Thursday, July 16, 2009

Civilian Dictators of Africa

THE book, Civilian Dictators of Africa is a detailed, well-researched document on the evolution and consequences of civilian dictatorship on the African continent and beyond. Bad government caused by the ignorance of democracy has left Africa tottering on the edge of instability for decades. In this book, Shehu Sani, the author has taken a critical look at every aspect of civilian dictatorship in Africa. He concludes that redressing the imbalance of leadership remains the only way out of this sad state of affairs.

Further, Sani redefines steps by which Africa's responsibility can be restored in the comity of nations. In the preface, the author avers that the book was written with the aim of contributing to the promotion and sustenance of good governance in Africa and beyond.

According to him, Africa, believed to be the birth-place of the human race, is supposed to lead and in the process provide leadership in all areas of human endeavours, particularly in governance. But regrettably, this has not been so, and therefore, the continent has been bedevilled by border disputes, ethno-religious conflicts, poverty, corruption and terrorism.

But in the on-going evolution of a democratic culture in Africa, attempts are being made to providing leadership for the continent. Thus, these efforts have become platforms through which the challenges and problems confronting African nation are addressed.

The benefits of democracy make it a preferable system of government. Hence its common adoption in most African countries irrespective of the argument in favour of authoritarianism is being proposed as better suited for liberating illiterate Africa.

Structurally, the book is in three parts with 10 chapters. Chapter one is an overview of the African dilemma. Africa is projected as one of the seven continents of the world, inhabited by 900 million people, and comprises 53 countries. For the purpose of this review, Africa has been broken into six regions.

Geographically, Africa has the highest birth rate among the seven continents. Between 2000 and 3000 languages are spoken with Swahili, Hausa and Yoruba being the most widely spoken. These languages and the associated cultures were not given much consideration in the carving up of Africa by the colonialists. 

Consequently, decolonisation could not rise beyond ethnic identities and politics to assume national identities.

African economy, according to the author, constitutes traditional and modern sectors. The traditional sector is largely agrarian and based in the rural areas. It feeds the modern service providing mining and low level industrial sector based in the cities.

Africa's role in world trade and economics remains the production of raw materials for use in the industrially advanced countries. Thus, Africa's trade position has been worsening since the 1960s, with many countries resorting to borrowing from Europe and North America.

Chapter two deals with systems of government in Africa. It examines democracy versus authoritarianism with notes on anarchism, concluding with debates on the weaknesses of democracy. 

Dictators around the world is the focus of chapter three. From Asia, we have Chiang Kaishek, leader of China and Taiwan between 1949 and 1975; Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran from 1941 to 1979; and Ho Chi Minh, the president of Vietnam from 1945 to 1969. 

Other prominent Asian dictators include Thojib Suharto of Indonesia, Hafez Al Assad of Syria and Pol Pot of Cambodia.

Dictatorial examples from Europe were, Oliver Cromwell of Britain; Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France; Antonio de Salazar of Portugal; and Francisco Franco of Spain. The list includes Leonid Brezhnev of Russia and Erich Honecker of East Germany.

From the Americas, there were Rafael Trujillo of Dominican Republic; Fulgencio Batista of Cuba; Anastasio Somaza of Nicaragua; and Fidel Castro of Cuba. In addition, we have Manuel Noriega of Panama; Juan Peron of Argentina and Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

In part two, we have the civilian dictators of Africa. Here we have Dos Santos of Angola; Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire; Omar Bongo of Gabon, Frederick Chiluba of Zambia.

Others are Ahmed Abdulla of Comoros; Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; Hosni Mubarak of Egypt; Muamar Gaddafi of Libya; and Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia. In all, more states experienced dictatorship in Africa than other continents.

In part three, Sani summarises his conclusions and recommendations. He notes that democracy fails in Africa because of illiteracy. 

Also, because of the existing authoritarian political structure, the culture of democracy has not been allowed to take root. Besides, colonial hangovers of manipulation and meddlesomeness have impeded democratic growth in Africa.

Indeed, the restive military have to be taught to respect constituted authority. For the way forward, Sani recommends mass literacy, greater self-reliance among the citizenry through self-employment. The author posits the need to evolve an African brand of democracy suited to our own culture and awareness.

Sani is a renowned civil rights activist and writer. He is the president of Civil Rights Congress (CRC) and chairman of Hand-in-Hand Africa. He is a leading figure in the movement for democracy in Nigeria and had been imprisoned by military government in Nigeria. He has written more than seven books and received several literary awards and honours. He was also awarded a honorary doctorate degree by the Nigerian Institute of Continuing Education.


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