Condemn African dictators for undermining democracy
“Please explain this to me like I’m a five year old.” I guess this can be said about nearly every decision that I read about African politics, but this one is one of those decisions that makes vomit fill my mouth and the ground below my feet feel shaky.
This July, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza stole a third term and changed his country’s constitution despite great opposition from his own party — claiming that his first term did not count on the grounds that he was appointed by Parliament rather than being elected by popular vote. At a hearing in D.C., I was sitting behind a panel of experts — all attempting to promote reconciliation to avoid yet another outburst of ethnic violence in the central African country. Don’t get me wrong — violence and ethnic violence aren’t always erupting in central Africa. But when certain violations of the law occur, one must recognize the potential for the renewal of violence. At least 200 people have been killed in wthe aftermath of the elections, and tens of thousands have fled to other countries, according to an Oct. 22 Guardian article. Burundians reached and met the deadline to turn in weapons.
In this particular case, the violence in Burundi has yet to take on the ethnic elements that characterized the conflict twenty years ago. Travel just across the border to the neighboring country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where you will see an equally horrifying abuse of the system of procedural democracy.
In order to appease democracy, President Joseph Kabila is doing everything in his power to make his actions appear constitutional. With the same logic, Kabila is doing everything in his power to remain in office as long as humanly possible.
He has served the country for nearly 15 years, with the first five years serving as a transitional term. Kabila’s term is set to expire late next year, and the leader is not giving any indication of leaving anytime soon. In fact, Kabila is practicing what Congo intellectuals call “glissement,” a French word meaning slippage. In other words, Kabila will create the political opportunity to further postpone elections. And there is no indication to suggest he is slipping in this endeavor.
According to a Oct. 29 Reuters article, in an attempt to resolve the “political anarchy” of the state, Kabila extended his power through the country. This foul attempt was demonstrated by Kabila appointing representatives to head provincial governments in 19 different states. This would allow the central government greater control over revenue and security in the region prior to elections.
However, Kabila is not anywhere near the worst of the worst. This specific prize is reserved for Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The political leader rose to prominence in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and his concurrent successes as a general in the Rwandan Patriotic Front — a Tutsi army that saved Rwanda from itself and its genocide.
The military genius’s success may be tied to what General Romeo Dallaire described as Kagame “being a master of psychological warfare.” However, this mastery of psychological warfare should not extend to constitutional affairs.
Like other fellow central African countries, Rwanda is set for elections very soon, and its long-standing political leader’s term is coming to an end. An Oct. 29 Reuters article cited increasing support for Kagame’s bid at an extended term. In fact, on Oct. 29, the Lower Parliament voted to extend his time in office beyond two terms, perhaps even until 2034, as Kagame saved the country from the genocide. The decision must be put before the upper house and put to a referendum vote. However, there is no evidence to suggest that either of these measures would fail.
This is further reaffirmed by the complete and total lack of lack political freedoms in Rwanda. Freedom House, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote freedom worldwide, ranks the country’s freedom of press as “not free.” Furthermore, in a Feb. 2 report the organization cites a more apparent trend as leaders in east Africa are decreasing political freedoms as leaders are resorting largely to political control.
If that isn’t enough, Kagame seriously needs to question whether the measures he has taken — largely to ignore the concept of democracy — are sufficient to prevent the eruption of further mass atrocities upon this contentious election period. By making it illegal to speak about ethnicity, Kagame is largely papering over the cracks of a much larger problem.
Despite all this, it wouldn’t be surprising if those in the West simply ignored the action despite its condemnations of the unconstitutional move. In a March/April 2014 magazine article, POLITICO calls Kagame “the darling tyrant.” While some know Kagame as the political leader who committed grievous atrocities, others, like Bill Clinton, call Kagame one of “the greatest leaders of our time.”
All told, five-year-olds follow the rules with a greater frequency than these bastards. You cannot cheat at the game because you only have so many lives. Even the West’s darling shouldn’t be able to get away with this.