Anger and madness are brothers —African proverb
THE current situation in Niger Republic provides a good lesson in how conflicts are started and prolonged. Not all conflicts, but many that ought not to start if language, contexts, and motives are better understood. Timing also plays a major role, specifically in terms of the actions or inactions of major players. As things stand, there are a number of interpretations which can be made regarding the situation. Each has major implications for many interests.
Let us start from the point when a few dozen soldiers seized President Muhamed Bazoum and detained him in his residence. Until many hours later, would you describe the situation as the action of a few bandits or rascals who should have been instantly taken on by the main military, French or US soldiers, all of who were there in abundance? How did the action of a few soldiers successfully survive those critical hours during which Bazoum could have been freed and the ‘bandits’ arrested or, if they resisted, killed?
How could a coup in a country considered vital for virtually every key actor on the globe today evade its planning and execution with huge military and strategic assets at stake? Who dropped the ball? Could any of the major interests in aborting the coup have thought they could arrest it after it had successfully established itself? ECOWAS leaders called the coup leaders bandits, kidnappers and terrorists, labels that resonate with all peoples in West Africa. Could the classification of a successfully-executed coup d’etat in this manner have determined the mindset of ECOWAS leaders when they assembled to decide what to do about it?
You could tell the state of mind of ECOWAS, AU, US, France and EU when they considered what to do about Niger from their basic, initial responses. Condemnation was predictable and unavoidable, but everyone knows condemning a coup anywhere in Africa had never hurt it. Demands for restoration of the constitutional order, including freeing the deposed elected leadership and reinstating it by the coupists on the orders of outsiders is also a constant regular. This script was duly followed. Leaders then look into the mirror and see some resemblance with a deposed former colleague.
They smell their own military again and ask awkward questions on loyalty and strength of support. Some adjustments in personal security of the leader are often made, but the most lasting impression is that one coup always begets others. Leaders who come to power through coups and other variants of constitutionally-questionable means in particular, sleep badly for long periods after coup d’etats. Reactions are usually knee jerk, triggered more by panic than reason. Except in very rare cases, no successful coups are ended in their infancy by force. Still, threats are routinely expected, and duly issued.
Just in the very likely event that coupists do not give it back immediately, ultimatums are issued. In the case of the coup in Niger, the perception that the coupists were bandits, kidnappers and terrorists must have informed the decision to demand one week for full restitution. Some other factors would have counted in this type of decision as well, beyond the perception that the coup was bandit activity. It would appear that some years ago, West African and European leaders had decided that West Africa must put an end to coup d’etats permanently.
To achieve this goal, it must have been presumed that leaders will be elected democrats who will lead well, and the West African community must have zero tolerance for coup d’etats. Zero tolerance must be enforced by the community, obviously, by all means necessary. It must have been presumed that military officers who would have been part of the ECOWAS standby force will be shaking in their boots at the possibility of confronting foreign military elements in palaces and city alleys. Or, worse, that there is such a ready-to-go force that will make them give back scalps and power within a few days after snatching them.
In the design of a coup-free West Africa, some elements had to be ignored or presumed tolerable. One is that there will continue to be coup attempts. Every once in a while a coup will succeed that will survive and challenge the grand design of a democracy-only Africa. When soldiers moved to remove Bazoum, a number of West African countries were firmly under military rule. Niger merely joined a growing community.
Another is the apparent classification as a coup being the worst crime against the people. When you draw a line around fifteen West African countries, you ignore a gaping faultline: Africa as a whole is swamped by dictators, serial term-prolongers, illegitimate leaders with varying degrees of culpability and sundry mixtures of elements of democracy and dictatorship. If force or other dynamics that can entrench democracy in most parts of Africa could work, Africa as a whole will crush remote contemplation of violent takeovers a long time ago.
Now Niger confronts us all with a dilemma.Those who think an illegality had been committed which should be crushed by force if necessary do not appear to be willing or able to trigger a force to restore the status quo. Failure of threats and ultimatums force the hands of those who issue them to discuss options. The allure of democracy is diminished by multiple abuses under it, the type of things it is precisely designed to obviate.
Yet the military cannot be the answer to Africa’s search for good leaders that should lead it out of its massive restrictions. The Western world preaches democracy in the day and exploits us in the night. If Africa will develop, it cannot do so the way the western world, Russia or China wants it. Africa’s challenge is to see through the falsehood that we are owed any good by the rest of the world. We can grow and develop, but we have to do it our way.
BY: Hakeem Baba Ahmad