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Zimbabwe, South Africa Spring: Sit-tight presidents to blame for use of force to sack govts in Africa –Akinterinwa

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After the end of the Cold War, there was an in increase in the number of African leaders who embraced constitutional democracy. The importance of the ballot box as a democratic tool for electing leaders was appreciated as power was seen to reside in the electorate. However, the beauty of constitutional democracy began to fade after sit-tight leaders made a mockery of the system, unilaterally elongating heir tenure, thus turning post-Cold War Africa to a breeding ground for dictators and political charlatans. This development has since made some countries the theatre of civil wars fuelled by the struggle for power.

In recent years, the use of massive pressure by the people to remove their leaders from office started with the Arab Spring, engineered by the revolt in Tunisia that sent President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile on January 20, 2011. Since then, other leaders removed from office by popular pressure include former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, former Liberian President Charles Taylor, former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, as well as South African ex-leaders, Thambo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. And with more countries asking their leaders to resign, is Africa moving from constitutional democracy to majoritarian democracy, where the ballot box may no longer be needed to hire and fire political leaders? This was the question Diplomatic Circuit asked the former director-general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, now president and director-general of Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, to answer, with particular reference to the cases of Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Akinterinwa says an understanding of the political system of a country is a prerequisite to understanding the forces at play. He observed that South Africa and Zimbabwe are two democracies that operate party system and pointed to the role of political parties in a democracy, particularly in campaigns and election of candidates.

“Electoral contest is not between candidates per se, but between and among political parties. Candidates emerge on the basis of the sponsoring political party,” he said.

Drawing attention to South Africa in particular, he said the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), first nominated Zuma as its candidate, who competed with the candidates of other political parties. In other words, “Zuma was an ANC nominee, appointee and electee.”

He argued that it is the responsibility of a political party to not only protect its image and interests but to ensure that its electoral fortunes are not jeopardised ahead of the next election.

“Over 900 allegations were made against Zuma, allegations of miss-governance including corruption, indiscipline, etc. They were serious allegations that were impacting negatively on the sponsoring ANC that nominated him and got him elected. Note that ANC has majority in the National Assembly, so its action was an attempt to address the challenges of the future, to avoid losing the next round of elections. So, the message was: let Zuma lose and not the party.”

Would it not have been more appropriate if Zuma had been allowed to face party primaries and indeed the electorate in the next election to determine his fate?

Apparently, Akinterinwa believes that ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’

“The ANC did not want a situation where, perhaps, the fate of Zuma would be used to the detriment of its success at the next election. Therefore, the question of allowing a falling President Zuma to go for another contest, be it at the level of party primaries or the presidential election, does not arise. Already, the people have delegated the power to the party. And the party exercised the power to compel Zuma to resign.”

But Akinterinwa agreed that electoral balloting remains a major dynamic instrument for electing and also rejecting political leaders: “The difference in the examples we are now considering, particularly that of South Africa, is that it involved collective voting, collective bargaining, as against individuals queuing to vote in polling stations. It is the majority within the ANC that took the decision to remove Zuma.”

He wants the public to know that “the strength, the power of the political party is basically a reflection of the institution . . . a political party is more of an institution that is playing its active role, nothing more than that. So, the good of the party, which is the general interest, overrides the interests of the individuals.”

It is the opinion of Akinterinwa that the leadership of a political party that knows its responsibility would not allow an influential but corrupt candidate to smear its public image.

“Zuma had large followership within the party. Whatever be the allegations made against him, some people within the party were benefiting from him. So, there would always be the tendency to support him.

“The mere fact that corruption allegations were made against him, the mere fact that he had been taken to court and in some of the cases, he won, but, more interestingly, the mere fact that Zuma could not see any good reason for being pressured to resign, there was no reason for the party to consider going to the polling station to vote and count how many ballot papers to determine how many people are there in support of him,” he said. 

But how did he place the case of Mugabe? Akinterinwa did not see any difference, noting that Mugabe was also forced to resign. He considered Mugabe’s offence serious, saying he attempted to crown his wife as his successor: “He wanted to sidetrack former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is now the president. Unfortunately for Mrs. Grace Mugabe, she did not have good rapport with the army. Rather, it was the vice president who had powerful links with army generals. He was in regular consultation with the army. So, the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and the army supported him and chose to show Mugabe the red card.”

Akinterinwa explained that the army acted in line with the yearnings of the people, who had wanted Mugabe to retire before now. But was it right for the Zimbabwean army to have pressurized Mugabe to resign? Akinterinwa was cautious in his reaction. He said, “Going by the African Union standard, any method used to compel or set up a new government that is not through the ballot box is unacceptable; the Union said under no circumstance should there be any change of government without the democratic process being followed. But now there is a new dimension beyond that of the union.”

According to him, in Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is only the originating instrument that is different, and that is the political party in the context of South Africa and the military in the context of Zimbabwe. But “the ultimate objective in both cases is to remove the two leaders from office.”

Some observers have argued the Zimbabwean army staged a coup d’état. Akinterinwa thinks differently. He asked rhetorically “Can coup d’état be considered as a method of peaceful reconciliation, because that was the issue?”

Akinterinwa would analyze the term coup d’état in order to arrive at his opinion. “Must coup d’état be considered as including violence?

For the AU, there could not be anything like coup d’état” But what is coup d’état? Akinterinwa said, “coup d’état means coup against the state,” adding that “a coup against the state would require another definition: was it forceful attack on government? was there any use of force? . . . That is the challenge.”

“In a nutshell, I would say, in Africa, compelling political leaders to resign is beginning to gain ground. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the people are asking President Joseph Kabila to resign. And the pressure is mounting. In Rwanda, the people attempted it.”

Akinterinwa further justified his position on the forced resignation of Mugabe and Zuma, respectively, when he said, “The democratic system in Zimbabwe and South Africa are more of a semi-presidential system of government, though common with the Francophone countries.”

What is semi-presidential system of government?

Hear him: “Semi-presidential system of government means 50 per cent is parliamentary and 50 per cent is presidential. When you operate like a parliament, the system is that the political party that wins election necessarily will provide the leader. He will also be the leader of the National Assembly. So, it is because of the character of semi-presidential system that allows for political parties to be the head in the National Assembly.”

Akinterinwa admits that the semi-presidential system of government and the use of popular pressure to force political leaders from office have negative implications for Africa: “There is no way we wouldn’t have some negativity. Certainly, there are merits but the demerits are also there. For example, I have drawn attention to the AU’s collectively decided policy that under no circumstance would there be forceful change of government in Africa.

“Please, are the cases of Mugabe and Zuma not forceful removal of political leaders from office? Are we saying that it is only when there is violent pressure that it is forceful? Is it forceful only by the use of force?

No, the issue is that Zuma, for example, has not completed his tenure. And he was asked him to go.”

Even as Akinterinwa said the use of pressure to sack political leaders is becoming the trend in Africa because the ballot box seems to have failed the people, he strongly berated the AU for failing to implement its policy as it concerns good governance and the electoral process.

“AU is eating its own words. I think the AU has failed but with much caution in interpreting the failure. It is a failure because it said there should be no use of force in changing a government but it doesn’t have control over the implementation of the policy.

“And if the use of force is interpreted to mean coup d’état, what about coup?

There is difference between the term ‘coup’ and ‘coup d’état.’ Coup is just a change in government but when we say coup d’état, it means violence was engaged.”

He observed that the essence of the AU’s policy is “to promote democracy, to ensure that there is a change of government through electoral balloting. In the case of Zimbabwe, it is not sufficient to argue that the army did not use violence to remove Mugabe.

Was Mugabe not put under house arrest?

“The only difference from the normal norm we know is that they made life more comfortable for him and his family. So, it is a coup par excellence.

So, what has AU done?

I would argue that to that extent, AU has failed.

“But, on the other hand, we may not say AU has totally failed. This is because AU has the policy of subsidiarity. Under the principle of subsidiarity, AU allows each of the five regions of Africa to monitor, to govern, to administer its affairs, particularly in terms of regional security and integration.

“The point I’m making is that, if the regions of Africa have wide powers to, first of all, look at their domestic problems, for AU, problems in each region becomes domestic. It is only when the regions are unable to resolve their problems that they can be brought to the continental level for consideration or advice.

“Therefore, if people are pressurizing their leaders to resign, it cannot be the responsibility of AU to be the first to intervene. So, the role of AU may depend on the issue in question.”

He however cautioned the AU that “in the long run, if Africans are not careful, democracy can be bastardised” because as he puts it “do not force out of government elected leaders. That is their fundamental right. Sooner or later any group of persons can always emerge and insist the president must resign."


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