Alemayehu G. Mariam
In February 2011, at the onset of the Libyan Revolution, Moamar Gadhaffi trumpeted to the world, “They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.” He called the rebels fighting to oust him from power “rats and cockroaches”. He believed it was his birthright to rule Libya as “king of kings” and remained in total denial of his own doom until the bitter end in a sewer tunnel. In the end, in an ironic twist of fate, Gadhaffi was served poetic justice. He was trapped like a sewer rat and smashed like a cockroach as he begged for mercy: “Don’t shoot me!”
The man who had played God in Libya for 42 years died a wimpy thug. The man with the absolute power to decide who shall live and who shall die was shot down like a rabid dog in the street by a nameless rebel. The man who had tortured and abused so many thousands of his people in secret prisons and dungeons was himself tortured and abused with unspeakable inhumanity broadcast for the world to see. The man who slaughtered thousands of his people ended up in the meat locker of a slaughterhouse where his victims gloated over his bloodied and half-naked body discarded on a filthy mattress like big game hunters inspecting their kill on an African safari. The man with the golden gun died from a lead bullet. The man-turned-monster who once called himself “brother leader,” “guide of the revolution,” “king of kings,” “Great Leader,” and “keeper of Arab nationalism” was escorted to his unmarked grave in the featureless desert by a swarm of hungry maggot-bearing flies. Only one question remained: Is it possible for Gandhi’s warning about dictators to have momentarily flashed before Gadhaffi’s eyes or echoed in his ears as he prepared to meet his Maker: “I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Gadhafi boasted he will die a hero and a martyr, but died a hated villain and a coward. But the manner of his death left an ugly blotch on the glorious record of the Libyan Revolution. Gadhaffi’s young captors, unable to contain their pent up rage, treated him with such unspeakably inhumanity that their actions spoke very poorly for all of humanity. His execution in the street was an ugly public testament to man’s inhumanity to man. Even the most wicked and depraved dictator is entitled to basic human dignity. But in the euphoria of the moment, Libyans erupted with celebration at the news Gadhaffi’s dehumanization and death. With muted jubilation and a sigh of relief, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declared: “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time.” President Obama followed, “This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for Libya.”
Gadhaffi was the ultimate personification of the adage, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Over four decades, he became convinced that he was a god and untouchable by any man or law. He became an egomaniac, a megalomaniac, and a monomaniac. Gadhaffi and members of his family believed that they had a divine right to own Libya and Libyans as their personal property. His son Saif al-Islam threatened to dismember the country and plunge it into a civil war that “will last for 30 or 40 years” if anyone tries to oust his family. The young thug promised a bloodbath: “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet. I will fight until the last drop of my blood. We have a Plan A which is to live and die in Libya. Plan B which is to live and die in Libya…” Gadhaffi refused to resign and leave the country peacefully. He would not listen to reason and defiantly declared he would never negotiate, mediate, compromise or surrender. He urged his supporters to fight to the last man and watched Libya burn in a civil war holed up in the sewer. As many as thirty thousand Libyans are estimated to have died as a result of Gadhaffi’s futile attempt to cling to power.
The African People Do Not Love Their Dictators
They say love is blind. That is especially true for dictators. Dictators are so blind that they believe the people love them. Long before Gadhaffi announced to the world “my people love me”, his brother-dictator Saddam Hussien of Iraq told the interrogators who snatched him out his spider hole, “The Iraqi people will always love me.” He even authored a romantic novel and spoke through his main character (king): “I’m a great leader. You must obey me. Not only that, you must love me.”
Long before Saddam, the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini pontificated, “With every beat of my heart, I give service to the Italian people. I feel that all Italians understand and love me.” Idi Amin of Uganda was less sentimental: “The people should love their leader!”; and if they don’t he had his own tough love methods to get the job done. Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire would often chuckle and tell foreign correspondents that not only do his people love him, they want him to stay in power because the “people need me.” Mengistu Hailemariam believed that he ruled with an iron fist out of patriotic duty and love of country. No doubt he loved Ethiopia to death, and proved it for seventeen years by killing thousands of its citizens wantonly. Last May, in a victory speech, Meles Zenawi said he won the election by 99.6 percent because the Ethiopian people love his party and implicitly himself as the party leader. He said the people “consider themselves and the EPRDF [Zenawi’s party] as two sides of a coin” and “nothing can ever shake their unwavering support for our organization.” He returned the love by congratulating them for their “high sense of judgment and fairness” and for “giv[ing] us the mandate through your votes.”
African dictators are so tone-deaf that they just don’t get the message no matter how many times it is repeated to them. Perhaps they might understand if told in sign language: T-H-E P-E-O-P-L-E D-O-N-’T L-O-V-E Y-O-U! In fact, they loathe you. It is a raw and visceral feeling that is manifest in the eyes, thoughts and words of the people. African dictators love having absolute power and boundless privilege. They worship at the altar of money. They love themselves and no one else because they are narcissistic. Every day they look into the ghostly mirror in their minds seeking reassurance: “Mirror, mirror!! Who is the smartest, cleverest, boldest, cruelest, wickedest, trickiest, slickest, shrewdest, quickest, savviest, cunningest… of them all? The answer is always the same.
African dictators are all self-delusional and spend most of their time on Planet Denial. In the face of total repudiation by their people, they invent their own mythology of self-grandeur. They reassure themselves that even if the people don’t love them, “history will one day vindicate me”. To avoid facing the truth, they categorically claim that they have “never killed even a fly and all the crimes I’m accused of are all lies perpetrated by my enemies.” They justify their cruelty by making the excuse that “my country is better off under me” than the previous regime. They brag about their accomplishments “successfully managing the transition from military dictatorship to an emerging democracy” and put themselves out as messiahs who “rekindle hope through a renaissance” and “chart a course of optimism” on a “trajectory of fast economic growth.” African dictators are as loveable as an African scorpion.
Perhaps it is a bit of an overstatement to say African dictators do not love their people. They do. They love to kill them; they love to jail them and torture them. They love to intimidate them, and most of all they love to crush them like cockroaches. How they love to rob, steal and cheat them! They thrive on the blood, sweat and tears of their people. African dictators love their people in much the same way as vampires love people. They love the sound of their own voices which resonate with lies, echo with deceit and jangle with hate: Those who oppose them are “rats and cockroaches” and “terrorists and insurrectionists”.
Did Gadhaffi Cheat the Libyan People in Death as He Did in Life?
It was jarring, confusing and troubling to hear acting Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declare on the confirmation of Gadhaffi’s death that “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time.” I wish he had said, “The day we have been waiting for was the day Gadhaffi is brought to the bar of justice.” I wish the rebel fighter who shot Gadhafi in the face would have said the same thing that young fighter who captured the dictator Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire said a few months ago. “We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker. Gbagbo was there with his wife and his son. He was slapped by a soldier, but was not otherwise hurt.”
The moment to wait for would have been that precious moment when Moamar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi stood in the dock in a Libyan court or at the International Criminal Court in the Hague listening to the long list of criminal charges as his victims paraded in one by one wagging an accusatory finger at him. That would have been a historic moment worth waiting for no matter how long it took.
Gadhaffi is one of the top ten worst human rights abusers and criminals of the post-World War II era. I personally believe he is the apotheosis of evil. Regardless, I fully respect his human rights, including his right to a presumption of innocence and unabashedly defend his basic human right to proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law based exclusively on legally admissible evidence. This I believe to be the true meaning of human rights. Even monsters walking amongst us in human skin are entitled to due process (fair trial) and must be protected from lynching or street, mob or vigilante justice. The line that separates the rule of law from the rule of one man or the rule of the mob is a mighty slender one; and the rule of law must be defended at all costs against those who seek to breach it. It is easy to defend the human rights of Eman al-Obeidy, the courageous Libyan woman who was gang-raped by Gadhaffi’s thugs or Gadhaffi’s revenge killing victims. But it is infinitely more difficult to stand up for monsters like Gadhaffi; but the ironic truth is that the brand of human rights that fully protects Eman al-Obeidy also protects fully the monster once known as Moamar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi.
But I am afraid Gadhaffi in his death, as in his lifetime, got away with murder and torture and all sorts of crimes against humanity. He cheated al-Obeidy and the Libyan people out of justice. He cheated them out of the TRUTH. Now, al-Obeidy will never get the chance to confront Gadhaffi in a court of law, wag her delicate fingers at him as her tears roll down her cheeks and scream with all her might, “Gadhaffi! I accuse of rape and torture!” Her tears which testified before the court of world opinion and seared the conscience of all humanity will never get the chance to testify against Gadhaffi in a court of law and have him held accountable.
The truth is now buried with Gadhafi’s corpse and lost forever in the featureless sand dunes of the Sahara. His humiliation will give no satisfaction to al-Obeidy or the thousands of other innocent victims in Libya or those he blew up on Pan Am flight 103. The ghoulish public display of his corpse as a trophy game animal and all the gloating that went with it might give momentary satisfaction to some but it will never quench Libyans’ thirst for justice that could have come only from bringing Gadhaffi to trial. By taking the truth to his grave, Gadhaffi had the last laugh. He took his last revenge on the Libyan people for he knew that there could be no reconciliation in Libya without the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth laid bare before the people. It is too bad that Gadhaffi was given the easy way out!
The End of African Dictators
Winston Churchill said, “Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.” President John Kennedy cautioned us to “remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” He warned the “new states” liberated from colonialism that “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The people of Africa are beating the drums of change and democracy and encircling the mud walls of African dictatorships. The die is now cast and African dictators will have to make a choice. The smart ones will read the writing on the wall and beat feet to enjoy their stolen loot in comfort and luxury in the sanctuary of well-known “dictatordoms”. Ben Ali and Mengustu are doing just that now as did Idi Amin before them. The stubborn ones will stick around and face the scales of justice. Mubarak is doing that now as did Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Central African Republic, before him. The self-delusional ones like Gadhaffi and Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire and Samuel Doe of Liberia before them will cause a civil war to cling to power only to find themselves at the mercy of their ferocious and vengeance-thirsty adversaries. The rest will try to hide and hope their crimes will not catch up with them. Like Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir, they will always be looking over their shoulders for the long arm of international law or the sharp tiger claws of the people that will one day surely hook them. African dictators who make peaceful change impossible will make vigilante justice possible as they peek straight through the barrel of a gun whimpering, “Don’t shoot me! Please don’t shoot me!” African dictators, there is a better way. Show your people some love. LEAVE THEM!
African Dictators! T-H-E P-E-O-P-L-E D-O-N-’T L-O-V-E Y-O-U!
Release all political prisoners in Ethiopia, NOW!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Two historic events are unfolding before our eyes in Africa today. The new president of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, is asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct an investigation into gross human rights violations in his country. In a letter to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Ouattara wrote: “It appears the Ivorian justice system, at the moment, is not best placed to consider the most serious crimes committed over the recent months, and that any attempts to bring to justice those who are most responsible would risk running into all kinds of difficulties.” He emphatically urged the prosecutor to bring the “people who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes before the International Criminal Court.”
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s iron-fisted dictator for three decades, and his sons are expected to stand trial in an Egyptian court for human rights violations. The Egyptian Attorney General announced that Mubarak & Sons will face charges of “intentional murder, attempted murder of demonstrators, abuse of power to intentionally waste public funds and unlawfully profiting from public funds for themselves and others.”
Bernard Munyagishari, one of the most notorious leaders of the genocidal Rwandan Interahamwe, was apprehended last week (along with, in a separate incident, Ratko Mladic, the Butcher of Srebrenica (Bosnia)) of the Democratic Republic of Congo after nearly 16 years on the lam. According to a 2005 ICC indictment, Munyagishari “masterminded a virulent hate campaign against the Tutsis” and trained and distributed weapons to Interahamwe groups to enable them “more efficiently to attack and kill the Tutsis and Hutu opponents.”
Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan remains a fugitive from justice following his ICC indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity. Bashir is accused of “masterminding with absolute control” a criminal plan “to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups” and causing the deaths of 35,000 people “outright” in the Darfur region since 2003.
A number of former Kenyan officials including the deputy prime minister and two other ministers, the cabinet secretary, police chief and others stand accused of murder, rape and persecution by the ICC. They are suspected of orchestrating the post-election violence that resulted in the deaths of some 1,500 Kenyans and displacement of over 600,000.
There is no question that Moammar Gadhafi & Sons will soon be indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection with the massive atrocities that are taking place in Libya today. In his ICC application for an arrest warrant, Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampos argued: “The evidence shows that Moammar Gadhafi personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians. His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in the public space, shot demonstrators with live ammunition, used heavy weaponry against participants in funeral processions and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after prayers.”
The trial of the ruthless Liberian warlord Charles Taylor before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes recently concluded in The Hague after three and one-half years of litigation. A verdict is expected in the foreseeable future.
Africa’s dictators who once sneered at the very notion of legal accountability for their flagrant human rights abuses are now waking up at night in cold sweat. They keep interrogating themselves in the middle of the night: First it was Bashir. Now it is Mubarak. Next is Gadhafi and after him… Ben Ali, Ali Saleh and then…?
Lady Justice “is like a train that is nearly always late”, but she has finally arrived at her African destination with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other, and without her blindfold to see the atrocities that continue to be committed by Africa’s thugtators. A new dawn is rising over the darkness of dictatorship that envelopes Africa.
The Beginning of Africa’s Second Independence?
For much of the six decades of independence, much of Africa has been under the thumbs and boots of ruthless military and civilian thugs palming themselves off as leaders while sucking the continent dry as their private estate. There have been over 80 military coups in Africa and hundreds of attempted, plotted and alleged coups. A 2002 African Union study estimated that corruption cost the continent US$150 billion a year. Last week, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) commissioned report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on “illicit financial flows” (money stolen by government officials and their cronies and stashed away in foreign banks) from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) revealed the theft of US$ 8.4 billion from Ethiopia, the second poorest country on the planet.
Could the election of Alassane Ouattara signal the beginning of Africa’s second independence? Is there hope for the end of thugtatorship in Africa and the beginning of a new era of democratic governance, openness and political accountability?
Ouattara’s letter to Moreno-Ocampo is in itself an extraordinary act of leadership, courage, audacity and supreme self-confidence. It is a monumental event in Africa’s modern political history. No African leader has ever asked or invited the ICC to investigate human rights abuses and prosecute the violators. In fact, in August 2010, the African Union (AU) thumbed its nose at the ICC stating: “The AU Member States shall not cooperate pursuant to the provisions of Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the ICC relating to immunities, for the arrest and surrender of President Omar El Bashir of the Sudan”. In other words, Africa’s leaders will shelter the Butcher of Darfur from facing justice.
Against the backdrop of the AU denunciation, Ouattra’s invitation for an ICC investigation is refreshing and reassuring. Manifestly, Ouattra is aware of the fact that an ICC investigation is a double-edged sword that could cut him and his supporters just as easily as Gbagbo and his crew. To be sure, there are serious allegations of human rights abuses by Ouattara’s current prime minister, Guillaume Soro. An ICC investigation could potentially implicate Ouattara himself, possibly casting a long dark shadow over the remainder of his presidency. Regardless, Ouattara says full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes. Let the chips fall where they may!
Why is Ouattra doing this? Does he have something up his sleeve? I am still reeling from the fact that an African leader is actually upholding human rights instead of trashing them, calling for an independent investigation instead of putting out a whitewash. Could it be that Ouattara is a truly new breed of African leader? Is it possible that he genuinely believes in the rule of law, human rights and full legal accountability? Maybe he wants to end the culture of impunity in his country and set a shining example of a new culture of respect for human rights for the continent. Just maybe Ouattra’s leadership role model is Nelson Mandela.
On May 21, the day of Ouattara’s formal inauguration, the ICC Prosecutor lodged an application with the ICC to investigate “crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that have been committed in the Ivory Coast since 28 November 2010.”
Nature of Human Rights Violations in the Cote d’Ivoire
The human rights violations alleged in Cote d’Ivoire are of the most egregious types. According to a January 2011 Human Rights Watch Report, security forces and militia under the control of Laurent Gbagbo have allegedly committed extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and rape. Gbagbo’s supporters are accused of undertaking an “organized campaign of violence targeting members of opposition political parties, ethnic groups from northern Côte d’Ivoire, Muslims, and immigrants from neighboring West African countries.” Seven women supporters of Ouattara engaged in peaceful demonstration were gunned down before the cameras by Gbagbo’s forces in February 2011.
According to an April 2011 Human Rights Watch Report, “forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara killed hundreds of civilians, raped more than 20 alleged supporters of his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, and burned at least 10 villages in Côte d’Ivoire’s far western region.” The report alleged “in one particularly horrific incident, hundreds of ethnic Guéré civilians perceived as supporting Gbagbo were massacred in the western town of Duékoué by a mixture of pro-Ouattara groups.” Credible reports by charity groups who visited the location put the number at over one thousand.
The Ivorian human rights violators will likely face war crimes and crimes against humanity charges similar to those lodged against the former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. For purposes of war crimes (Convention III, Article 3 Geneva Convention (1949) and of Additional Protocol II), charges will likely include unlawful killings, terrorizing the civilian population, physical violence, sexual violence, abductions and pillage, among others. Other particularized charges may include ill-treatment or deportation of civilian residents, the killing of prisoners and wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages. Charges of crimes against humanity (Article 7, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court) will likely include murder, rape, abductions, political or religious persecution and other inhumane acts and practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. There is substantial evidence to show the occurrence of widespread and systematic practices of atrocity by both sides of the Ivorian conflict in the post-election period to justify vigorous prosecutions.
No Truth, No Reconciliation. No Justice, No Peace.
What Ouattra has done in Cote d’Ivoire could be the most significant act in the cause of the freedom, democracy and human rights in Africa’s modern history. By the stroke of his pen, Ouattra has the raised the bar for legal accountability and may have begun a new era and tradition of the rule of law in the continent. By letting justice take its course, Ouattara has taken the first decisive step to heal the wounds and divisions of Ivorian society.
There are many lessons to be learned from Ouattara’s heroic act. First, without revealing the truth about human rights abuses, there can be no reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire or any other society victimized by massive human rights violations. The South Africans managed to make an effective transition to democracy and heal a society torn apart by the vile and inhuman ideology of apartheid in their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Second, if Africa’s dictators believe they will face justice for their criminal actions regardless of how long it takes, they will think a hundred times before ordering massacres of peaceful unarmed demonstrators in the streets, jailing of thousands of innocent people and indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Third, legal accountability under international human rights standards means Africa’s dictators will have no place to run to or hide and enjoy their billions in stolen loot. The world will be their prison.
When the rule of law is deep-rooted in Africa, the tables will finally turn. The people will no longer fear their leaders and governments. Rather, the leaders and government institutions will fear the people. That will mark Africa’s long overdue transition from thugtatorship (“the highest stage of African dictatorship”) to democracy.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice has yet to arrive for 193 unarmed Ethiopian protesters massacred in the streets in 2005 and 763 shot and wounded. These victims are not some nameless individuals buried in shallow graves. Their identities are well known to all and shall never be forgotten. The identities of the 237 policemen who committed the massacre are also well known. There is overwhelming evidence of gross human rights abuses in Gambella in western Ethiopia and in the Ogaden region in the east as well as many other parts of the country. There are thousands of political prisoners languishing in secret prisons in Ethiopia today.
The monstrous crimes committed against these victims will not remain forever shrouded in the fog of history because the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice. That is why I believe justice delayed in Ethiopia is NOT justice denied. Paraphrasing the great African American poet Langston Hughes, justice delayed in Ethiopia is a “sore that festers and runs, and sags” like a heavy load ready to explode.
Keep Hope Alive in Ethiopia!
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire arrested! Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in intensive care! Moamar Gadhafi of Libya under siege! Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan, a fugitive from justice. Ben Ali of Tunisia out of Africa! Meles Zenawi, sleepless in Ethiopia.
These are heady days on the African continent. These are days of joy. Africa’s thugdoms are crumbling like clumps of dirt underfoot. These are days of grief and tribulation. After one-half century of independence, Africa continues to sink deeper into a quagmire of dictatorship, corruption and extreme violence.
It was a crying shame to see the video footages of Laurent Gbagbo, the leader of one of Africa’s economic powerhouses, being collared, manhandled and dragged away with his wife like a common criminal thug. The last such shocking video came out of Africa in 1990 showing the gruesome torture and execution of Samuel Doe, the president of Liberia. (Doe had himself staged a televised torture and execution of his predecessor William Tolbert.)
Gbagbo’s arrest footage played straight into the stereotypical cartoonish image of the defiantly erratic African dictator often crudely portrayed in the media. Gbagbo looked pathetic as his captors surrounded him and barked out orders. He looked so helpless, defenseless, friendless and hopeless. His forlorn eyes told the whole story. The man who had thumbed his nose at the world for the past 5 months while his country burned was visibly hyperventilating and drenched in sweat. He could hardly put on his shirt. It was a totally humiliating experience for Gbagbo. It was devastating, depressing and dispiriting to any African who values self-dignity.
Gbagbo was not a run-of-the-mill African dictator. He did not bulldoze or shoot his way to power. For decades, he used the democratic process to struggle for change in his country. Unlike other African dictators who graduated with high honors from the university of intrigue, corruption, human rights violation, double-dealing, deception and skullduggery, Gbagbo graduated with a doctorate from the University of Paris at the Sorbonne, one of the greatest higher learning institutions in Europe. He was a learned and energetic professor and researcher at the University of Abidjan who used his knowledge to become the leading voice of resistance and dissent against dictatorship in his country. He was a union activist who organized teachers’ strikes and ardently worked to establish multiparty democracy. He was a lawmaker in the Ivorian National Assembly. He founded the Ivorian Popular Front, a center-left socialist party. He was a bold dissident who suffered imprisonment on various occasions for his political views and activities. He spent the 1980s in exile in France.
By all measures, Gbagbo was among the best and brightest of Africa’s democratically-leaning leaders. But as he completed his first term of office, he was afflicted by “cling-to-power-at-any-cost syndrome”, a political disease more commonly known as “I want to be president-for-life (PFL)” syndrome. Every African civilian or military leader since Kwame Nkrumah in the early 1960s has suffered from PFL. Gbagbo sacrificed the lives of thousands of his compatriots so that he could become president-for-life.
In the end, none of it mattered. Gbagbo proved to be no different or better than any of the other benighted and villainous African dictators who cling to power by killing, jailing, torturing and stealing from their citizens. He may now end up serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.
The Ivorian president-turned-power-fiend could have had a dignified exit from power. He could have left office with the respect and appreciation of his people, and honored by the international community as an elder African statesman. He could have found different ways of remaining active in Ivorian politics. Many wanted to facilitate a dignified exit for him. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said, “I gave him [Gbagbo] an offer which had been given by the United States that he had an option to come into exile in the United States and that he would be allowed to be a lecturer at the University of Boston.” He could have cut a deal for a”golden exile” right after the November elections and lived out his life without fear of prosecution. He had been offered asylum in Angola, South Africa, Malawi, Nigeria and the U.S., but he turned down all of them. Like many of his predecessors, Gbagbo chose the path of self-humiliation and ignominy.
Gbagbo’s End Game
Gbagbo’s end game is to face justice for his crimes in an Ivorian court, a special court for Cote d’Ivoire or before the International Criminal Court (ICC). There is substantial evidence to show that as a direct result of Gbagbo’s refusal to concede the presidential election in November 2010, thousands of people lost their lives in officially sanctioned extra-judicial killings. In excess of one million Ivorians have been forced to leave the country to avoid the violence. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, took the extraordinary step of notifying Gbagbo and his henchmen that they will be held personally responsible and accountable for human rights violations in connection with the discovery of two mass graves. But there is also substantial evidence of extra-judicial or arbitrary executions, sexual violence, enforced or involuntary disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture against Gbagbo and his regime dating back several years.
Allasane Ouattara, the new president, says Gbagbo will be brought to justice and a truth and reconciliation-style process instituted to address the causes and effects of the decade-long political crises in the country. ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he would like ECOWAS to request an ICC investigation into the massive human rights violations in Cote d’Ivoire, a preliminary step to Gbagbo’s prosecution. It is unlikely that any African organization will cooperate in such an investigation. In July 2009, the African Union refused to cooperate in the prosecution of al-Bashir of the Sudan: “The AU member states shall not co-operate… relating to immunities for the arrest and surrender of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to the ICC.”
There is no question Gbagbo must be put on trial. If there are concerns about his prosecution in Cote d’Ivoire, his trial could be moved to The Hague as was done for former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Gbagbo’s trial will likely involve a protracted legal process. (Taylor’s trial concluded a few weeks ago after three and one-half years of litigation in the ICC, and a verdict is expected in the foreseeable future.)
Gbagbo is entitled to full due process and given ample opportunity to vigorously contest every allegation brought against him. His right to a fair trial must be observed meticulously. Prosecution must not be limited to Gbagbo and members of his regime. All suspects, including Ouattra’s supporters allegedly involved in human rights violations, must be investigated and brought to justice. There is compelling evidence that forces loyal to Ouattara have been involved in gross human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, rapes and burning of villages.
Lessons of a Gbagbo Prosecution
Most African dictators will pretend a Gbagbo prosecution will have no effect on them. They will convince themselves and try to convince others that what happened to Gbagbo could not happen to them because they are smarter, shrewder, cleverer and more iron-fisted than anybody else. They will laugh until their belly aches at anyone who suggests that they too will one day stand dazed and with forlorn eyes before the bars of justice and held accountable for their crimes against humanity. Once upon a time, Mubarak, Bashir, Gbagbo, Ben Ali and Gadhafi also laughed at the very suggestion of being held accountable in a court of law. Are they laughing now?
We must all say no to dictatorship and human rights violations anywhere in Africa, in the world. On the question of human rights, we must take sides. When thousands are massacred and dumped in mass graves in Cote d’Ivoire, we cannot turn a blind eye. When we have proof that thousands of innocent demonstrators have been killed, wounded and imprisoned in Ethiopia, we must never cease to demand justice.
Human rights abusers learn from each other. When one dictator gets away with crimes against humanity, the others get emboldened to commit atrocities on humanity. If the international community had taken vigorous action in Ethiopia and brought to justice those who massacred hundreds of innocent demonstrators following the 2005 elections, the bloodbath and carnage in Cote d’Ivoire might have been avoided altogether.
Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” It could be equally said that Africa has been made a dangerous place to live not because of the evil dictators alone, but more importantly because not enough good African people (and friends of Africa) are willing to stand up, speak out and do something about gross human rights violations on the continent. It has been said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Laurent Gbagbo is now wholly within the radius of that arc. The other African dictators need only contemplate a paraphrased question from a popular song: “Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do when the ICC comes for you?” GAME OVER!
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Thugogracy in Africa
If democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, a thugogracy is a government of thieves, for thieves, by thieves. Simply stated, a thugtatorship is rule by a gang of thieves and robbers (thugs) in designer suits. It is becoming crystal clear that much of Africa today is a thugogracy privately managed and operated for the exclusive benefit of bloodthirsty thugtators.
In a thugtatorship, the purpose of seizing and clinging to political power is solely to accumulate personal wealth for the ruling class by stealing public funds and depriving the broader population scarce resources necessary for basic survival. The English word “thug” comes from the Hindi word “thag” which means “con man”. In India “Thugees”, well-organized criminal gangs, robbed and murdered unsuspecting travelers over a century ago. Africa’s “thugees” today mug, rob, pillage, plunder and rape unsuspecting whole nations and peoples and secrete away their billions in stolen loot in European and American banks.
Today, we see the incredibly extreme lengths Libyan thugtator Muammar Gaddafi is willing to go to preserve his thugocratic empire floating on billions of stolen oil dollars hidden in foreign bank accounts and corporate property holdings. The British Government recently announced that it expects to seize “around £20 billion in liquid assets of the Libyan regime, mostly in London.” The Swiss Government has similarly issued an order for the immediate freeze of assets belonging to Gadhafi and his entourage. The Swiss central bank announced that it will freeze Gaddafi’s 613 million Swiss francs (USD$658 million), with an additional 205 million francs (USD$220 million) in paper or fiduciary operations. In 2008, before a diplomatic incident involving the arrest of one of Gaddafi’s sons for assault in Switzerland, Gadhafi’s Swiss holdings amounted to 5.7 billion in cash and 812 million francs in paper and fiduciary operations. In 2006, the Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund had investments of $70 billion. The U.S. closed its Embassy in Triopli and slapped a freeze on all Libyan assets described as “substantial.”
To protect his empire of corruption, Gadhafi has ordered his air force to bomb and strafe unarmed civilian demonstrators demanding an end to his 42-year rule. His son Saif al-Islam threatened to dismember the country and plunge it into a civil war that will last for 30 or 40 years. In a televised speech, the young thug promised a bloodbath: “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet. I will fight until the last drop of my blood.” The buffoonish al-Islam contemptuously reassured the world: “Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya.” For someone who has no official role in government, it was an astonishing statement to make.
Gadhafi himself has vowed to fight on and die “like a martyr” in the service of his thugogracy. He urged his supporters in Green Square to fight back and “defend the nation.” He exhorted, “Retaliate against them, retaliate against them… Dance, sing and prepare. Prepare to defend Libya, to defend the oil, dignity and independence.” Gadhafi promised: “At the suitable time, we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire.” It is not enough for Gadhafi and his thugs to have bled the Libyan people dry for 42 years, they now want to burn down the whole country to ashes. Apres moi, le deluge! (After me, the flood!)
The Ivory Coast is on the verge of civil war, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In December 2010, Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after he was decisively defeated in the presidential election. His own Election Commission said his opponent Alassane Ouattara won the election by a nine-point margin. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, the United States, the European Union all said Ouattara is the winner. Gbagbo has turned a deaf ear and is preparing to plunge the Ivory Coast into civil war to protect his empire of corruption. In 2000, Gbagbo imposed a curfew and a state of emergency and ordered security forces to shoot and kill any demonstrators in the streets: “Police, gendarmes and soldiers from all branches of the armed forces are ordered to use all means throughout the country to oppose troublemakers.” Like Gaddafi’s mercenaries today, Gbagbo’s troops back then went on a killing and beating rampage. The European Union, the Swiss and United States Governments have frozen Gbagbo’s assets in their countries.
In May 2010, Meles Zenawi said he won the parliamentary election by 99.6 percent. The European Union Election Observer Team said the election “lacked a level playing field” and “failed to meet international standards”, a well-known code phrase for a “stolen election”. In its 2005 report, the Observer Team said exactly the same thing. Zenawi’s EPDRF party pretty much owns the Ethiopian economy. “According to the World Bank, roughly half of the rest of the national economy is accounted for by companies held by an EPRDF-affiliated business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). EFFORT’s freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” The regime’s own anti-corruption agency reported in 2008 that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A couple of weeks ago, in an incredible display of arrogance and total lack of accountability, Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he would “cut off their hands”.
In 2005, Zenawi demonstrated the extremes he will go to protect his empire of corruption. Zenawi’s own Inquiry Commission documented that troops under Zenawi’s direct command and control mowed down 193 documented unarmed protesters in the streets and severely wounded nearly 800. Another 30,000 suspected opponents were jailed. In a meeting with high level U.S. officials in advance of the May 2010 election, Zenawi told them in plain words what he will do to his opposition if they try to “discredit the election”: “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” If Zenawi will “crush” those who “attempt to discredit an election”, it does not leave much to the imagination to figure out what he will do when the people ask him peacefully to leave power.
In April 2010, Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan claimed victory by winning nearly 70 percent of the vote. The EU EOM declared the “deficiencies in the legal and electoral framework in the campaign environment led the overall process to fall short of a number of international standards for genuine democratic elections.” Another election stolen in broad daylight; but that is not all Bashir has stolen. According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “International Criminal Court [ICC] Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told [U.S.] Ambassadors Rice and Wolff on March 20  that [Ocampo] would put the figure of Sudanese President Bashir’s stash of money at possibly $9 billion.” After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the first warrant of its kind for a sitting head of state, a sneering Bashir flipped his middle finger at the ICC: “They will issue their decision tomorrow, and we are telling them to immerse it in water and drink it“, a common Arabic insult which is the equivalent of “they can shove it up their _ _ _.” Bashir recently he said he will not run for the presidency again. (It is not clear if had decided not to run because he wants to enjoy his stolen billions or because he expects to put on the jail jumpsuit of the ICC.)
In February 2010, a group of soldiers in Niger calling itself the “Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy” stormed Niger’s presidential palace and snatched president Mamadou Tandja and his ministers. In 2009, Tandja had dissolved the National Assembly and set up a “Constitutional Court” to pave the way for him to become president-for-life. Niger’s state auditor reported that “at least 64 billion CFA francs [USD$128-million] were stolen from Niger’s state coffers under the government of former president Mamadou Tandja.” Tandja is sitting in jail in southwestern Niger.
In March 2008, Robert Mugabe declared victory in the presidential election after waging a campaign of violence and intimidation on his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters. In 2003, Mugabe boasted, “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.” No one would disagree with Mugabe’s self-description. In 2010, Mugabe announced his plan to sell “about $1.7 billion of diamonds in storage” (probably rejects of his diamond-crazed wife Grace). According to a Wikileaks cablegram, “a small group of high-ranking Zimbabwean officials (including Grace Mugabe) have been extracting tremendous diamond profits.” Mugabe is so greedy that he stole outright “£4.5 million from [aid] funds meant to help millions of seriously ill people.”
In December 2007, Mwai Kibaki declared himself winner of the presidential election. In 2002, Kibaki, criticizing his predecessor Daniel Arap Moi regime, urged the people to “Remain calm, even when intimidated or provoked by those who are desperately determined to rig the elections and plunge the country into civil war.” In 2007, Kibaki and his thugees unleashed such violence against the civilian population that 1500 Kenyans were killed and some 600 hundred thousand displaced, almost plunging Kenya into civil war. The Kroll Report revealed that Moi stole billions of dollars using a “web of shell companies, secret trusts and frontmen” and secreted the loot in 30 countries. Kibaki stonewalled further action on the report, including prosecution of Moi.
The story of corruption, theft, embezzlement and brazen transfer of the national wealth of African peoples to European and African banks and corporate institutions is repeated elsewhere in the continent. Ex-Nigerian President Sani Abacha, who was judicially determined to be a member of a criminal organization by a Swiss court, stole $500 million. Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt also have their stolen assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars frozen in Switzerland and elsewhere. Other African thugtators who have robbed their people blind (and pretty much have gotten away with it) include Nigeria’s Ibrahim Babangida, Guniea’s Lansana Conte, Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema, Gabon’s Omar Bongo, Equatorial Guniea’s Obiang Nguema, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Campore and Congo’s (Brazaville) Denis Sassou Nguesso, among others.
Godfathers and African Thugogracies
In previous commentaries, I have argued that the business of African governments is corruption. African thugtators cling to power to operate sophisticated criminal business enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources. These African “leaders” are actually “godfathers” or heads of criminal families. Just like any organized criminal enterprise, African thugtators use their party apparatuses, bureaucracies, military and police forces to maintain and perpetuate their corrupt financial empires.
When the U.S. first announced its “kleptocracy asset recovery program” to the world in July 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the message, not at some international anti-corruption forum, but at the African Union Summit in Kampala, Uganda. Holder told the gathered African thugtators:
Today, I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations. We’re assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption, hold offenders accountable, and protect public resources.
Holder’s announcement was nothing short of breathtaking. It was as though he was addressing the national convention of the “Commissione” of all the Mafia families from New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In Kampala, Holder was talking directly to the African equivalents of the Godfathers of the Bonnano, Columbo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese crime families in one place. Absolutely surreal!
The Political Economy of Thugtatorships
Thugtatorships in Africa thrive in the political economy of kleptocracy. Widespread corruption permeates every corner of society. Oil revenues, diamonds, gold bars, coffee and other commodities and foreign aid are stolen outright and pocketed by the thugtators and their army of thugocrats. Public funds are embezzled and misused and state property misappropriated and converted to private use. Publicly-owned assets are virtually given away to supporters in “privatization programs” or secretly held in illegal transactions. Bank loans are given out to front enterprises owned secretly by the thugtators or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business are victimized in shakedowns by thugocrats. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation.
Armageddon: Thugtators’ Nuclear Option
One of the common tricks used by thugtators to cling to power is to terrorize the people with warnings of an impending Armageddon. They say that if they are removed from power, even after 42 years, the sky will fall and the earth will open up and swallow the people. Thugtators sow fear, uncertainty and doubt in the population and use misinformation and disinformation to psychologically defeat, disorient and neutralize the people. Gaddafi thuggish son warned Libya will “spiral into civil war for the next 30 to 40 years and the country’s infrastructure ruined” without the Gadhafi dynasty. He said Libya will be awash in “rivers of blood”. Gadhafi urged his supporters: “This is an opposition movement, a separatist movement which threatens the unity of Libya. We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet. We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”
Zenawi has been talking about “genocide” for years. The 2005 European Union Election Observer Mission in its Final Mission Report strongly chastised Zenawi and his associates for morbid genocide rhetoric:
The end of the campaign became more heated, with parties accusing each other of numerous violations of campaign rules. Campaign rhetoric became insulting. The most extreme example of this came from the Deputy Prime Minister, Addisu Legesse, who, in a public debate on 15 April, compared the opposition parties with the Interhamwe militia, which perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Prime Minister made the same comparison on 5 May in relation to the CUD [Coalition for Unity and Democracy]. The EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] made the same associations during its free slots on radio and TV… Such rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic election.
Zenawi “is quick to talk up threats to his country, whether from malcontents in the army or disgruntled ethnic groups among Ethiopia’s mosaic of peoples. Radical Oromos, a southern group that makes up about a third of Ethiopia’s people, often fall under suspicion.” Last year, he compared Voice of America radio broadcasts to Ethiopia with broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines which directed the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
If Africa’s thugtators plan to use the “nuclear option” and bring Armageddon on their societies, they would be wise to know who is destined to win the final battle between good and evil. Gadhafi’s fate now dangles between what he wants to do to bring this unspeakable tragedy to a swift conclusion, the will of the Libyan people once they vanquish his mercenaries and the International Criminal Court to whom the U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to refer Moammar Gadhafi and members of his government in Libya for investigation and prosecution for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Like al-Bashir of the Sudan, Gadhafi and members of his thugocratic empire will not escape the long arms of justice. The days of massacring unarmed demonstrators, strafing and bombing civilians and detention of innocent people by the tens of thousands with impunity are gone. Justice may be delayed but when the people open the floodgates of freedom, “justice (not blood) will run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” and wash out the wreckage of thugtatorship into the sea.
Thugtators and Their Business Partners in Africorruption, Inc.
Africa’s thugtatorships have longstanding and profitable partnerships with the West. Through aid and trade, the West has enabled these thugocracies to flourish in Africa and repress Africans. To cover up their hypocrisy and hoodwink the people, the West is now lined up to “freeze” the assets of the thugtators. It is a drama they have perfected since the early days of African independence. The fact of the matter is that the West is interested only in “stability” in Africa. That simply means, in any African country, they want a “guy they can do business with.” The business they want to do in Africa is the oil business, the (blood) diamond business, the arms sales business, the coffee and cocoa export business, the tourism business, the luxury goods export business and the war on terrorism business. They are not interested in the African peoples’ business, the human rights business, the rule of law business, the accountability and transparency business and the fair and free elections business.
Today, the West is witnessing a special kind of revolution it has never seen: A youth-led popular nonviolent revolution against thugtatorships in Africa and the Middle East. Neither the West nor the thugtators know what to do with this kind of revolution or the revolutionaries leading it. President Obama said, “History will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt, that we were on the right side of history.” Well, what is good for Egypt is good enough for Ethiopia, Libya, Tunisia, the Sudan, Algeria, Kenya, Bahrain, Djbouti, Somalia…, and Zimbabwe. The decisive question in world history today is: Are we on the right side of history with the victims of oppression, or are we on the wrong side with thugtators destined to the dustbin of history?
Power to Youths in Africa and the Middle East!
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Sudan’s Best and Worst of Times
It is the best of times in the Sudan. It is the worst of times in the Sudan. It is the happiest day in the Sudan. It is the saddest day in the Sudan. It is referendum for the Sudan. It is requiem for Africa.
South Sudan just finished voting in a referendum, part of a deal made in 2005 to end a civil war that dates back over one-half century. The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) says the final results will be announced on February 14; but no one really believes there will be one united Sudan by July 2011. By then, South Sudan will be Africa’s newest state.
In a recent speech at Khartoum University, Thabo Mbeki, former South African president and Chairperson of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel on Sudan, alluded to the causes of the current breakup of the Sudan: “As all of us know, a year ahead of your independence, in 1955, a rebellion broke out in Southern Sudan. The essential reason for the rebellion was that your compatriots in the South saw the impending independence as a threat to them, which they elected to oppose by resorting to the weapons of war.” There is a lot more to the South Sudanese “rebellion” than a delayed rendezvous with the legacy of British colonialism. In some ways it could be argued that the “imperfect” decolonization of the Sudan, which did not necessarily follow the boundaries of ethnic and linguistic group settlement, led to decades of conflict and civil wars and the current breakup.
Many of the problems leading to the referendum are also rooted in post-independence Sudanese history — irreconcilable religious differences, economic exploitation and discrimination. The central Sudanese government’s imposition of “Arabism” and “Islamism” (sharia law) on the South Sudanese and rampant discrimination against them are said to be a sustaining cause of the civil war. South Sudan is believed to hold much of the potential wealth of the Sudan including oil. Yet the majority of South Sudanese people languished in abject poverty for decades, while their northern compatriots benefitted disproportionately.
Whether the people of South Sudan will secede and form their own state is a question only they can decide. They certainly have the legal right under international law to self-determination, a principle enshrined in the U.N. Charter. Their vote will be the final word on the issue. The focus now is on what is likely to happen after South Sudan becomes independent. Those who seem to be in the know sound optimistic. Mbeki says, “Both the Government of Sudan and the SPLM have made the solemn and vitally important commitment that should the people of South Sudan vote for secession, they will work to ensure the emergence and peaceful coexistence of two viable states.” The tea leaves readers and pundits are predicting doom and gloom. They say the Sudan will be transformed into a hardline theocratic state ruled under sharia law. There will be renewed violence in Darfur, South Kurdofan and Eastern Sudan. There will be endless civil wars that will cause more deaths and destruction according to the modern day seers.
To some extent, the pessimism over Sudan’s future may have some merit. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s told the New York Times recently about his post-secession plans: “We’ll change the Constitution. Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the Constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.” Bashir’s plan goes beyond establishing a theocratic state. There will be no tolerance of diversity of any kind in Bashir’s “new Sudan”. He says, “If South Sudan secedes, we will change the Constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity.” Bashir’s warning is not only shocking but deeply troubling. The message undoubtedly will cause great alarm among secularists, Southern Sudanese living in the north who voted for unity and Sudanese of different faiths, viewpoints, beliefs and ideologies. In post-secession Sudan, diversity, tolerance, compromise and reconciliation will be crimes against the state. It is all eerily reminiscent of the ideas of another guy who 70 years ago talked about “organic unity” and the “common welfare of the Volk”. Sudanese opposition leaders are issuing their own ultimata. Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party, issued a demand for a new constitution and elections; in the alternative, he promised to work for the overthrow of Bashir’s regime. Other opposition leaders seem to be following along the same line. There is a rocky road ahead for the Sudan, both south and north.
From Pan-Africanism to Afro-Fascism?
The outcome of the South Sudanese referendum is not in doubt, but where Africa is headed in the second decade of the 21st Century is very much in doubt. Last week, Tunisian dictator Ben Ali packed up and left after 23 years of corrupt dictatorial rule. President Obama “applauded the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people” in driving out the dictator. Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo is still holed up in Abidjan taunting U.N. peacekeepers and playing round-robin with various African leaders. Over in the Horn of Africa, Meles Zenawi is carting off businessmen and merchants to jail for allegedly price-gouging the public and economic sabotage. What in the world is happening to Africa?
When African countries cast off the yoke of colonialism, their future seemed bright and limitless. Independence leaders thought in terms of Pan-Africanism and the political and economic unification of native Africans and those of African heritage into a “global African community”. Pan-Africanism represented a return to African values and traditions in the struggle against neo-colonialism, imperialism, racism and the rest of it. Its core value was the unity of all African peoples.
The founding fathers of post-independence Africa all believed in the dream of African unity. Ethiopia’s H.I.M. Haile Selassie, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Guinea’s Ahmed Sékou Touré, Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser were all declared Pan-Africanists. On the occasion of the establishment of the permanent headquarters of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa on May 25, 1963, H.I.M. Haile Selassie made the most compelling case for African unity:
We look to the vision of an Africa not merely free but united. In facing this new challenge, we can take comfort and encouragement from the lessons of the past. We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy different cultures, distinctive values, special attributes. But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity…. Our efforts as free men must be to establish new relationships, devoid of any resentment and hostility, restored to our belief and faith in ourselves as individuals, dealing on a basis of equality with other equally free peoples.
Pan-Africanism is dead. A new ideology today is sweeping over Africa. Africa’s home grown dictators are furiously beating the drums of “tribal nationalism” all over the continent to cling to power. In many parts of Africa today ideologies of “ethnic identity”, “ethnic purity,” “ethnic homelands”, ethnic cleansing and tribal chauvinism have become fashionable. In Ivory Coast, an ideological war has been waged over ‘Ivoirité (‘Ivorian-ness’) since the 1990s. Proponents of this perverted ideology argue that the country’s problems are rooted in the contamination of genuine Ivorian identity by outsiders who have been allowed to freely immigrate into the country. Immigrants, even those who have been there for generations, and refugees from the neighboring countries including Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Liberia are singled out and blamed for the country’s problems and persecuted. Professor Gbagbo even tried to tar and feather the winner of the recent election Alassane Ouattara (whose father is allegedly Burkinabe) as a not having true Ivorian identity. Gbagbo has used religion to divide Ivorians regionally into north and south.
In Ethiopia, tribal politics has been repackaged in a fancy wrapper called “ethnic federalism.” Zenawi has segregated the Ethiopian people by ethno-tribal classification like cattle in grotesque regional political units called “kilils” (reservations) or glorified apartheid-style Bantustans or tribal homelands. This sinister perversion of the concept of federalism has enabled a few cunning dictators to oppress, divide and rule some 80 million people for nearly two decades. South of the border in Kenya, in the aftermath of the 2007 elections, over 600 thousand Kenyans were displaced as a result of ethnic motivated hatred and violence. Over 1,500 were massacred. Kenya continues to arrest and detain untold numbers of Ethiopian refugees that have fled the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi. What more can be said about Rwanda that has not already been said.
It is not only the worst-governed African countries that are having problems with “Africanity”. South Africa has been skating on the slippery slope of xenophobia. Immigrants from Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have been attacked by mobs. According to a study by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP): “The ANC government – in its attempts to overcome the divides of the past and build new forms of social cohesion… embarked on an aggressive and inclusive nation-building project. One unanticipated by-product of this project has been a growth in intolerance towards outsiders… Violence against foreign citizens and African refugees has become increasingly common and communities are divided by hostility and suspicion.” Among the member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), South Africans expressed the harshest and most punitive anti-foreigner sentiments in the study. How ironic for a country that was under apartheid less than two decades ago.
Whether it is the “kilil” ideology practiced in Ethiopia or the “Ivorite” of Ivory Coast, the central aim of these weird ideologies is to enable power hungry and bloodthirsty African dictators to cling to power by dividing Africans along ethnic, linguistic, tribal, racial and religious lines. Fellow Africans are foreigners to be arrested, jailed, displaced, deported and blamed for whatever goes wrong under the watch of the dictators. The old Pan-African ideas of common African history, suffering, struggle, heritage and legacy are gone. There is no unifying sense African brotherhood or sisterhood. Africa’s contemporary leaders, or more appropriately, hyenas in designer suits and uniforms, have made Africans strangers to each other and rendered Africa a “dog-eat-dog” continent.
In 2009, in Accra, Ghana, President Obama blasted identity politics as a canker in the African body politics:
We all have many identities – of tribe and ethnicity; of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century…. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many.
For what little it is worth, for the last few years I have preached from my cyber soapbox against those in Africa who have used the politics of ethnicity to cling to power. I firmly believe that our humanity is more important than our ethnicity, nationality, sovereignty or even Africanity! As an unreformed Pan-Africanist, I also believe that Africans are not prisoners to be kept behind tribal walls, ethnic enclaves, Ivorite, kilils, Bantustans, apartheid or whatever divisive and repressive ideology is manufactured by dictators, but free men and women who are captains of their destines in one un-walled Africa that belongs to all equally. “Tear down the walls of tribalism and ethnicity in Africa,” I say.
It is necessary to come up with a counter-ideology to withstand the rising tide of Afro-Fascism. Perhaps we can learn from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s ideas of “Ubuntu”, the essence of being human. Tutu explained: “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” I believe “Ubuntu” provides a sound philosophical basis for the development of a human rights culture for the African continent based on a common African belief of “belonging to a greater whole.” To this end, Tutu taught, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” More specifically, Africa.
“Afri-Cans” and “Afri-Cannots”
As for South Sudan, the future holds many dangers and opportunities. Africans have fought their way out of colonialism and become independent. Some have seceded from the post-independence states, but it is questionable if they have succeeded. How many African countries are better off today than they were prior to independence? Before secession? As the old saying goes: “Be careful what you wish for. You may receive it.” We wish the people of South and North Sudan a future of hope, peace, prosperity and reconciliation.
I am no longer sure if Afri-Cans are able to “unite for the benefit of their people”, as Bob Marley pleaded. But I am sure that Afri-Cannot continue to have tribal wars, ethnic domination, corruption, inflation and repression as Fela Kuti warned, and expect to be viable in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century. In 1963, H.I.M. Haile Selassie reminded his colleagues:
Today, Africa has emerged from this dark passage [of colonialism]. Our Armageddon is past. Africa has been reborn as a free continent and Africans have been reborn as free men…. Those men who refused to accept the judgment passed upon them by the colonisers, who held unswervingly through the darkest hours to a vision of an Africa emancipated from political, economic, and spiritual domination, will be remembered and revered wherever Africans meet…. Their deeds are written in history.
It is said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. I am afraid Africa’s Armageddon is yet to come. Africa has been re-enslaved by home grown dictators, and Africans have become prisoners of thugs, criminals, gangsters, fugitives and outlaws who have seized and cling to power like parasitic ticks on a milk cow. Cry for the beloved continent!