Monday, January 5, 2009



The Daily Monitor
Kampala, Uganda

By Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem

The long term dictator of Conakry, General Lansana Conte, bed-ridden for many years but still hanging on to power through a network of bootlicking parasites, collaborators and vicious state machine, finally gave up the ghost. We surely will not miss him. He should have been gone long ago but somehow bad leaders have a way of ‘living’ for far too long.

There are still a few of them around that their citizens continue to pray to the Almighty God or the ancestors to help ease out of office since neither their votes against nor other forms of protests by their citizens have been able to persuade them to leave office. Dictators shape society in their own image and weaken all institutions. Their collective motto is: ‘Me or chaos’.

In theory the constitution of Guinea had a succession order. The Head of the National Parliament should have become the Acting President while the government administration could still have continued with the Prime Minister who was not dead. But in truth both the parliament and the government died with Lansana Conte who created them and whose interest they obediently served. They have no legitimacy with the ordinary citizens since their mandate was not from them but from the dictator. Indeed the parliament had exceeded its term by two years!

There was a political vacuum which only the military could effectively fill. Enter Captain Camara who very much reminds one of the early Jerry Rawlings (June 1979) with a disarming plain talking toughness and exuding patriotism.

Here then is the dilemma for all those who desire a coup-free Africa. In principle one is opposed to violent change of government. This has become enshrined in regional and continental protocols and in all our national constitutions. To a large extent since the 1999 Christmas Coup by General Gueye in Ivory Coast both the AU and the Ecowas have stuck to the principle of zero tolerance to military coups. Togo was reversed as indeed that of Sao Tome and Principe. However the coup in Mauritania which is now fait accompli and now Guinea-Conakry both test the operation of the principle and challenges us to review the implementation.

The AU and Ecowas rightly condemned the coup immediately and advised the Junta to allow the constitutional process to prevail. The principle is alright but where is the constitution to be defended?

The constitution was prostate once Lansana collapsed. His Prime Minister made feeble attempt to insist that he represented legality but it was obvious that the political class itself knew it was illegitimate and was neither willing nor able to fight. More importantly the masses were not willing to support them instead they were cheering the soldiers.

Which raises the question: Can we defend democracy where there are no democrats? Should our opposition to military rule mean the protection of any civilian or civilianised regime no matter how unconstitutionally they have manoeuvred themselves to remain in power?

At the time the principle of zero tolerance to military coups was adopted it was a milestone for Africa that had been ravaged by many false messiahs, generals, captains and non-commissioned officers who promised paradise and turned out to be more brutal, corrupt and rapacious than the civilians they overthrew. Many African countries especially in West Africa had spent more time under military misrule than civil rule. The principle should remain but we must also develop our implementation principles based on lived experience. If it operates to just defend the status quo it would become politically odious very soon.

One major weakness at the moment which the Guinea coup has exposed is what to do with unpopular governments and leaders who continue to manipulate the electoral processes and the constitutions of their countries to remain in power.

The emphasis need to shift away from just being anti military alone but also finding ways of sanctioning leaders who illegally continue to rig the constitutional and democratic processes in their countries to ensure their perpetual rule.

If the Ecowas region had been more proactive in Guinea-Conakry while Lansana laid prostate instead of waiting for him to die, maybe a proper democratic transitional arrangement could have been negotiated that would have made it impossible for the soldiers to match on to the Presidential palace with initial public indifference and now growing popular support.

Like in Mauritania the Conakry coup is yet another fait accompli but the Ecowas and the AU can still be helpful in negotiating a legitimate transition that is all inclusive and democratic by officially not recognising the junta but at the same time working with the new regime and other stakeholders in the society on a democratisation timetable. There was no democracy to return to but there is a democratic future that can be built by Guineans with the help of their neighbours.