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Military intervention: A tight balance between efficacy and morality


develop me Tapiwa Gomo

Sudan joined more than 40 countries that have witnessed coups in Africa — a continent that has experienced at least 200 successful or failed coups since the 1960s.

Mr Omar al-Bashir was the president of Sudan for nearly 30 years. He took over power in 1989 when, as a brigadier in the Sudanese Army, he led a military coup that ousted the democratically elected government of prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. As if history is repeating itself, on April 11, 2019, Bashir was ousted in a military coup following several months of protests due to economic decline in Sudan.

Just like the Zimbabwe situation in November 2017 when former President Robert Mugabe was forced by the army to step down, Bashir’s departure was received with more resounding excitement than international condemnation of the coup. His past is not clean and he is wanted by the International Criminal Court, for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur.

In January 2017, Yahya Jammeh, the former President of the Gambia was also militarily forced to step down after Economic Community of West African States intervened to protect Mr Adama Barrow’s electoral victory. Jammeh, too, had assumed power through a bloodless coup in 1994, overthrowing the government of Dawda Jawara.

In these three immoral situations, military interventions were able to achieve what electoral democracy failed to deliver; to change governments. But this is only half of what change of leadership is all about. Electoral democracy is the ability of citizens to express their vote of no confidence on sitting leaders and to freely choose new leadership. It is about enabling all citizens to freely select one candidate from a list of competitors for political office.

Most African countries do not struggle to hold regular elections, but the processes and their outcomes continue to be marred by inconsistences and malpractices, habits that have seen Africa being home to some of the world’s longest serving Heads of State. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of
Equatorial Guinea is the world’s longest current serving male president ever. Paradoxically, the same military that protects and defends dictators, in these three recent instances, turned out to be the saviour guised as advancing the wishes of the people.

While a few authoritarian systems in Africa have scored economic growth, there is resounding evidence of how autocratic systems of governance in Africa have stalled development.

Poverty and economic stagnation in Africa is largely attributed to poor governance, lack of rule of law, corruption, abuse of political and military power and lack of prioritisation of economic growth. In normal and functioning democracies, these are reasons for leaders to be voted out of office and yet in
Africa they reinforce the status quo.

Why would these factors weaken leaders elsewhere, while strengthening autocracy in Africa? Some analysts have argued that these factors are not natural for Africa, but a deliberate creation by dictators because their existence tends to weaken the ability of the people to challenge the status quo and, therefore, assure them of more years in power. This is why in Africa, it is almost impossible to dislodge a sitting government through electoral processes because they use what they loot from the people to control the government, to weaken the people and to strengthen the security sector for their own protection. This is also why poverty tends to be endemic in dictatorships.

Because African countries attained their independence during the season of democracy, its development has been perpetually trapped between the desire to establish democracy as the foundation of economic growth and the authoritarian systems that have invested so much against the growth of democracy and economic growth.

The challenge African citizens find themselves in today is that, based on global norms and practices, the only way to escape from this trap is through a soft approach called electoral democracy, which is sadly managed and controlled by the same authoritarian regimes. It is for the same reason that a country such as Zimbabwe has been trapped in election mode for the past nearly two decades now.

Numerous efforts — often times foreign funded — to foster political change and spawn democracy, through civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, religious organisations and opposition parties have waned at the whims of authoritarian regimes.

While they oppress the defenseless citizens, they have mastered the art of surviving global political pressure and keep international pressure groups at bay by alleging interference in internal affairs and breach of their sovereignty every time foreign voices are raised, again leaving citizens more vulnerable to abuse of power.

While military intervention has forced dictators to step down, it has not been able to deliver a credible foundation to enable democracy and foster development — a hiatus which political scientists may need to worry about. Or perhaps with Sudan’s coup leader Awad Ibn Auf stepping down due to citizen pressure for civilian leadership, maybe Khartoum is reshaping African politics of coups transition to democracy. Otherwise, in the absence of an alternative model and the perpetual failure of civil society organisations to strengthen democracy, African citizens are left with no choice, but to back the military interventions.

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