Ayo Oyoze Baje writes that the coup in Mali holds lessons for African leaders

The recent removal of the president of Mali by the military should send a strong warning to other African leaders – Prof. Patrick Lumumba

From the United Nations Organization (UNO), the European Union (EU), through the African Union (AU), the ECOWAS to several countries across the globe, it is a groundswell of condemnation for the recent coup d’etat in Mali. Some of the countries that have spoken against it include Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, South Africa, Germany, United States and China.

To democrats, pseudo-democrats and even former military dictators that have metamorphosed into overnight democrats in Africa’s volatile political sphere, truncating any democratically elected government constitutes an aberration that must be quashed.

The tragedy and the pain however, is that such condemnations always come late in the day. They were not offered in good time, to nip the bud of the simmering crises. And they are hardly focused on the root causes or the fundamental issues that triggered the military takeover.

As severally reported, Colonel-Major Ismael Wague – spokesman for the coup-makers who called themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People – said they acted to prevent Mali from falling further into chaos. “The social and political tension has undermined the proper functioning of the country for quite a while”, they said.

That was after detaining the 75- year- old President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at gunpoint and forcing him to resign. The President and the Prime Minister were later moved out of their official residences to a military base near Bamako. The president later announced that he had resigned and dissolved the government and national assembly. Wague has pledged to restore stability and oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” period.

Mali has been in crisis for some four months following the annulment of the election results of some parliamentary seats in favour of some people loyal to the president. The rebel groups demanded that the president should resign for peace to reign in the troubled nation.

In a bid to resolve the crisis, former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria was appointed as a special peace envoy by the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS). But sadly, the noble efforts could not stop the military from striking at the time they did. It is curious that the same issues of insecurity, corruption and bad governance which he promised the good people of Mali, to tackle when he mounted the pedestal of political power back in 2013 were at play.

As recently reinforced by Princess Halliday, a professor of leadership ethics, a leadership ambassador and the founder of the Empower Africa Initiative, based in Virginia, United States(US), not a few African leaders give way to the political disconnect between them and their people as soon as they get into positions of plum political offices. She said this while speaking recently on Silverbird television’s News Hub.

In fact, I had severally highlighted the persisting challenges of African political helmsmen personalizing power, foisting their self-serving agenda with empirical evidences of overt nepotism, swinging their body languages in favour of certain religious and ethnic principles and persuasions at the expense of and to the detriment of seeking the common good.

Devoid of moral scruples, they use state apparatus, including the military and the police to instill fear in the minds of the people they are supposed to lead, castrating and containing their freedom of expression and choice at the polls. Furthermore, they go to great lengths to create cracks in the rank and file of the civil society, muzzling the press, while some once-vocal social and human rights activists lose their voices in the face of several social injustices and acts of impunity. All this leads to the people’s pent–up anger, culminating in series of protests against the government of the day, as in Mali.

That explains the valid position of the popular Kenyan nationalist and an icon of leadership voice in Africa, Professor P.L.O. Lumumba. Though he condemned the military takeover of government in Mali, he has however, advised African leaders to understand that soldiers too are citizens. He said Keita’s removal should send a warning to other African leaders.

In a similar vein, Senator Shehu Sani, a known voice of opposition to bad governance has thrown his support for the people of Mali. “Whenever we say coup is outdated then we see it updated.” He described the Mali coup as a bad omen for other African democracies. “The coup in Mali is a serious setback to democracy in Africa and a bad omen for other democracies in the sub-region. But the people of Mali who have been through tragic experiences of intractable political crisis appear to be fully in support of it. We should respect their wishes,” he wrote.

On his part, Cyril Ramaphosa, the chairman of the African Union (AU) and President of South Africa, condemned the “unconstitutional change of government” in Mali and demanded the release of Keita and other top government officials. The AU also said that it was suspending Mali’s membership until constitutional order is restored. In a statement, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed “great concern” over the “seizure of power by Malian military putschists”. The 15-nation bloc, said its members would close land and air borders to Mali and demand sanctions against “all the putschists and their partners and collaborators”.

Similarly, the United Nations Security Council has urged mutineers in Mali to immediately release detained officials, including the country’s president, and “return to their barracks without delay.”

The lessons to learn from what has transpired in Mali are profound. According to Halliday, Africa needs to redefine the concept of good leadership. The leaders should do self-evaluation and answer the questions of why they are in positions of authority. “Who am I and why am I venturing to lead my people? Am I doing so to satisfy my whims and caprices or for the common good? Am I sufficiently educated on the essence and principles of good leadership and am I creating space for the younger generation of leaders?”

It is a worrisome scenario that as at early 2019 the presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun and Angola had spent 30 years in power! That of Angola was there for 38 years and until death came calling, Zimbabwe’s late Robert Mugabe had spent 37 years. In the Nigeria old leaders keep recycling themselves in power. This is not good enough.