By Tafi Mhaka
Libya has experienced nothing but war and brutality since the reign of King Idris I started in 1951. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi deposed the monarch in a bloodless coup in 1969. Under Gaddafi, or ‘Brotherly Leader,’ as he loved to be called then, oil-rich Libya was ruled by decree for an astonishing 42 years.
When Libya finally had a taste of democracy in 2012, civil war broke out in the desert nation of 6 million, and two centres of power based in Tobruk and the capital Tripoli surfaced. Libya remains utterly chaotic till this day, and plenty of armed Islamist militias are thriving there, in what seemingly appears to be a failed state.
So, it is surprising to note Libya had the wonderful honour of chairing the African Union (AU) in 2009. One of the stated objectives of the AU is “to promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance”. How did the chairmanship of Gaddafi promote the aforementioned aims in Libya – or Africa?
For all of his philanthropy and support of liberation movements in Africa – Gaddafi was no democrat himself. He brooked no dissent to his absolute rule and basically quashed opposition protests or tried and hanged dissidents. Gaddafi certainly did nothing to embrace or nurture an embryonic democratic dispensation in Libya.
But his brand of leadership was not unique in nature or practice. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who led the AU in 2011, is the longest serving leader in the world. He has ruled the central African nation for 37 years.
That is quite an achievement for the man who started his long reign by staging a coup and ordering the execution of his uncle, Francois Macias Nguema, the first president of Equatorial Guinea, in September 1979. Obiang was elected President in 1982 and re-elected in 1989 and 1992 – as the only candidate. He won elections in 1996 and 2002 with an incredibly sky-high 98 percent of the ‘popular vote’.
The people of the Equatorial Guinea must really enjoy his autocratic rule – or they do not have much of a real say in the political affairs of the country. But does the AU care that Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of Obiang and Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president, is currently standing trial in France for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from government coffers? He has purportedly stashed away hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten fortunes in overseas banks, and ostensibly holds enviable portfolios of upmarket real estate in France, America and elsewhere.
Does the AU believe that Obiang, a former chairman of the continental body, is not a dictator? Can the leaders of the AU not see that oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is a tightly controlled nation that is brimming with deep poverty?
Perhaps the democratic credentials of Obiang and Gaddafi represent the real nature of African democracy. Look at Egypt for a moment. It has been embroiled in a vicious cycle of military dictatorships and pseudo democratic dispensations for decades on end. The Arab Spring and election of Mohamed Morsi provided brief and minor distractions for the anti-democratic forces in Cairo: The Egyptian Army. The removal of a fragile Hosni Mubarak in 2011 merely made room for General Abdel el-Sisi to become the latest military officer to lead the most populous Arab nation on earth.
Is Egypt still a member of the AU in good standing though? Oh, yes it is. Has the AU suspended Egypt for the illegal and undemocratic removal of Mohamed Morsi in 2013? No: of course not. Has the AU called upon Egypt to hold free and fair elections? No. Has the AU released a statement calling on Egypt to release hundreds of imprisoned journalists and political activists? No – it has not at all. But Egypt had a one-month stint as head of the AU Peace and Security Council in September 2016.
So President Sisi might lead the AU any day now. That is the African way. You can ask the people of Angola about the African way of manipulating democracy, seemingly for peace and national unity and establishing perfect dictatorships. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos led the former Portuguese colony of Angola for 37 years as well. Interestingly, for a country that gained independence in 1975, Dos Santos presided over the first multiparty elections held in mineral-rich Angola in 1992. So for 13 years Angola had an unelected leader at the helm of the country.
And there is the small matter of Isabel dos Santos. She is actually the richest lady in Africa and just happens to be the daughter of – yes, you guessed right – the former president of Angola. Forbes Magazine estimates she has a current net worth of US$3.2 billion dollars.
Democracy in Africa is floundering about as personality-driven fanatical cults and military dictatorships destroy African societies and thwart social and economic progress at the shrine of social and political conservatism. When will boatloads of refugees fleeing famine and political instability in Africa cease to invade the waters of the Mediterranean Sea permanently? And when will democracy in Africa deliver happiness and financial and social security for all and sundry?