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Lessons for FDC from Gambia

Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow (C) gesturing to the crowd in Kololi

THE LAST WORD: By Andrew M. Mwenda

Accusations based on Jammeh’s personality shouldn’t obscure the politics

On December 01 the President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, lost an election and went on television and conceded defeat. He also called the victor, Adama Barrow, and congratulated him saying he has no ill will and will be pleased to help him in any way. Having taken power by a military coup and ruled that tiny West African nation for 22 years, no one expected Jammeh to concede gracefully.

However, the leader of the opposition coalition – who is not the president-elect, announced they were going to prosecute Jammeh for crimes he committed while in office. A week after conceding Jammeh reversed his position, said elections had been rigged called for a fresh vote. This turnaround has been widely condemned and may push that country into violent conflict.

We are likely not going to hear the inside story of what happened. Across the board, the argument will likely be personal to Jammeh: that he is a weird character and that he is a power hungry megalomaniac. But over the years I have learnt that these accusations that are entirely based on the personalities of our leaders often tend to obscure rather than illuminate our understanding of our politics.

With the sole exception of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, the Western media and its cheer leaders in Africa (including old ole me) have accused almost every president in Africa of being power hungry. But why is it the 54 nations of Africa that produce power hungry leaders? Why doesn’t Norway, or Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, UK, France or Germany – also produce a power hungry leader once in a while who amends the constitution to remove term limits or stages a military coup?

There is something all the nations I have mentioned in Western Europe, North America and Australia share – they have all been industrialised and institutionalised over centuries, and are urbanised with a high per capita income and standards of living. There is also something the nations of Africa share. They are largely agrarian societies, with low levels of institutionalisation of power, limited urbanisation, low per capita income, and low standards of living.

Therefore, I suspect that our nations’ politics is not dysfunctional. It is a reflection of poverty and low levels of institutionalisation of power. Indeed, all too often power has changed hands by military coups, elections, armed struggle, popular insurrections, death or retirement of an incumbent president. Yet with the sole exception of post genocide Rwanda, there has not been any fundamental change in governance in spite of many changes in government.

Over the years, I have developed a suspicion that Africa is going through a phase of development and what we are seeing as governance dysfunctions are inevitable aspects of political development. It does make sense to blame a child for behaving like an infant. This argument does not sit well with missionary politics that hold that leaders should just behave themselves regardless of the circumstances.


  1. I have been a regular commentator on this page for quite some time – to be exact, it is four years now. I have surely caused some attractions whether they being true or false. The constant (k) in all my comments has been “inference.” There is no doubt that over the years I could have misread or misinterpreted Mwenda’s articles but that weight quickly “shifts” to the writer the moment I make my views known. I am making this particular remark because I feel my views and some other are being neglected by this column. It’s not the first time that Mwenda expresses similar views about democracy and development, this very article is a fusillade of so many others that he has penned before. Mwenda has continuously pegged development/industrialisation as the precondition for “democracy.” I have deliberately written democracy in quotes for fear that my definition of the word might not be Mwenda’s or any other for that matter.

    I should, therefore, put a disclaimer from the onset, that my comment today is purely for the purposes of understanding and not an argumentative race. After reading this article and to help myself understand Mwenda’s station and guide my further reading, I formulated three questions – 1) Is democracy a moral issue? 2) Is policy a money issue? 3) Is democracy a question of fact? These questions are expansive and in this context I will use them as “framers” to my comment and not treat them as research questions due to the time within which I have to respond and the nature of this platform. Democracy being a moral issue, the assumption is that we are talking about human behaviour, where that behaviour is thought of as having its origin in choices that human beings make. To understand the point of differentiating between ‘free’ and ‘unfree’, is a matter of differentiating “right” from “wrong.” Those who have had the benefit of a higher education and feel themselves better equipped to solve the nation’s problems than the average may find it distasteful to submit to the natural law and as Aquinas put it, that the reason of man unaided can construct the law as It ought to be. If this view is right then every man has equivalent power of
    reasoning and strength of mind to subdue the baser faculties of feeling and emotion, there can be no objection to morality being a matter for the popular vote.

    About policy, there are three “enablers” of policy. There should be bureaucracy: the power to enact it, there should be clear communication which involves the judiciary for interpretation and legislature and finally the resources which must be integrated with existing processes and agencies, without causing extensive disruption, competition, or conflict. I will talk about the Chinese Confucian policy/tradition that dominated that society until the end of the nineteenth century. There were lawyers in China then, but they were to be appealed to as last resort simply
    because they were few in comparison to the general population and expensive. The Confucian thought was not a curtailment of justice, it was an “appropriate” method of justice at the time. (I have so far made no “connexion” between development/industrialisation and democracy.)

    I have given quick snippets into my first two questions simply to draw bigger attention to my third and final question- ‘Is democracy a question of fact?’ or, Is it a question of method? (I seek for the readers patience here.)

    Mwenda’s ‘allusions’ or ‘postulation’ or ‘chants’ that all “democratised” nations have long been
    “industrialised” for centuries brings in elements of “exclusivity” or “inclusivity” into the argument. Is it for a fact that all industrialised nations are democracies? or that, all democracies are industrialised nations? If we find that there are “exceptions” to these questions then there
    should be another explanation that annuls this “contradiction.” Let me bring it closer to home. If there is a general allegation that in Uganda for one to be an army general has to come from
    “Western Uganda”, however, there is one army general who is from “Central Uganda”. Then the once held “truth” that one has to be a “Westerner” to be an army general in Uganda falls on its
    face. If Mwenda wants to sustain the argument that democracy is an effect rather than a cause for industrialisation, he has then to bring out sound reasons as to why not every industrialised nation is a democracy? I have expressed my frustrations of being neglected before, ideally because previously I have given examples of nations which have been at the same point of development but have taken on quite different approaches of governance i.e. North Korea and South Korea, East Germany and West Germany (before their unification.)

    As an avid reader of your post, it will only be polite if you acted upon my itchy demand. Having made my wishes very clearly, I have looked at the etymological meaning of “democracy”, I have also looked at terminologies like, ‘sortal’ and ‘scalar’ concepts. I have addressed myself to the Paris Treaty of 1783, I have looked at the Articles of the Confederation (USA), I have looked at the Magna Carter (Britain), I have looked at the Confucian thought (China) and I have also addressed myself to the ‘E’nnonno’ of Buganda. The word “democracy” is derived from the ancient Greek ‘demokratia’, ‘demos’ meaning ‘people’ and ‘kratein’ meaning ‘to rule.’ It was used to describe the system of government in Athens that had been initiated by the constitution of Kleisthenes ( 509-508 BC). Democracy is concerned with the exercise of power and decision making by a group. If we are talking about political power which has to be organised democratically, both in terms of internal political structures and background conditions within the social matrix then we have to talk about the comparative reflective analysis. In ancient Athens the total citizen population entitled to participate in government is estimated by modern scholars to have been between 30,000-40,000. One of the central organs of political decision-making was the Ekklesia (Ekelezia)
    or General Assembly of the citizen body, which met, debated on and decided all the important matters of political policy forty times a year.
    Earlier on, I talked about the Confucian tradition of the Chinese. The ‘Confucian thought’ was anchored in the continual demonstration of “virtue.” It was being maintained by complex networks of rites and mutual obligations based on family and clan. Problems were supposed to be worked out among disputants in a way that was conciliatory and that everyone was in agreement. No one was to lose; at least no one was to lose face. Great Britain is probably the most puzzling thing of all to non British readers, the most important parts of the constitution are not written but rather simply exist in practice. The Magna Carta (1215), is one of the earliest parts of the British Constitution but it has only two written Acts, (Act of Settlement 1701) and the other that lays out
    the powers of the two houses of parliament (Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949). The cabinet controls what happens in parliament yet all rules governing cabinet and defining its powers have risen out of practice and remain unwritten. In Buganda the Kabaka is the custodian of ‘E’nnonno.’ Similar to the Magna Carta, the E’nnonno is the unwritten constitution of Buganda. Although I am vaguely studied in the customs of Buganda, I know ‘Ennonno’ like the back of my palm. I know from my father as the head of the family there is ‘Owo lunyiriri’, ‘owo mutuba’, ‘owe siga’, ‘omuttaka’, ‘Katikkiro’ and then ‘Kabaka.’ This layered leadership structure also serves as our trail from where every Muganda can seek justice. By bringing out these examples, I am trying to emphasise the intrinsic value of “Democracy” and not simply pegging a semantic definition to it. For a political theorist the question of the nature of democracy must be approached, in fact, on four decreasing levels of generality or increasing specificity. If we were to pose a question, ‘where the pre-industrial societies of Britain, China and Buganda democratic? It would be ‘unfair’ if the questioner required to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no'(the ‘sortal’ approach). However, we can state that at a certain degree they were and maybe to a certain degree they weren’t (the ‘scalar’ approach). The
    societies we have so far looked at, none of which was industrialised at the time they exhibited these democratic tendencies.

    Lastly, I will contextualise ‘democracy’ in the contemporary African setting. Colonialism brought about a cultural shock in Africa. But this is more of an excuse to cast a dim light on our usually
    unethical behaviour and poor organisational methods rather than a statement for a working solution. True, at the time of colonialism Europeans had exhibited savagery tendencies. Europe was a “warzone”, Germany had annexed Prussia, Austria, Hungary, Turkey among others, the French and British had “compensated” themselves from elsewhere. They had taken much of Asia- the middle East, a great deal of North Africa and tragically dissecting Africa into “halves.” They were “absolute rulers” and alien to the tenets of “Freedoms” and “Rights.” It was not until the end of world war II that civil rights bodies were formed to counter the excesses of “power” on an international scale. Even when the colonialists had decided to “handover” power, they did not intend to handover to free independent Africans, they were comfortable dealing with protégés. So,
    post-colonial Africa has been/ is under the “leadership” of those whose allegiance is not to the Africans but rather to the “outsiders.” This situation reduces the “African leader” to a “broker”
    whose wishes are to benefit from both sides of the common African and the “colonial master.” He (normally it has been men) only has to change face or tongue depending on the direction the wind is blowing. The common man has always faced the blunt of this “transactional politics.” Being
    peaceful has never meant being passive. What Mwenda is asking of us, is to be unbridled about the way we should be governed and that does not only question our morality, our education and civility but also seeks to be a brewer for perpetual injustices. (I hope I made this ‘educational tour’ alongside with you.)

  2. In other words we should try to get leaders who will let the past leaders (and by extension their thieving cronies) off scot free without any prosecution for their crimes and corruption!!
    The agent of the dictator writes a toadying piece!

  3. Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu has dedicated his aspect of the struggle to an ideal; the ideal that building an organization and systems is superior to, and should transcend, a single presidential contest. It is a commendable ideal and he has given it his all.

    It should be with the highest regard to honour and civility, that we allow the president of FDC the clarity of conscience to continue subjecting himself to the processes of competition within the party, and respect for the will of the members of the party he leads. Those members are keen to draw on his expertise and ideals, in so long as that expertise does not attempt to usurp the direction they have chosen.

    The FDC party has chosen the direction of confronting the regime, with the view to dismantling it and changing the power structure. Whether one believes in their direction or not, it is important to appreciate, and accept, their chosen champion to lead that direction. Similarities can equally pointed out in the NRMO which has chosen the direction of power consolidation. Any member of that organization that exceeds the mandate of working towards attaining the objectives, and or chosen direction, becomes an undesirable member. It matters not the excellence of performance of its cadres. That excellence turns into animosity the moment they seek to take on a different role that both the founders, owners, and members of the organization may view as usurpation.

    Revolutionary organizations or ‘Struggle’ oriented organizations cannot transcend the leadership of the founder in so long as that founder be alive, still willing to lead, or held hostage by forces that depend on their continued leadership. Mugisha Muntu must thus continue to play his stewardship role. It is a role he has chosen and one that his organization has come to depend on in that capacity. Conversely, should stewardship of the party be changed in their upcoming party presidential elections, then the cohesion, focus, direction and objectivity of the party will be equally impacted.

    Like Col Besigye set up parallel structures in Katonga when Muntu ascended to the Presidency, only fully returning when he clenched the flag bearer role, should Muntu lose the strategic role of party presidency, he will set up parallel power structures in connivance with those forces that seek to utilise his talents elsewhere. One can imagine what Muntus role would have been during TDA had he previously lost the party presidency to Nandala Mafabi, or what his role will be in the existential elections of 2021 should he lose the party presidency in 2017. It is thus in the interest of the FDC party to retain Col Besigye as their front runner, and Muntu as party president.

    One may argue for or against the relevance of either in their organizational goals, particularly in regards to cohesion, but it would be disastrous to find out through unguided idealism. There is a cost for trampling on one’s dreams; whomever they maybe…!

  4. .1.Andrew you are such a darling let me dedicate the song ”Driving Home for Xmas by Chris Rea to you.(i know Rajab,Musinguzi & Adhola would also want to listen to the song they are free to do so)

    2.Personally,i dont see Besigye becoming the president of Ug everyone knows this coz his style of politics is not healthy for us.
    3.Elections have always caused untold suffering to Africans i think the Rwandan system of govt is great where a president rules for 7 years uninterrupted.
    4.Andrew,your last three paragraphs summarizes all Africa’s problems i have read it 2000 times.The world just has to bear with us we just dont understand democracy the sooner they appreciated this, the better.
    5.What does the world expect from a nation whose major export is groundnuts?
    6.The photo opportunity USA presidents have with the presidents of African countries is meant to just mock us even Yahya Jammah took a photo with Obama & Michele.
    7.In Developed nations systems are effective e.g when Cameron resigned there was no power vacuum the British only prayed to have a competent leader to replace Cameron.
    8.Africans should begin surrounding themeselves with people who are inspitred,excited and gtareful its unfortunate that we dont have great African Nationas to look up to thats why the Gambian drama sssems normal to us.

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