Hama Tuma, Ethiopian author, poet and journalist, has been active in the political and human rights struggle in Ethiopia and Africa since the sixties. His satirical essays under the general title of African Absurdities have gained support from many quarters. Some of his books (English and Amharic) have been translated to French, Italian and Hebrew.
The Other Afrik - Panafrica - Conflicts - Governance
Return of the coup
Was the recent coup in Niger that saw the removal of Mamadou Tandja, who despite both domestic and international criticism pushed through a constitutional amendment that scrapped presidential term limits, not expected or wished for? The West African economic body, ECOWAS, which had warned in May 2003 to impose sanctions on those who seized power, in fact, imposed sanctions on Mr. Tandja’s government and has stopped short of announcing that the short-lived dictator had it coming. Meanwhile, the coup-makers have not received any sanctions nor an iota of the international criticisms that were leveled at Mr. Tandja. Niger’s main opposition leader, Mahamadou Karijo has praised the coup plotters as "honest patriots". Many have silently agreed with him on that point.
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, one of many African leaders seeking to create a dynasty, is seemingly begging for a coup after spending close to US$ 30 million to erect an African Renaissance monument. Unmitigated waste. Just like the contradictory Ethiopian dictator who, after selling close to 3 million hectares of fertile land to the Chinese, Indians and Saudi Arabians, has embarked on a multi-million spending spree on one of many monuments in the name of the unfortunate victims of the previous regime’s Red Terror, while he hunts down the same victims (the EPRP).
Hypocritically, the very same African leaders who vigorously advocate against the acceptance of coup makers into the African Union are themselves of questionable legitimacy. While some of them usurped power, less than a handful are freely elected and almost all are notorious coup makers: Campaore, Sassou, Nguema, Beshir, Gaddafi, Ould Abdel Aziz… Indeed, a meeting of the AU heads of state, — notwithstanding the exquisite designer suits, diamond studded gold watches, hand made shoes, the strong smell of expensive cologne, and a few real democratic presidents,— reeks of coups makers.
The dismal African situation continues to make coups look like an enticing alternative. And if neophytes on the springboard of intellectual disability, like Idi Amin, Bokassa and Samuel Doe, to mention but a few, have done it, who can blame other sergeants for trying? Is it not their "turn to eat" like it is aptly put in Kenya?
But above all else, it would be fair to note that coup d’etats were a gift to Africa from former colonial powers and new would be masters. Independence in the sixties, at a point, became a banal occurrence during which the only change, in many countries, involved the unfurling of new national flags and carefully structured emotional speeches. But would the masses jump for joy and shed tears if they knew for a fact that neo-colonial puppets had been strategically installed to ensure continuity?
The deception was great, the disappointment unbearable. Harbingers of hope or at least those promising change, national pride and real self governance were expeditiously extinguished. After Mobutu of the Congo was puppeteered into absolute power following a sponsored coup that saw the horrible butchering of Patrice Lumumba, Africa woke up to the news that the first Ghanaian President, Nkrumah had also been ousted by a coup in his absence, like many to follow. By then, Sekou Toure who had survived a coup by the skin of his teeth, had an inkling of what was happening on the ground. Fearing an overthrow, Mr. Toure turned into a despot and ruthlessly flushed out any aspiring or potential coup maker.
With flamboyant names and promises of all or nothing — Redemption, Salvation, Correctional, Revolutionary, Resurgence and Nationalist — coups had come to stay, assisted by the West or freelanced by our own. Some were brutal, some accidental, others were bloodless, while some did not even have the trappings of a military coup.
Oddly, we enjoyed the fact that the coup ended the constitutional, parliamentary, democratic and even the One Nation falsehoods of those one-party de facto dictatorships and military regimes. Knowing that their corruption had made them infamous, the dictators tended to promote Tribalism or "ethnicism", as we know today, to create strategic bastions and consolidate their power. The principle of divide and rule that had been perfected by their accursed colonial masters against them had made a grand comeback as the politics to uphold.
A coup a day
One coup corrected another. The first put an end to the civilian one-party system of government and established the one man military rule, with or without a party. As time went on, the coup became much part of a normal working day. In the Comoros, so many coups were registered in such short intervals that a coup-maker proudly held power for only a day. Does this mean that there had been two coups in a day? You bet!
And after an incalculable number of coups in Dahomey (now Benin), it simply came to be baptized as a movement. They were all the same: A coup occurs; the leader announces the end of corruption; thoroughly rigged elections take place; the coup maker dumps his uniform for Armani suits; the coup maker drops his military title for the less intimidating one — henceforth, he is to be called "His Excellency"; shortly another coup takes place...
By virtue of constant renewal, the indisputably enriching coups had grown into highly sophisticated warfares that saw the rise of specialised coup businesses like the Executive Outcomes. It was a dangerous place for naive souls who took their own dreams for reality.
Whipping naked women
Sankara, among others, was physically removed by a sober and correctional coup that skillfully brought the situation back to its rails. Henceforth, Burkina Faso will entertain no more talk of freedom. In Ghana, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings or J.J. Rawlings, otherwise known as Junior Jesus by his admirers, mourned his close friend, ordered more arms to consolidate his own position and renamed an important square in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, in memory of Thomas Sankara. In the meantime, Junior Jesus’ military junta had become notorious for stripping market women naked and whipping their behinds in the open for daring to make profits.
Coup plotters have since burned the midnight oil for their coups to appear as non coups. Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar’s coup is a brilliant example. He only used the military in the end after having began with popular support. But regardless of the effort put into masking them, coups end up producing juntas who tend to develop an addiction to power. From The Gambia to recent events in Guinea, unprecedented violence and repression against their own people, while rewriting the rule of law, are commonplace occurrences.
But notwithstanding the metamorphosis of coups, counter coups, and conflicts that have bedeviled our hapless continent, only the severely naive would believe that the superpowers and colonial masters are in no way involved. Emperor Tewodros of Ethiopia, who killed himself rather than surrender to an invading British force, told the British to spare the political meanderings and procrastination by sending their invading troops outright and forget sending missionaries and spies.
In spite of our dislike for coups, Africans, like myself, sometimes, and only sometimes, tend to welcome them simply because they summarily halt the travesty of democracy, the fiction of good governance, the restriction of free elections by the people. We hail the return of coups not because they suit us, but because they highlight the reality in which we live; the massacre within the confines of the Conakry stadium, the murder of political dissidents, the campaign against the free press, the blind violence against defenceless people, the whimsical rewriting of constitutions, the superfluous enrichment of a few while whole nations suffer from diseases and abject poverty. A headline like "Paul Biya’s holiday bill thirty times more than Barack Obama’s" is not exaggerated... That is the truth.
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