Ban on coups: Applaudable but …

Jun 29, 2022, 1:22 PM | Article By: Ebou Gaye

The decision made by the ECOWAS and the AU to crack down on coups d'état in Africa by imposing a ban on the practice is an interesting development. Given the high frequency of coups in Africa as opposed to other continents and the fact that coups engender bloodletting, terror, economic crises and political instability in most cases, the move is a welcome one.

However, one is amply justified in wondering whether the move is a sincere one on the part of our leaders and whether it can help remedy the situation. In a region where many of the leaders came to power through the barrel of the gun and overstaying in power is the norm, it is extremely hard to believe that such a move is meant for public good. Judging by the behaviour of most African leaders and their associates, characterized by blatant plundering and squandering of exiguous, direly needed public   funds, coupled with flagrant violation of human rights in the form of victimization and brutalization of citizens for political reasons, adding insults to injury, it is sheer short-sightedness to believe that the move can help stop the practice once and for all.

There is every indication that the move is meant to safeguard the political interest of current African leaders by guaranteeing their security and safety rather than just to ensure peace and stability for the benefit of the public as our leaders want to make us believe. 

If our leaders were sincere in the move, those among them who mounted power by staging coups would repent their acts and apologize to their people or be asked by their colleagues to do so. But what we have seen is the contrary. Some coup-makers continue to insist that they had genuine reasons for toppling their predecessors and endeavour to convince people in this regard without being challenged by their colleagues. Hence, those coup-makers can be likened to a person trying to lock the door of a dining room just after entering, so as to prevent others from entering through the same door. The fact that our leaders have imposed a ban on coups without going a step further to take measures to prevent overstaying in power also casts a big shadow of doubt on their sincerity. 

It can be cogently argued that banning coups without addressing the root cause of the problem will yield very little dividends, if any. The prevalence of coups in Africa can, to a very large extent, be ascribed to the behaviour of our leaders. The dictatorial, egotistic, egoistic, sadistic, megalomaniacal and bigoted tendency of some of our leaders is a causative factor of coups. Therefore, any action taken to crack down on coups without taking this factor into account may have very little effect or prove to be an exercise in futility.

Some African leaders endeavour to cling onto power at all cost. They use various means to achieve their aims, which include terrorizing the population through harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention, torture andkillings; issuing threats to intimidate opponents; doctoring their constitutions to suit their political interest; promulgating draconian laws to gag the press; suppressing dissent and freedom of expression; meddling in matters appertaining to the judiciary; manipulating civil servants, parliamentarians and electoral officers; monopolizing the public media; denying citizens their dues or depriving them of basic necessities; and the like. In short, those leaders seek to obtain sweeping powers and attain total control of everything to rule with iron hands, making it extremely difficult or impossible for them to be removed from power through peaceful means. When their oppression becomes unendurable to the masses, they resort to violent means of extricating themselves, as a cat can do anything to save itself when pushed to the wall. Some leaders, especially coup-makers and their associates, personalize state properties. They enrich themselves in the twinkling of an eye and lead flamboyant life styles, spending thriftlessly and improvidently. This behaviour has the danger of encouraging coups. It arouses the envy or anger of others who may resort to violent, unconstitutional means to weed out those greedy, selfish people in order to enjoy themselves like them or save their compatriots from economic crises by freeing them from the clutches of the rapacious, materially-minded, extravagantly-behaved clique.

Hence, any action geared towards cracking down on coups should not fall short of imposing a presidential term-limit and introducing strict, drastic measures to curb human rights violations and corruption. If our leaders really meant business, they would make efforts to mend the cracks on the wall rather than plastering them. Simply put, they would try to address the root cause of the problem if they were sincere in their move. In so doing, they would not need to impose a ban on coups, for the situation would automatically take care of itself. No leader should be allowed to cling onto power or oppress his people continuously, for no one is indispensable or superior to others as some leaders and their sycophants want to fool people into believing. Believing in the indispensability of a leader or his superiority over others or portrayal of a leader as such is not only folly but also insulting to God's intelligence. How can you expect God the Omniscient to endow only one person in a country with the capability or ability to govern that country? If only one person in a country had the ability to rule, what would happen when he goes to eternity or dies? Are those portrayed as indispensable leaders immortal? Given the fact that all human beings are made of bones, blood and flesh and share the seven characteristics of living organisms and that leaders are human beings, is it reasonable for a leader to be intoxicated with power or be arrogant to the extent of feeling superior to others or be portrayed as such? Are there superhuman leaders or leaders made of materials that are more valuable than those mentioned above, unlike their fellow human beings? Hard working or not, patriotic or not, leaders must relinquish power peacefully or step down to pave the way for others to contribute their quota. Indispensability cannot be used to justify overstaying in power, for anybody can claim to be indispensable or be portrayed as such by sycophants. The desire to eternize one's stay in power can only be interpreted as greed and selfishness. That is the fact of the matter.

Coming back to the main point of the discourse, I would like to expand on the matter by contending that coups can be eradicated or at least minimized with the imposition of a presidential term-limit. Imposing a term-limit can render coups unjustifiable. For instance, coup-makers may find it difficult to gain national and international recognition after overthrowing a democratically elected president whose tenure of office cannot go beyond eight or ten years. Cognizant of this fact, would-be coup-makers may be deterred. Besides, aggrieved, discontented or disgruntled parties may not feel the need to fall back on violent means of removing a president from office with the knowledge that his tenure of office is ephemeral. Additionally, having a presidential term-limit in place can help deter oppression or disregard for the rule of law on the part of leaders, which, in turn, can help deter coups. Knowing fully well that they have very limited or short time in office and that they may be held accountable for their misdeeds when they dismount power, leaders may avoid wronging their people and think twice before acting or making decisions while in office. In other words, having a presidential term-limit can scare leaders into behaving well or avoiding misbehaviour and malpractice, which can earn them the respect and love of their compatriots, thereby guaranteeing their security and safety by discouraging would-be coup-makers.

Given the fact that our leaders have overlooked the importance of imposing a presidential term-limit, we should not be surprised if coups continue to occur in Africa despite this ban on the practice. As pointed out earlier, overstaying in power and oppression should stop if we are to succeed in banning coups.           

To sum up, our leaders must see reason and change attitude for the better, as their behaviour leaves much to be desired. They should stop playing with our intelligence if they really intend to crack down on coups as a way of ensuring peace and stability. I urge them to try this medicine. I am confident that it will prove to be efficacious.