By Matai MuonIn Africa’s model of democracy, serving longer equates to a higher level of democratic peace and stability. From Sudan to DRC, Equatorial Guinea to Uganda, Rwanda to Zimbabwe, the list is virtually endless, governments have stayed on for several decades without any transition. Rephrasing President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, the problem in Africa is not overstaying in power. It is what individual leaders do with power. Well, that statement remains controversial or bluntly, misplaced. It was tested in Libya, the Gambia, Burundi, Egypt and now Zimbabwe. It failed all these empirical tests. There would be no better political lab to experiment this than in Africa itself. Strong evidence shows that overstaying in power attracts dictatorial tendencies. Even leaders who came through a democratic means become democratic hypocrites as they taste the flavors of power. The end results are often than not, popular revolutions as we saw in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ or military coups as exemplified in the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Libya among others.
What does the International Law say?
Before delving into the topic, it is imperative to understand some theories that guide transitions of governments in Africa and across different regions of the Planet Earth. The international law since the end of the II World War has remained an enthusiastic critic of military coups, revolutions or any other changes of government outside the dictates of the rule of law, and constitutional order. The United Nations, therefore, does not recognize any government that comes in through these illicit means. The African Union on the one hand follows suit and embed this policy into its governance programs. The AU has always remained precise on this matter. It does not recognize an unconstitutional change of governments thus, putting the new government in a diplomatic isolation, and sometimes, suspending their membership at the Union until when the constitutional order is restored. So what happens when a dictator like Robert Mugabe puts their nations in a family pocket? Three theories of international law on changes of government may be of help.
The traditional approach (Effective Control Doctrine) which bases its mechanism on four fundamental factors: (I) effectiveness and control, (II) stability and permanence, (III) ability and willingness to fulfill obligations, and (IV) popular support. This Doctrine was the fundamental basis of the conventional international legal regime. It stresses the supremacy of internal stability and effective control of the people and the land in which the new government operates. Failure to observe these always attracts a policy of No Recognition.
The Estrada Doctrine which states that new governments are automatically recognized without prior attention to the elements considered under the traditional approach. Therefore, the doctrine does not take into context any prerequisite for recognition of a new government regardless of how they came to power. Inter-state relations, therefore, remain unchanged after this transition.
The Tobar Doctrine known otherwise as the Doctrine of Legitimacy, do not generally recognize governments that come into power as a consequence of military coups or revolutions. The Tobar doctrine does, however, recognize as an exception new governments that come to power through a coup if the people, without coercion, affirm and accept the new government. States that follow this approach thus accept a new government when a coup is accompanied by an immediate vote confirming the new government or a national referendum approving a new constitution. “The Tobar doctrine signifies a new trend in the past decade whereby States withhold their recognition of new governments where such governments take power in a manner contrary to basic principles of democracy.” The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation wrote in July 2013. For the benefit of time and relevance, the Tobar Doctrine will be made us of in this article. The Zimbabwean situation seems to align well with this doctrine and thus, the analysis will explore it further.
The past few days have awakened Africa’s young leadership after so many months of silence. When Yaya Jammeh, the Gambia’s longest-ruling leader and by some measures, the only serving head of state who had the cure for AIDs or so it was alleged, refused to honor an election defeat, the regional body of the Economic Community of Western African States, ECOWAS proved the so-called ‘African Solutions to African Problems. It sent its diplomatic team to Banjul with a military precaution: “Leave or We Come.” He did not take such a warning for words. Finally, he would accept the voices of the Gambian people. A few months later, the ball rolls energetically to the southern part of the continent. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, one of the most educated presidents of African breed, and the longest-serving President in that part of the region has now been confined to a house arrest. In the months leading to his troubled dictatorial flair, Gabriel had changed the country’s main airport, Harare International Airport to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. Gabriel had created a Cyber Ministry to take care of the Social Media, the first of a kind in the contemporary liberal world order. He had an American citizen arrested over a tweet which read: “We are being led by a selfish and a sick man.”
However, the most and by far the deadliest dictatorial blunders the nonagenarian had committed were to fire his longtime ally, his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. He also doubles as an Army’s sweetheart and by other measures, the citizens’ last resort. Mugabe’s leadership over the recent months has expressed explicitly the signs of a growing autocracy. Maybe the American Woman was right but she found herself in an unusually difficult situation. In Africa, exposing the dictators is not only a taboo but also a crime. Gabriel’s leadership also throws dust on the intellectuals’ claim that higher education equates to good leadership. With a good number of academic gowns and honorary awards, Gabriel has squeezed the Zimbabwean population into one of the poorest on the continent. The Zimbabwean dollar is as useless as the current South Sudanese Pound. Zimbabweans are safer in South Africa than in Harare, Mutare or Kadoma. The ZANU-PF, another SPLAM from different location has turned blind eyes into the historical aspirations of the Zimbabwean people. In his 93rd birthday, Mr. Mugabe insisted that he was the only Joshua for the country and to worsen matters, there is Grace Mugabe, one of the most dangerous and controversial First Ladies Mama Africa has ever produced. In order to fulfill her ambition to serve the country after her husband’s retirement by death or otherwise, Grace has undertaken brutal reforms in the party paving way for what many analysts call, “family succession.”
Proving herself, she had the countries well respected and the second most powerful man in the land dismissed. Once served as a minister in both the state security and defense dockets, Emmerson Mnangagwa had built an amazing romance with the army. He thus remains the army’s keepers in the shaky politics of Harare. Well, as they say, “what goes around comes around.” The Mugabes now survives on the grace of the military generals under the direct command of Lt. General. SB Moyo. This writing, much as it tries to focus more on the Mugabe’s current state, the main object is to build a connection between the Zimbabwe of today and the SPLAM of 2013. There is an encouraging reason why analysts should compare these notes. 1. The current situation of South Sudan was a result of poor political decisions by President Kiir who acts first then thinks later. In July 2013, he would dismiss his Vice President Dr. Riek Machar in a very tense political atmosphere. There has not been convincing evidence, however, to indicate that Ayen was instrumental in this role. 2. The South Sudanese military under the command of Gen. Hoth Mai did not come out to save the country from itself. 3. A class of selfish political elites was at the heart of the build-up to the civil war and finally, President Kiir, just like Mugabe is so naïve politically speaking. There is a potential chance that he might end up the same way one fateful day.
On December 15, 2013, South Sudan proved its youth status to the community of nations. Barely two years of independence, the country returned to what it always did best; armed conflict. Many have since pointed accusatory fingers at President Kiir and some at Dr. Riek. The overall responsibility lies with the government. However, very few analyses have been written on the role of the national army in matters of no constitutional orders. The Gambian and the Zimbabwean situations clearly challenged the country’s perception of collective responsibility. In the Gambia, an army general opened up to the regional intervention force without a fight. That decision has remained in the Africa’s heroic defense decisions. The Gambian citizens’ lives were spared. In the ongoing Zimbabwean military political standoff, General SB Moyo seized the state apparatus and declared an effective military takeover of the situation until the situation returns to normalcy. No one would predict what the Mugabes would do if the army did not take this strategic decision. History though and in fact, his actions before this state of affairs informs the records that such dictatorial tendencies always end in a bloodbath.
The Zimbabwean situation should serve as a warning to the SPLM/A. The two parties share historical significance. The ZANU-PF and the SPLM/A were formed in the 80’s to fight for political independence from the Arab-led regime in Khartoum and the white-influenced regime in Harare. The later found its sovereign rule in the 80’s while the former gained her independence some decades later. ZANU-PF just likes the SPLM/A decided to betray citizens’ aspirations. President Kiir, with rotten advice from his inner circle, began his onslaught in 2013 by dismissing his Vice President from his constitutional post, paving way for the close allies. That decision did not cause the war but the tension would build up and a few months later, he would put up serious obstacles in the run-up to a party congress in the week that would follow. The hell broke loose on the night of 15th December that year when patience exhausted its course. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe, under the influence of his “criminals” as the Gen. SB Moyo refers to them, dismissed his Vice President Emmerson. There is a slight difference here though. Mugabe wanted his wife to take the second highest seat in the land which would ultimately prepare her for succeeding her husband. The Party Congress, for your information, takes place in a two weeks’ time. This is where tough decisions would have been undertaken.
The Zimbabwean politics, having borrowed heavily from its historical struggle celebrates the ZANU-PF more than any other party in the country. Grace Mugabe was to be endorsed by the Party Congress if things went as the Mugabes’ calculations. However, the Zimbabwean military did not want to sleep while the constitutional rule was at stake. Gen. SB Moyo, clad in military attire declared: “The current purging which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith. He cautioned. “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.” Well, a revolution in the Zimbabwean military’s terms is a diamond that must be protected at any cost, at all times. Gen. Hoth Mai on the other hand almost five years ago had these words, “the army remains neutral in political matters. We must not take sides.” By taking a neutral side in what was not just a political conflict but also constitutional war, Gen. Hoth had built a unique history for the SPLA and indeed for his future leadership. President Mugabe referred to his former Vice President as a “witch” while his wife calls him “snake that must be cut by the neck.” Likewise, President Kiir would nickname his former Vice President as a “Prophet of Doom” which languages contributed to the national tension.
The Zimbabwean situation teaches South Sudan hard but honest lessons. Revolutionary parties such as the SPLM/A have suffered their fates across the continent. The bush mindset does not work in a liberated space. If the same mentality that was used to win a protracted conflict applies in an independent sovereign state, events like that of Zimbabwe occur not by incidents but by defaults. If the bush generals refuse to transform themselves into productive leaders, change transforms them. Another important lesson to the political elites surrounding the President is that one day, the criminals of the day become the police of tomorrow. As the world continues to interact intimately, citizens will continue to ask for what they deserve. If the politics cannot sustain those demands, may be constitutional army will. It is a brutal lesson to the long-serving presidents of Africa. Age might just be a number to a politician in power. However, to a young jobless man in the street of Harare, it means a lot more than that. Let Africa learn now. History is a bad judge. And as Winston Churchill put it, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Matai Muon is a student of International Studies in the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies (IDIS), The University of Nairobi. He also researches on the issue of international law, human rights, and international politics. For contacts, reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.