ali of Tunisia has resisted every attempt to leave office changing the country´s constitution just to stay in power.

Gaddafi has never been elected in his forty year reign as the head of state of Libya. Omar Al Bashir has not been elected. There are no words to describe Mamadou Tandja of Niger and Yahyah Jammeh of the Gambia. Iddris Derby of Chad and Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea have spent more than a decade in power and there is no sign that they are prepared to leave. Ethipoia´s Meles Zenawi is still prime minister after 18 years and it is a waste of time to talk about the tactics he has used to stay in power.

The last time I checked more than half of the over fifty countries that make up the AU had leaders who are unelected and deeply corrupt. Even the rest who claim to have been elected more than half have had their elections questioned by both local and international election observers. Yar´Dua of Nigeria, Ali Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Mugabe and the elections that brought them into power have all been questioned. The resignation of the head of the electoral commission in Mauritania just immediately after election confirmed what everyone was saying privately at the time.

Thus from Libya where Gaddafi has managed to misrule his country for forty years, to Zimbabwe where the old man still thinks of himself as one that Zimbabwe cannot do without; to Uganda where Museveni and his family are anything but thieves; to Gambia where Jammeh continue to ridicule himself and that of his country with his treatment of HIV/AIDS sufferers; to Kenya where Mwai Kibaki refused to leave office after a humiliating defeat and had to resort to violence to keep himself in power; to Nigeria where corruption and embezzlement have produced a failed state; to Niger where Mamadou Tandja has staged a coup against his own government in an effort to rule for life; to Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo where a cabal of corrupt leaders preside over the looting of their countries´ oil revenues; to Ethiopia where Meles Zenawi has turned his country into a prison; to Eritrea where Isaias Afewerki has turned from a freedom fighter to a brutal despot and to Gabon, Togo and DRC where children of former corrupt dictators have assumed the mantle of leadership apparently to continue where their parents left off (including the systematic looting and mismanagement of their countries´ treasuries) there is no sign that continent is going to achieve the lofty goals it has set itself. One needs not look far to see how their incompetence and monumental failures have contributed to the demise of the continent, the countries swimming in rich natural resources yet the people lacking the basic necessities of life.
There are two main characteristics of these leaders which directly go to affect the achievement of the goals set by the AU. First they are all corrupt dictators who are unwilling to relinquish power despite their colossal failures. And second none of the leaders seem to have any good political, economic or social record. Their countries are deeply soaked in poverty. The key question is how is the AU going to promote peace, security, and stability on a continent full of unrepented dictators and how is the AU going to promote democratic principles, popular participation and good governance when the people at the helm of affairs on the continent consistently kick against those laudable ideas?

There is no point arguing that there are strong and direct link between dictatorship in Africa and the high level of insecurity and instability seen all over the continent. We need not to look too far to see how dictatorship, corruption and unfair distribution of resources (poverty) led to many civil wars, coups and counter-coups in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and even this 21st century. The logic is that if people who are poor cannot democratically change their leaders they will have no other alternative but to use force and violence to bring about a change of government hence the many conflicts and wars seen in Africa.

This logic of violent removal of governments was correctly echoed by President Julius Nyerere who warned against the consequences of over staying in power and stealing resources meant for the people:

"We spoke and acted as if, given the opportunity for self-government, we would quickly create utopias. Instead injustice, even tyranny, is rampant…We can try to carve for ourselves an unfair share of the wealth of the society. But the cost to us, as well as to our fellow citizens, will be very high. It will be high not only in terms of satisfactions forgone, but also in terms of our own security and well-being." Julius Kambarage Nyerere, from his book Uhuru na Maendeleo (Freedom and Development), 1973.

The consequences of a continent dominated by tyrants as echoed by Nyerere was given a boost by Obama in a speech to Ghana´s Parliament in which he linked tyranny and corruption in Africa to the high level of poverty, instability and conflict:

"But history offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful than governments that do not. Democracy is about more than holding elections - it's also about what happens between them. Repression takes many forms, and too many nations are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end". He added: "Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions". People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don't" Source: July 2009.

As Nyerere and Obama correctly hypothesized you can only expect wars, instabilities and conflicts in an environment where tyrants and dictators dominate. Hence one may not be surprised to hear that Somalia is burning, or the Lord´s Resistance Army is heading to Kampala, or rebels have encircled N´Djamena the Chadian capital, or the Great Lake Region is in turmoil they are the consequences of dictatorial rule, bad governance, nepotism, cronyism and rampant corruption. The high number of dictators making up the AU leadership, their unwillingness to allow democracy to work will only continue to breed instability, conflicts and wars and hence will defeat the AU´s key goal of promoting peace, security, and stability upon which all the other goals depend.

Where is the AU heading with these dictators still in office? Can any progress be made towards Africa´s unity and can the United States of Africa be realised with all these tyrants in power? The answer is a big no. The fact is that if the AU is ever going to transform itself into a respected democratic institution made up of democratic member countries then it must as a necessity purge itself of these tyrants and their children who are holding the organisation in bondage.

The question is how can the AU rid itself of these selfish leaders? There are a number of things the AU can and must do.

It must first and foremost abrogate the automatic membership. Throughout the world all serious bodies have constitutions and charters that set out the benchmarks that would-be members must attain before they are admitted. This contrasts the AU where membership is automatic no matter the record of a government or the means by which it came to power. This system is not only wrong but it is also self defeating. It is one of the reasons why AU is full of corrupt dictators and tyrants. It is this automatic membership that has ensured that Mugabe could wrought violence against his people and still has the audacity to attend AU meetings. It is this automatic membership that has ensured that Nguema, Museveni, Nguesso, Santos, Afewerki, Tandja, Kibaki, al-Bashir, Mubarak, Gaddafi, Campore, Biya and Jammeh can do whatever they like in their respective countries and still attend AU meetings. The automatic membership must be abolished and benchmarks set for would-be members to attain before being accepted. That is AU must be made up of serious minded countries committed to democracy, rule of law, protection of human rights, peace, stability and fight the against corruption and poverty. Members must demonstrate their commitment to democracy, rule of law, and fight against corruption and poverty before being admitted as is seen in the EU. This must change if the AU is ever going to be a United States of Africa. In the European Union where membership is earned all the 27 members have democratic governments that respect human rights. Romania and other Eastern European nations whose governments were corrupt were forced to reform before they were admitted into the EU and we know how hard Turkey has tried to become a member without success despite the huge internal reforms it has carried out over the last couple of years. We cannot make the AU a body of no standards AU must have standards and benchmarks if it is ever going to eliminate dictatorship from its ranks.

The effort by some leaders to transform the AU into a Commission with more powers to conduct business on behalf of the continent has met fierce resistance and continues to be thwarted by these old corrupt guards who see every reform as a threat to their power and corrupt lifestyle. These tyrants continue to torpedo every effort of AU to move from its current position as a talking shop into serious solution solving body. Mugabe and his cohorts and their sons are holding the AU in bondage through their hold on power. They continue to resist every attempt to transform the AU into a useful body. These corrupt dictators have and still continue to frustrate the good intentions of the body but the AU must not capitulate but work to adopt and implement resolutions that will force these tyrants to improve human rights, empower women, fight corruption and poverty, promote democracy and ultimately give up power.

Furthermore, to prevent the AU from being dominated by tyrants and their children the Africa Union must insist that leaders who are not democratically elected by their citizens cannot become a Chair of the body. If a leader of a country wants to be the Chair of the august body then he/she must subject himself/herself to rigours of elections in his country. Such simple demands by the AU will make these tyrants consider their positions carefully. They will be ashamed to request for a chairmanship position when they know they are not democratically elected. The current situation in which Gaddafi a lifelong dictator chairs the body is not only unacceptable but is also an insult to all the democratically minded people in Africa.

Additionally to boost its position to rid itself of these tyrants the AU must lobby the democratically elected leaders like Senegal´s Wade, Ian Khama of Botswana, Ghana´s Atta Mills, Zuma of South Africa, Benin´s Yayi Boni and others to persuade these tyrants to adopt democracy. The tyrants must be persuaded to stand down and allow free and fair elections to be held. Any tyrant who refuses to stand down should be suspended until free and fair elections are held. The AU is not going to make any progress if the leaders are pampered to do what they want. AU leaders must recognise that Africa cannot harness her strategic importance in this new global order unless there are democratic and institutional reform that will rid the continent of absolute dictators and their corrupt machinery which for so long a time has been responsible for the misery and high levels of poverty seen throughout Africa.

Again the AU should push for genuine democracy in its member countries like the one in Ghana. I am not talking about just elections I am talking about free and fair elections that give opposition equal access to state media and resources. The situation whereby incumbent governments monopolise state resources and employ all manner of tactics to win power as happened in Equatorial Guinea, Congo, and Zimbabwe is a recipe for disaster.

In addition, the AU must insist that children of former dictators cannot automatically replace them when they leave office. The current situation where children of former dictators have been installed as presidents in sham elections is not only an insult to people of these countries but is an indictment on the credibility of AU as a body. It is unacceptable for Faure Eyadema of Togo, Joseph Kabila of DR Congo and Gabon Ali Bongo of Gabon to replace their fathers as presidents. These precedents and developments seem to have encouraged Gaddafi, Museveni and Hosni Mubarak who are busy grooming their children to replace them. This trend is not only dangerous but it is also a recipe for conflict and instability and the earlier the AU sends a clear message to these leaders the better. These dictators and their children must be prevented from establishing dynasties in Africa.

Also the current practice where a country is only suspended when there is coup is not fair to the citizens of Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Niger, Gambia, and Eritrea who suffer human right abuses on the daily basis. AU should not suspend only countries where coups have taken place but must also suspend all countries whose leaders engage in human rights abuses and corrupt practices that push their citizens into poverty and economic annihilation. If a country is suspended because a coup has taken place, is it also not morally right to suspend a country when its leaders loot their resources, and engage in human rights violation? If citizens of a country like Libya are denied a say on how their leaders are elected or how their country is governed is it not enough to suspend that country until the citizens are given the opportunity to determine who should lead them?

Again the AU must make sure its institutions are headquartered in countries that respect human rights and rule of law, eschew corruption and is a democracy. I cannot imagine Gambia being made the headquarters of the AU´s Human Right Commission when Jammeh is busy killing journalists in cold blood and has threatened to annihilate people who freely express their views in that country. It is very shocking that the AU seems to be pampering these leaders. I can hardly comprehend why and how a nation whose leader is known to be abusing the rights of its citizens is made the headquarters of a human right commission. AU has got to be really serious if it wants the rest of the world to take it serious. Therefore certain criteria must be met before headquarters are cited in a country and the AU must not hesitate to remove the headquarters when the situation there changes. Ethiopian leaders must demonstrate their commitment to democracy, rule of law, justice and equality before the law. The eroding of democratic values in that country must be of much concern to the AU. I strongly believe Ethiopia should loose its headquarters status if the leaders continue on the path of dictatorship. This will send a clear message to the rest of the leaders that dictatorship and human rights abuse will not be tolerated in the new AU.

Moreover, AU must compile annual reports about human rights, corruption, and abuse of power in all member countries and sanction those countries found to be in breach of AU Charter. If we are ever going to rid ourselves of the dictators and the rampant corruption and abuse of power associated with their regimes then the AU must act and apply sanctions.

AU should engage the people of Africa in its programmes. Very few people know what goes on at the AU headquarters and we are not going to build a successful Africa when the people who make up the continent are excluded from its activities. Universities and other institutions of higher learning must be involved in AU´s activities to sensitise the people and to build grassroot support in member countries. Therefore AU Chapters must be established across Africa: in universities, colleges and high schools to make the people aware of what AU is doing. AU must organise symposia and debates and other competitions in schools. The advantage is that since the students are going to be the future leaders and policy makers in Africa their involvement will help inculcate and build support for AU. To add to this AU must publish news letters and distribute them to schools, civil society organisations, government departments and other institutions to create awareness. Since we are in the information age internet, e-mail and other information distribution methods must be employed to deliver information about the AU to the people. Editors of both print and electronic media must be encouraged to cover AU activities and events.

The AU must also involve the intellectuals, diplomats and technocrats in Africa. President Julius Nyerere the illustrious son of Africa says:

"...intellectuals have a special contribution to make to the development of our nation, and to Africa. And I am asking that their knowledge, and the greater understanding that they should possess, should be used for the benefit of the society of which we are all members." Julius Kambarage Nyerere, from his book Uhuru na Maendeleo (Freedom and Development), 1973.

In short the people of Africa of whom the AU belong must be involved, but this involvement of the people will come to nothing if the dictators are not persuaded to hang off their glove.

Above all, the tyrants themselves must acknowledge that it is in their own interest to give up power and allow democracy and rule of law to prevail. The cost of holding on to power may be costly not only in terms of satisfactions forgone, but also in terms of their own security and well-being.

If the prosperity and stability Obama spoke about and the contribution of intellectuals Nyerere mentioned above as well as the AU´s own long term goal of a United States of Africa are to be realised and have effect in Africa then the AU must at any cost rid itself of the corrupt dictators and their children who are lining up to take their position. You cannot ask intellectuals to play a role while the dictators are undermining their effort.

The AU will not be able to reverse decades of low per capita income, low productivity, slow pace of social and economic development, poor state of infrastructures and weak economies if steps are not taken to ensure that democracy is established on the continent, and that all leaders subject themselves to the rigours of election, fight corruption and poverty and promote peace, stability and development.

If the AU is ever going to realise any of the goals it has set itself then it must as a matter of necessity purge itself of the dictators and their sons.

By Lord Aikins Adusei
The author is a political activist and anti-corruption campaigner.

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