What’s On My Mind: African Dictators and the People

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 3, 2014


They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time. If that is the case, there must be a lot of insane leaders on the African continent. While other leaders around the world are coming to grips with shared leadership (Democracy), African leaders are set on self-destruction as a political strategy. It seems like they come to power with one understanding: Winner takes all for ever and ever and to heck with the rest.... The same old story repeats itself with alarming similarity from one country to the other. When will these people learn? Why do they refuse to learn? Why do the refuse to adapt to new ideas, even if those ideas are foreign? Why do they insist on putting their personal interests above national interests? Why do they seem content on getting richer and richer while the masses linger in abject poverty?

The first military coup in Africa (among the newly independent countries that had been French and British colonies), happened in Togo in January of 1963. President Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated by military officers; he was shot in the back. One of the leaders of the military, the one who claimed to have shot the president himself, was Gnassingbe Eyadema. After Olympio was overthrown, a civilian government was installed before it too was overthrown four years later. Togo's military leader who engineered and headed the coup was Gnassingbe Eyadema; he became the new ruler. He ruled the country from 1967 to 2005; 42 years in office!

One would think that forty-two years would be enough, but not for Eyadema. He manipulated the parliament into accepting his son as his successor. The constitution had previously stipulated that the age for eligibility for ascension to the presidency was 45. There was a problem; Eyadema's son was not yet 45 and Eyadema was dying and could not convince Old Man Death to wait indefinitely, but he could convince his country's parliament to change the law. So they did, to honor his request. The age for requirement was lowered to 35 and Eyadema's son qualified. He became acting president after his father's death, then stepped down to allow an election to be held; he won the election and has been president of Togo since 2005.

So imagine the scenario: The country, Togo, has been an independent country for the past 54 years. A man named Eyadema has ruled the country for over 50 years! Even when the senior Eyadema was not president, he was the most senior military man. Can we assume the country has had a one-man rule during its entire existence as an independent country? That assumption would not be far off the mark.

Scenarios such as this are common all over the continent. For example, Libya's Kaddafi was ruler of his country for nearly 42 years. He was grooming his sons for succession when he was unceremoniously killed, along with his sons.  It will be recalled that Kaddafi had led a military coup against a king; he had overthrown a monarchy with the promise of restoring or establishing democracy in the country. He never delivered on the promise.

In the Republic of Gabon Albert Bernard Bongo became Vice President to President Leon M'ba in 1966. When M'ba died, Bongo succeeded him. He was President from then until 2009. Sometime in between then, he had become Elhadj Omar Bongo Ondima; same man, different name. After 42 years of running the country, he was succeeded by his son. Junior Boy has run the country as president since Papa's death. Is it fair to assume that they see the entire country as belonging to them?

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbassogo has been President of Equatorial Guinea for the last 31 years.
Jose Eduardo Santos has ruled Angola for 31 years.
Robert Mugabe has been in control of Zimbabwe for 30 years.
Paul Biya has 28 years under his belt as President of Cameroon.
Sudan's strongman, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been at the helm for the last 28 years.
The Congo Republic has been under the leadership of Denis Sasson Nguesso for 26 years.
 Uganda's Yoweri Musseveni has run the country for a quarter of a century.

Beside the extraordinary length of term in office, there are other extraordinary stories behind these African leaders who seize the opportunity for themselves and deny it to everyone else. It is difficult to figure out what makes them uniquely qualified to run these governments while the rest of the country looks on from the sidelines.

In Algeria, for example, President Abdulazeez Boutelflika is 77 years old. He is Head of State, Chief Executive Officer, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He is said to have experienced several heart attacks and he ran and won a presidential campaign while in a wheel chair; he was sworn into office while in a wheel chair. At one point they say he wasn't seen in public for three years... he is already the country's longest-serving president. It is obvious that he intends to die in office.

In Chad, the Republic of Chad that is, President Idriss Derby came to office in 1990. He has survived several rebellions against his regime. He has managed to get parliament to pass a law abolishing the term limit. It should seem obvious that he also wants to die in office.


So what is it with these African leaders who come to power with the same mentality, to suppress the citizenry and their liberties as they hold on to power? Is it all about greed? Is all about personal and family stature? What goes on in the psyches of these African leaders that drive them to derive the same conclusions about themselves, their countries and their fellow citizens?

Well, as sad as the African story is, politically, there are occasional triumphs by the people. Every now and then, the people awake from their usual slumber and cast away their complacent nature to take control of their lives and claim their thrones. This last week it happened in Burkina Faso. The people arose and exerted what is commonly referred to as "people power" and the military had no choice but to listen and act accordingly; President Blaise Compaore was booted out of office and run out of town... he was last spotted in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast.

Blaise Compaore's mindset was similar to the common one exhibited by African leaders and described above. He came to power in 1987 after staging a military coup in-house against his buddy and comrade, Thomas Sankara. No one knows what his intentions were at the time of the coup; maybe he had the country's people at heart. Maybe he had dreamt of changing things for the better. But somehow, in twenty-seven years, he came to lose his way. All of a sudden at some point, it all became about him, not the country.

We know he has a checkered record. He has worked in close alliance with Libya's Kadhafi who was seen by many as a destabilizer, instead of a constructive actor on the African stage... though it must be admitted he had his admirers. Liberians will remember Blaise Compaore collaborated with Ivorian President Boigny to undermine the Liberian government headed by Samuel K. Doe. Burkina Faso became the conduit through which Charles Taylor launched his war against Doe. Financed by Khadafi through Compaore, and using Charles Taylor as a front, the Liberian nation was forced to change course in a way not necessarily sanctioned or approved by the Liberian masses. Blaise Compaore was the power behind the Charles Taylor war machine. After the demise of Boigny and the imprisonment of Charles Taylor by the International Court at The Hague, and the killing of Kaddafi, he might have begun to see himself as untouchable.

Last week he ran out of luck. He decided to bluff or force his way through the parliament by manipulating the national legislature into passing a law to amend the constitution to extend his term in office. All of a sudden, the sleeping masses awoke en masse. There is one institution that works from time to time to check dictatorships and enforce democracy; that institution is called the mob; yes, the mob. For the sake of readers who may not understand the context in which I use the word mob, let me provide the dictionary definitions, according to dictionary.com:
1. Disorderly or riotous crowd of people
2. A crowd bent on or engaged in lawless violence
3. Any group or collection of persons or things
4. The common people; the masses; populace or multitude
5. Criminal gang, especially one involved in drug trafficking; extortion

The reason for my clarification is that there are those who come to associate the word "mob" with just the fifth definition, i.e. the Italian variety. I'm specifically using the word in context of the fourth definition given above, which makes it one of my favorite words. I like the idea of the mob coming to our rescue, and there are many examples of the mob living up to the reputation of being defenders of the people. In Africa, with such leaders as listed above, we need the mob. Let's not ever count the mob out, especially when we have such crazy and greedy leaders as we have on the continent. Last week they delivered in Burkina Faso. Next week, where will they show up?  My fervent hope is that the beloved African institution, the mob, would show up more often and act more decisively in delivering the people from the devilish claws of the dictators. The message to the so-called African leaders is simple: Watch out, there is a mob near you and you don't know when it will spring into action. You might be its next victim as you bite the dust.

Author: Theodore Hodge can be reached at imthodge@gmail.com

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Considering human nature, and POLITICS, we would not say these African leaders are insane! They are selfish and greedy with A FIXED BENT ON INERTIA! Their employers( big powers´ leaders) are compelled to practice democracy while ensuring one man rule or at least, cabalism in the Third World!

HENCE, African leaders serve as puppets for multinational interests and their (MNC´S)agents or western leaders who see an African leader "adapting to new ideas of shared democracy" as AN ENEMY to BIG POWERS´ policy or their colonial policy of ever ensuring that power is placed in the hands of an individual, a family, or at least a very tiny group!

If Quadafi had reduced himself to big powers´ (economic and political or ideological) puppet or at least just one big power´s (economic and political or ideological) puppet, he would have been in power today inspite or despite his being a dictator! Mubarak, Campaore,Tubman Eyadema,Omar Bongo, Mobutu, followed By Kabilla and his (Kabilla´s) son Joseph Kabilla.

Thus, insanity must be actually or rightly imputed to those educated bretheren of the masses who cannot decipher the cancerous or pesticizing dangers of a given "suporting cast" or the deceptions of those given incumbent leaders of the big capitals (Paris, Washnigton, London, Moscow, Beijing, Abuja)! Just imagine Isaac Nyenabo a soc alled Liberian lawmaker serving as Executve puppet.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 04:30AM, 2014/11/03.
Harry Conway
And the tragedy of all these long years in power is looting of the national treasury only to starch their loot away in foreign banks from which the very country impoverished goes to borrow at high interest rate, and thereby entrapping the nation perpetually in debt and poverty. Because most often than not, the end of these despots is disastrous they cannot access the funds they stole from their people. Where is Mbotu's money? Where is Kadafi's money? Where is Abacha's money? Idi Amin die in penury clothing an old radio in Saudi Arabia.

God, where are you?
Harry Conway at 05:10AM, 2014/11/03.
Very good writing, but you did not need my affirmation. Anyway, mopping the floor does not solve the problem of a leaky roof. Therefore what is our problem in Africa?

What's a real fix?
Efessayf at 12:12PM, 2014/11/03.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Efessay, finding the solution to a problem or getting rid of an infection is GETTING RID OF THE PROBLEM OR DESTROYING THE SOURCE OF THE INFECTION. Cut-up the heads of "the supporting casts" from country to country and their Masters or employers within the big capitals and multinational enterprises SHALL get the message and heed to the dictates of democracy as they do at home; instead of practicing democracy at home while erecting dictatorships and kletocracies in small countries!The Jerry Rwalings equation or solution (which made America to categorize Ghana as the best country in Africa) is an overwhelming evidence and or a proof beyond all reasonable doubts!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 03:28AM, 2014/11/04.
Theodore Hodge

Sorry, Mr. Zoedjallah, with all due respect but that's not the solution I had in mind. That solution might be too much of a quick fix. We must not take the risk of not clearly defining the problem before imposing a fix. We do so at our own risk...too simplistic.

Cutting off heads may appeal to our lower centers of our brains (emotions) but we must appeal to our higher senses (judgment). It requires critical thinking. Together we could find better solutions. We owe it to ourselves...

Efessayf, you pose a difficult question, but a good one. I intend to address that in due course to share my two-cent's worth. Thank you.
Theodore Hodge at 10:26AM, 2014/11/04.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Equally sorry, Mr. Hodge. With all due courtesy, it would be too simplistic, or in fact, extremely naive on your part to entertain the belief that what a commentator (in this case you Mr. Hodge) has on mind must or may be what another has on mind or may even qualify for relevance!!! If Cutting off heads were "confined to the lower centers of our brains" as you so simplemindedly conclude, then cutting off heads would have not produced such progressive results in Ghana nor would the solution of cutting off heads be so respected in the realm and implementation of law and justice in democratic societies!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 03:36AM, 2014/11/05.
Harry Conway
Mr. Zoedjallah, if cutting of heads is so effective a solution, then why has our beloved Liberia continue to struggle despite all the heads cutting, particularly from 1979 'Rice Riot'?

Does just killing people without given them the opportunity to defend themselves the way to go? How does it ensure the country gets restitution of the looted resources? Better still, how does it correct injustice committed against the state and others when a person is dead?

I am just wondering….
Harry Conway at 06:17AM, 2014/11/05.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah

Your "beloved Liberia continues to struggle despite all the heads cutting, particularly from 1979 'Rice Riot'" because all of the heads cutting that were done were non-existent of the required constitutional xylem (JUSTICE) and legitimate national purpose (FAIRNESS).In short, those head cutting were done for purely individual and selfish AND ELITISTS´ desires!PERIOD!!!

Thus, When we articulate about cutting of heads and make references to Ghana, other democratic societies, and the realm of law and justice, we expect participants on this site and elsewhere to THINK NOT ABOUT THE MAO-MAO OR THE ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF FINANCED CUTTING OF HEADS TO FULFILL HER NATIVE DOCTOR´S PROPHECY THAT SHE "WILL BE GREAT". BUT RATHER:

(a) appreciate and or understand that we are "talking" about the cutting of heads (firing squads or the gallows) required by THE LIBERIAN CONSTITUTION through criminal law and its processes or the law of public order where those indicted (for crimes against the State or Nation or in totality, the Liberian humanity) are prosecuted

(b)within the compelling confines of CONSTITUTIONAL LEGAL STANDARDS AND TESTS and not by some kangaroo tribunals as that of the Frank Sekpeni tribunal upon the manipulation of the PRC AND ITS INITIAL GOVERNMENT, and their then employers in Washington. Nor are we thinking about;

(c) the barbaric and salvage cutting of heads commanded and supervised by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Samuel K.Doe, Roosevelt Johnson, Tom Woewiyu, Prince Johnson, Alhaji Kromah, George Boley, Charles Taylor etc.etc.!

Mr. Conway, again, when we sound out the cutting of heads, we are talking about holding perpetrators ( principals and accessories,"the supporting cast" etc. etc.) accountable for their crimes against the nation or state while ENSURING that PROCEDURAL RIGHTS ARE A VEHICLE FOR THE EXERCISE OF THE DEFENDANT´S SUBSTANTIVE RIGHTS; since destruction of such legal, legitimate, and constitutional vehicle is bound to prevent full and fair exercise of the substantive rights.

Finally, Mr. Conway and Mr. Hodge, fairness is to justice what methodology is to science: a means which may not always produce a sure and certain result but without which no valid or reliable result can be attained! Hence, it has been the failure of your people to heed to the dictates of fairness being to justice as methodology being to science and especially the evil and foolish decisions of the likes of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her head cutting for power and money, which has caused your "beloved Liberia to continue to struggle despite all the heads cutting, particularly from 1979 'Rice Riot'"!

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 04:21AM, 2014/11/06.
Harry Conway
Mr. Zoedjallah,
How can you suggest using the John Jerry Rawlings solution which the entire world knows was not constitutional, neither legitimate, and yet say what you are advocating is via constitutional legitimacy? This is one type of the problems Liberia faces. You cannot even admit what you are advocating is used of violence, but elect to deceive yourself with mumble-jumble words.

When you stop clouding your utterances with bitter emotions, I am sure you will be able to proffer logical and understandable positions, and not the confused rambling you have here.
Harry Conway at 08:13AM, 2014/11/06.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Mr. Conway,

From wrongly digesting the literal instead of the figurative(thinking we meant "cutting off heads literally rather than figuratively), you are now seeking sancturay under a punitive and deterrent example (in Ghana - the death penalty) - which was simply mentioned because of its progressive results as a response to your concern above and in quotation hereunder:

"And the tragedy of all these long years in power is looting of the national treasury only to starch their loot away in foreign banks from which the very country impoverished goes to borrow at high interest rate, and thereby entrapping the nation perpetually in debt and poverty."

In other words, Mr. Conway, our examples were never or are not Limited to Ghana. Nor were they necessarily about Ghana. But rather to drive home the point to you that such solution as difficult or almost impossible as it may seem to find, can be attained via legitimate means through highly deterrent prosecutorial measures (eg. the death penalty) as was done in Ghana and as done in other democratic societies.

So Mr. Hodge, our perspective here has nothing to do with "violence" or "bitter emotions". Rather, my dear, our perspective is directed at the solution to the issue raised By you - how to halt or at least minimize "those in power looting of the national treasury only to starch their loot away in foreign banks from which the very country impoverished goes to borrow at high interest rate, and thereby entrapping the nation perpetually in debt and poverty."???

And the most appropriate solution to such issue, or problem, is for a nation or a people to utilize the very laws of the land to hold those accountable or liable for such criminal offenses which, if we may inscribe your concern, leaves the entire "country impoverished goes to borrow at high interest rate, and thereby entrapping the nation perpetually in debt and poverty."

Accordingly,Mr.Conway,and Mr. Hodge, this is what "critical thinking" IS! And not (a)limiting one´s focus to the surface, (b)poorly mistaking the pursuit of law and justice for "violence and bitter meotions," nor (c)bizarrely digesting LITERALLY a FIGURATIVE articulation - death penalty for its literal meaning - "cutting off heads" as you have done here bizarrely!

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 04:18AM, 2014/11/07.
Harry Conway
How can one assumed from your write-up that you were speaking figuratively when there is absolutely nothing in it to indicate such?

If this is not ludicrous at best, then I don't know what it is.

My advice to you is, if you don't believe in a position, don't say it. Simple and short.
Harry Conway at 05:32AM, 2014/11/07.

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