Experts in Diplomacy and International Relations in Nigeria have underscored the need for African leaders to provide responsible leadership, promote good governance and rule of law and uplift the living condition of their citizens as a way of warding off military coups across the continent.
They spoke against the backdrop of Wednesday’s coup in Mauritania, which toppled the country’s democratically-elected government.
The coup has attracted widespread condemnation within and outside Africa, with the ECOWAS, African Union and the UN condemning it and the AU in particular threatening not to recognise the new government.
“Let African leaders turn a new leaf, let them know their responsibilities, let them know they are facing a major challenge of how to move the continent forward, people would be happy with them if they do these, said Babatunde Odunlami, a lecturer in the Department of History and Strategic Studies at the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ago-Iwoye, South-West Nigeria.
”And when some military boys come out to topple any government, they would find it difficult to get support, because people would resist the intervention”, Odunlami said.
He said even though coups are no more popular, the democratic leaders in Africa are not doing better either, citing the examples of Kenya, Zimbabwe and, of recent, the civilian government in Nigeria.
“They are not making it too neat for us that democratic governance are better alternative because of their behaviours when they get to power. This is a continent that is well blessed with various resources. I just pray our leaders would channel it to transform their countries,” Odunlami said.
Also reacting to the development in Mauritania, a former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos (NIIA), Prof. Gabriel Olusanya, said the only way coups can be made truly unpopular is for African leaders to be more committed to the development of their people.
“The military take over power in Africa because the civilian government are not performing well. It is the bad rule that usually provides opportunities for some ambitious officers to capitalise on,” Prof Olusanya said.
“Many of our leaders, instead of taking care of the needs of the people, usually engage in self aggrandisement and accumulation of wealth at the detriment of the people they swore to serve. The way out is to promote the peoples’ welfare, respect for the rule of law and shun corrupt practices. Democracy remains the best form of government, military rule can never be a better alternative,” said Olusanya, a former Nigerian Ambassador to France.
Though there have been threats that the AU would not recognise the new leaders in Mauritania, experts said the leaders might not be able to stand by their words, judging by past experience.
“Over time they (African leaders) would have to accept the situation. Unfortunately, they do not have the means to change the situation in Mauritania now. They are also afraid that such (coup) could also happen in their country, if they do not say anything. If the military have put up a transitional government in place to usher in democratic government, let’s give them sometime and see, “Odunlami said.
The University teacher added: “The experience of Ghana has taught one a good lesson that sometimes military coups can bring about good things, with what Jerry Rawlings did in Ghana. The action changed the fortunes of Ghana…if that is what Mauritania would need to change it, so be it”.
Opinions are also divided on the introduction of sanctions against the military leaders in Mauritania.
Already, the United States government has announced the stoppage of non-humanitarian grants totalling about US$20 million to the West African country.
But Prof. Olusanya cautioned that judging by past experiences, sanctions do not seem to work well, because the less privileged are usually at the receiving end.
He said isolating the country would be a better alternative.