After 27 years in the saddle, former Burkina Faso’s imperial ruler, Blaise Compaoré, was recently forced out of power by a popular uprising against his aspiration to extend his reign over the landlocked country. As it is usual with sit -tight rulers like him, Compaoré fled the capital, Ouagadougou, to an unidentified destination. Before his abrupt fall from power, excluding the years he spent as a military dictator, Compaoré had served two seven-year terms before a change to the constitution allowed him to serve another two five-year terms. It will be recalled that on October 15, 1987, Compaoré seized power in a coup that led to assassination of his former friend and one of Africa’s most charismatic leaders, Thomas Sankara.
The event in Ouagadougou is, once again, a sad reminder that African leaders don’t learn from history. Between 1960 and 1976, 45 percent of African leaders were either assassinated or exiled for exhibiting despotic tendencies. The years after 1975 saw the emergence of more ruthless African tyrants such as Charles Taylor and Muamar Ghadaffi. After years of inflicting pains on the very people they were meant to protect, the duo were disgraced out of power in a most ignoble manner. Taylor is currently serving a jail term for war crimes while Ghadaffi was brutally hacked down while fleeing from a NATO backed local revolt against his government.
The tragedy of the African continent is that most of its leaders, especially those with little or nothing to offer the people, have continued to tow the ignoble path of authoritarianism. It is puzzling that majority of them would rather prefer to die in power rather than giving opportunities to others with fresh ideas to rule. A good leader should know when to quit. Perhaps, more importantly, a good leader must invest quality time and resources in developing new crop of leaders for the purpose of progress and stability. This is where late South African leader, Nelson Mandela differs remarkably from other African leaders.
Other African leaders that had shamelessly perpetuated themselves in power are Félix Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire who ruled for 33 years, Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled Togo for 38 years, Mobutu Sese Seko who reigned for 32 years in Zaire, Kenneth Kaunda who ruled for 27 years in Zambia, Daniel Arap Moi who was in reigned supreme for 24 years in Kenya and Mathieu Kérékou who ruled for 19 years in Benin Republic just to mention but a few.
In-spite of the ignominious exit of these men from power, a good number of African leaders never really see anything wrong in clinching on to power at all cost. Take, for instance, the never-ending reign of Zimbabwean strong man, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since the country’s independence in 1980. Unfortunately, his continuous hold on power has not positively impacted on his people. A large chunk of his people continue to live in abject poverty as all economic indicators keep pointing to a nation on the brink of socio-economic collapse.
It is astonishing that while most Africans live under the heavy yoke of poverty, some of their leaders and their cohorts opt for questionable ostentatious lifestyle. They recklessly plunder public resources to finance their uncontrollable penchant for flamboyant living. In Africa, the practicality of poverty is quite frightening as most Africans live on less than a dollar income per day. Perhaps more niggling is that, with 34 out of a total of 49, African countries account for a greater proportion of the Least Developed Countries, LDCs, in the world. This, perhaps, explains why poverty indicators such as extreme hunger, malnourishment, homelessness, diseases, high crime rate, slums, lack of opportunities, low productivity and illiteracy abound in larger quantity in the continent.
The African poverty situation is further compounded by the failure of governments across the continent to properly harness human, natural and material resources for the common good of all. This is why Nigeria, a famous world oil exporter, is ranked among the poorest nations of the world. Sadly, rather than making concerted efforts to address the deadly poverty situation in the continent, most African leaders’ only concern is how to devise callous strategies that would keep them in power.
In his famous book, ‘1984’, English novelist, essayist and critic, George Orwell was, perhaps, inadvertently referring to the power perception of the average African leader when he stated that: “the Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. Power is not a means; it is an end. The object of power is power.” How awful! Ironically, this is the attitude of a large number of African leaders. Majority of them are attracted to political power for the wrong reasons. This eventually results into the reign of aberration and impunity that have since been part of governance in the continent. Not a few of them fumble while in power because they are ignorant of the ultimate purpose of power. They are only interested in the grandeur and magnetism of power as opposed to the sacrifice and other selfless responsibilities which are basic obligations of power. This explains why they often use power to spite their people.
Perhaps, more baffling is the docility of Africans to tyrants. Why, for instance, would a people sit back and tolerate an irresponsible leadership for 27 years? What magic did Ghadaffi, Mugabe, Compaoré and their likes used to lord it over their people over such a long period? This, perhaps, is the real fairy-tale from Ouagadougou. Part of the lessons from Ouagadougou is that followers should frequently ask questions of their leaders. Government does not exercise power; rather, it is the concept of government, upheld by law as put in place by the people, which exercises power.
Democracy will be endangered, when followers naively permit their leaders to get away with brazen acts of impunity. This is the time for the African people to stand up and demand accountability, transparency and integrity from their leaders. This is the time for Africans to ensure that our leaders uphold the right concept of power for the good of the society.
•Ogunbiyi writes from Alausa, Ikeja.