Will the demise of African dictators mean a return to old ways?

More than two decades ago, the former brutal dictator of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko, was killed in a US air strike after announcing he was leaving power. And then with relative quiet, he was…

Will the demise of African dictators mean a return to old ways?

More than two decades ago, the former brutal dictator of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko, was killed in a US air strike after announcing he was leaving power.

And then with relative quiet, he was buried in a freshly-dug grave. The senator who drove the plan down the White House road, Richard Lugar (R-IN), called Mobutu a “leper” and castigated him for giving away most of the country to militias that turned it into a murderous theater of war.

And so began the systematic dismantling of the old colonial order in Africa.

The US kept its hard-line line on Cambodia under the Democrat and Republican administrations, but, as Washington broadened its outreach to other emerging nations, Africa finally saw Washington make a bow to change.

Washington encouraged the advent of new democracies, which included a vibrant press and free political party systems in Nigeria, Tanzania, Tanzania, and Liberia.

But in the past two decades, none of these coups have worked – not in Nigeria, not in Liberia, and not in even Tanzania.

In fact, when one compares these 25 coup attempts against democratically-elected leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa since 1991 to the average rate of 5 per year in the US, the rate jumps to 7.7 per year. What’s more, these 25 coups have almost entirely failed to end democratic forms.

Coups – along with dictatorships, where a majority of the population live in poverty – are pretty much the antithesis of what Washington was selling in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But now comes political and military chaos, coups, and elections – in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Tunisia, in Somalia, and in Ethiopia.

Is it just coincidence? And is it also logical? Or does the trajectory of this historic shift toward democracy, toward strong central government, toward the replacement of traditional leaders with new popular leaders, indicate that these early coups had more to do with shifting politics – and, ironically, faith in democracy – than they had to do with the new governance that Washington sought to promote?

A former US Ambassador to South Africa wrote that what now defines Africa is a new class of “leaders with dynamism and determination, who are taking their countries forward.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has pioneered the use of technology to promote himself as one of the continent’s leading intellectuals and as its leading statesman – an entirely new role model for Africa, says diplomat Aly Siegel.

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Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe urged Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, to follow the path Kenya took.

Yet, Ortega himself is now committed to bringing back the dictator he replaced. And the climate of fear now in Mozambique has led forces in the military to overthrow a constitutional government, according to Simon Greenberg, a former assistant US ambassador.

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