Revisiting Africa’s Long Spell with Dictatorial Regimes: The Past and Present
By Ebou Ngum Ed. Doctoral Student City University of Seattle
Africa is not alien to dictatorial regimes. From north to south, east to west, the continent has been a darling of malevolent dictators in the persons of military rulers turned civilian or civilian rulers who came to power through the ballot box. Based on their style of government, countries are counted as dictatorships if they score a one or a two, which indicates repressed competition, where one person or party dominates the political process and excludes others from participating (Green, 2018). Dictators are obsessed with power, and for that matter, they tend to exert control of all aspects of society. Jallow (2017) argued that the dictator’s obsession with exercising total and absolute control over the affairs of the country causes them to by-pass all legitimate institutions of the state. Dictators do not hold much future for the citizens of a country and they remain in power because they are so much feared.
In their quest to remain in power, African dictators pretend to be champions of development while muzzling all aspects of freedom and rights of the citizens and thus exploiting the economic prospects of their country. Nega and Schneider (2012) noted that evidence from the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and the countries involved in the Arab Spring show that dictatorship in Africa serves a function akin to Myrdal’s backwash effects, thwarting economic progress in a cumulative and circular way. Dictatorial regimes are not development oriented, and they do not develop institutions for broad–based economic growth. To help cement their rule, dictators create a clientele of loyalists to boost their power base. In so doing, they become surgical in their style of administration because theyconvince the citizens that they are competent and capable ofruling the country.
Dictatorial regimes continued to flourish in Africa because financial institutions such as the World Bank have directly or indirectly aided such rulers to stand on a better footing to prolong their rule. In Zaire during the days of Mobutu SeseSeko, the World Bank paid a deaf ear to Mobutu’s murderous rule. Even though Mobutu Sese Seko was known to be stealing up to 50 percent of the money extended to Zaire in financial aid for national development assistance, the World bank did very little to stop it (Mugarura, 2016). In effect, unless donor agencies extend aid to dictatorial regimes with stringent conditions, they will continue to misuse aid money to remain power for as long as possible. Still, the downside of it, as argued by Nega and Schneider (2011), is that the IMF and World Bank continue to support corrupt dictatorships and retard the forces of progressive institutional change.
Dictatorial regimes in Africa are marred by repressive rulers who only rule to enrich themselves and thus increase their family fortunes. Equatorial Guinea is a classic example of this phenomenon. In 1979, Teodora Obiang Nguema Mbasogo took power from his murderous uncle and had since ruled the oil–rich producing country of Equatorial Guinea. The extent of his corrupt and dictatorial rule is common knowledge to the people of Equatorial Guinea. Pilling (2017) found that in 2014, TeodoraObiang Nguema Mangue, Obiang’s son and vice-president, was obliged to surrender a Malibu mansion and luxury cars in a settlement with US authorities for what they alleged were more than $70m in corrupt proceeds. The junior Obiang is also on trial in absentia in France for allegedly illicit wealth, including a Paris villa worth an estimated $100m.
For a country to benefit from sustained economic development, economic freedom needs to be ensured, and this is only possible in a democratic structure as opposed to a dictatorship, which is usually associated with expropriation (Khan, Batool & Shah, 2016). Sani Abacha is an example of a dictator whose governance resulted in economic expropriation and massive corruption. According to a CNN article published on June 5, 2019, Jersey’s Civil Asset Recovery Fund, reported that the laundered funds recovered from confiscated assets, belonging to the son of the late dictator, Mohammed Abacha, were derived from corruption during the military leader’s rule in Nigeria (Adebayo, 2019). Abacha ruled with the barrel of the gun, and he was so personalistic, which made him have total control of the economy and politics of the country.
Africa suffers from the dictator effect because long years of tenure have been a factor reminiscent of African leaders. Past leaders like Jean-Bédel Bokassa of Central African Republic, Edi Amin of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mohamed El Ghadaffi of Libya, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Mubarak of Egypt,Blaise Campoare of Burkina Faso, Gambia’s Yahya Jammehenjoyed long years of tenure in office and thus became overly powerful. Papaioannou, Van Zanden and Luite (2015) opined that there is, apart from the protests during the Arabic Spring, some prima facie evidence that dictators, who stay in office for a long time, may have a poor economic record. Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is an example of a dictator with a very poor economic an abysmal human rights record. His economic record was marred by flagrant misuse of the Gambian people’s money at his whims, and he successfully siphoned such funds out of the country. Yahya Jammeh was a dictator beyond human comprehension. Rice (2015) labeled him a tyrant out of caricature, a throwback to the African strongmen of the 1970s.Yahya Jammeh applied demagoguery tactics against those that oppose him.
Africa is yet to be free from the clutches of dictatorship because the current state of African political leadership is gradually resonating in a world of tyranny and abuse of power as a result of self-perpetuating rule. African leaders muzzle the law for their purpose and continue to remain in power. Notably, the old guards such as Apha Conde of Guinea, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, Paul Biya of Cameroun, Idriss Deby of Chad, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda are allnot looking to relinquish power anytime soon. This sad state of affair could potentially dent any prospects of political pluralismin these countries. Perhaps it would also be fair to argue that Ghana presents one if not the best democracies in Africa. Thereare presidential term limits in Ghana that bar any potential for self-perpetuating rule, let alone talk about the country turning into a dictatorship.
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