When the Egyptian military stated their intention to intervene in the ongoing political saga in the country and eventually stepped in, many Africans must have been taken back to the 70s, 80s and 90s when military coups were rampant. Also interestingly, Barack Obama, during his recent Africa tour, justified his choice of Senegal because the country had never experienced a military coup. These raise a few questions: Have African military coups always been bad? Why is the world so lukewarm towards the Egyptian “coup”? Are there circumstances that would warrant a coup in a sub-Saharan Africa in this day and age? What should be the role of the military in nation building?
With most of the continent now being governed by democratically elected leaders in contrast to those decades when military seizure of power was the order of the day, we could perhaps pat ourselves on the back on how much we have progressed in terms of democracy. Yes, there are leaders who have overstayed their welcome, there are rigged elections, there is corruption and all the rest but the question I ask is whether the military fared better while in power.
In Nigeria, for example, where the military were in charge from 1966-1979 and them from 1983-2000, the reason often cited by the men in uniform for toppling democratically elected leaders included corruption and mismanagement of the economy. However, a close scrutiny will reveal that military regimes practiced the best (worst) form of Kleptocracy, and that they have failed to deliver on the economy and development. If military regimes really worked, Nigeria would probably be the most developed place in the world.
President Goodluck Jonathan has commended the Nigerian Army for staying put in their barracks for the past 14 years.
— Nigeria Newsdesk (@NigeriaNewsdesk) July 7, 2013
If we then decide to keep them completely away from governance, what should then be their roles? Could they be guardians of the constitution? Democracy watchdogs? Disciplinarians? Or should they all return to the barracks waiting to take orders from their civilian commander-in-chief? With no imminent external enemies, should they be kept busy in other areas of nation building such as construction? In places where internal threats exist such as Boko Haram, would that be their main concern?
Seeing no future for military intervention in politics, some Nigerian Generals decided to swap their military gears to plain clothes and contest political posts. Interestingly, they still command a huge popularity: The main opposition leader is a former General and same with the former president. What is it that attract people to them? Is it that they have better leadership qualities? Is it that we cherish authoritative individuals? What has the situation been like elsewhere in the continent.
Given what has happened in Egypt, can we justify any other military intervention in the continent? Can they, for example, cite terrorism, failure to tackle electricity/power supply, rigged elections, slow pace of development, religious extremism, etc as reasons to strike again? How would we react?
How should we treat ex military leaders? Is it acceptable to name a major international airport after a man who violently seized power from another? Why do we honor some of them and not the others? Will anyone consider naming a university after the brutal dictator Sani Abacha? Why would someone consider voting for someone who forcefully terminated another democratically elected leader? Do we have mechanisms in place to ensure these guys do not seize power in future?
What would be your reaction if you tuned into your radio tomorrow morning to hear the following:
Fellow Wazobians! I, Brigadier Ibrahim Tukur of the Armed Forces hereby announce the suspension of the constitution and the inauguration of a Supreme Military Council….With immediate effect, all airports and seaports closed….