Dauda Yillah: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 January 2022:
Events that occurred in Burkina Faso just a week ago go to prove further that the contagion of military takeovers once considered dead and buried in our West African subregion has re-emerged with a vengeance. Sudden and violent regime change is back in fashion.
Indeed, this besetting political sin of ours is again on the march, galloping across national boundaries, having already engulfed Mali and Guinea and is set to swallow up more countries in the subregion.
Our fledgling democracies are teetering on the brink of an abyss. This ugly development makes a complete mockery of the strides taken in the subregion in recent years towards improving democratic governance.
The spectre of an Africa subjected to the will of military men has come back to haunt us, reminding us of Bokassa, Babangida, Doe, Abacha and many others including Eyadema and Mobutu, who started off as military coupists and later donned civilian robes while continuing to govern as before – with an iron fist.
And it seems that there was nothing that could have stopped the Malian, Guinean and Burkinabè men in khaki – the current vectors of the disease of violent undemocratic dispensation – from grabbing power at will from civilian authorities.
What is more, they have so far been able to weather the storm of internal and external pressures, outcries and condemnations aimed at getting them back speedily to their barracks where they truly belong.
Add to this, is the fact that sections of the civilian population of their respective countries were first out the blocks to welcome and embrace invariably hysterically armed, but to them no less angelic, agents of much needed political change.
The question therefore is this: why should these agents of political change’s jackbooted and Kalashnikov-toting colleagues elsewhere in the subregion not be tempted to try their luck, posing in turn as self-proclaimed saviours of their own countries?
The ungainly political reality is that in much of what is today independent and sovereign Sub-Saharan Africa, violence, that is, brute force remains at the heart of the exercise of political power. Those who possess and control the instruments of violence have always had the political upper hand.
A fact that the late Malian novelist Yambo Ouologuem saw with unparalleled clarity way back in 1968, when he revealed in all its starkness in his work ‘Le Devoir de violence’ (‘Bound to Violence’), the enduring hold violence has had on politics and its practice in our beloved continent from precolonial times through the colonial period to the present.
And a fact for which he was metaphorically speaking, hanged, drawn and quartered in many a political and intellectual circle in our continent for daring to wash our dirty linen in public.
Indeed, his detractors never forgave him for what they saw as his selling the continent and its people down the river at a time when these were just emerging from the cruelties and indignities of decades of European imperial subjugation to attain political independence and sovereignty.
However, time has proved Ouologuem right. Violence continues right into the twenty-first century to shape political life in our beloved continent, perpetrated now by those we have ironically democratically chosen to govern us, now by those who impose themselves through the barrel of the gun in the name of delivering us from our democratically-elected civilian rulers gone rogue.
Indeed, the targets of Ouologuem’s withering criticism – be they civilians or military men – are people who in deploying brute, coercive force achieve that ultimate of deleterious human desires: imposing one’s political will on others with utmost impunity.
The civilian or military dictators’ exclusive access to the instruments of brute force enable them to force the rest of us to bow to their will, thus transforming our societies into modern-day nightmarish, not to say Hobbesian, worlds of primeval men and forces.
Let us imagine even if momentarily the converse of such nightmares, meaning societies in which civilian dictators or their military counterparts wake up one morning and find out to their utter dismay that their instruments of coercive control have inexplicably disappeared.
We are left with men who are like the rest of us: ordinary, human, vulnerable, made to live and regulate our lives alongside other people through dialogue, cooperation, negotiation and ultimately consent and consensus.
The point then is: can states survive by allowing their citizens to self-police, self-discipline and to thus keep in check their desire to coerce and control and instead learn to govern themselves democratically?
If a formula can be found to create societies where the means and methods of exercising violence in the realm of politics are replaced by those that create and promote a sense of community, solidarity, peaceful co-existence and adherence to the rule of law, then our continent will be at peace with itself.
Perhaps the possibility of transforming our subregion and our continent more generally into human societies where governance by consent and consensus (in the place of governance predicated on violent, coercive control) is not a forlorn hope nor does it just belong to the realm of pure speculation.
Human beings have used their minds and imaginations to the point that they have been able to defy gravity, leave their planet of birth and reach for the moon and beyond. They only need to redeploy those self-same capabilities to look at themselves more closely than ever before, in particular at how they conduct their political lives here on earth.
In this way, that portion of humanity that is Africa can work out for itself ways of overcoming the instinctual and repulsive drive to subject its people to coercive political control, leading to the birth of societies where violence has no place in how they are run.