We have seen time and time again in Africa that simply removing a dictator does not remove the institutions through which dictators maintain themselves in power. For example, N
igeria is no longer under military rule, yet the military continues to commit human rights abuses in Nigeria because none of the Nigerian governments have made a serious attempt to reform the military. Military dictatorship is no longer an issue in Nigeria, but Nigeria continues to suffer the consequences that have been caused by years of military rule and abuse. Earlier this year a university lecturer in the Gambia was arrested and questioned without just cause. This type of thing was a common practice under Yahya Jammeh’s reign, but even though Jammeh is no longer in power the police force continues to operate in a similar manner. Uganda has been in the news recently because of the arrest and torture of Bobi Wine. Yoweri Museveni was considered by some to be part of a “new breed” of African leaders, but in the three decades that he has been the president of Uganda he has merely continued many of the practices of those dictators who were in power before him, such as Milton Obete and Idi Amin. When dictators leave office—by dying in power, resigning, or being removed by force—they leave behind the institutions which they used to maintain themselves in power and those institutions often continue to be utilized by the successors of those dictators. This is why it is not enough to remove an individual dictator. The entire system has to be reconstructed so that the abuses do not continue.
We can look at Togo as an example where this type of challenge will be encountered because Togo has been under the rule of a dictatorship more than five decades. From 1967 until present Togo has only known two presidents; Gnassingbe Eyadema and his son Faure. Entire generations of Togolese have never known what it is like to live in a country that is not under the rule of a military dictatorship. Once the Gnassingbe regime is finally removed from power the challenge will be building new political institutions, which will be especially challenging given that over the last five decades the Gnassingbe family has not established any political institutions from which future generations can build on. There is also the risk that the next president to take over in Togo may continue some of the oppressive tactics of the Gnassingbe regime. For example, if the military is not reformed then a post-Gnassingbe Togo can find itself in a situation like Nigeria where the military continues to abuse its power.
In my book Faure Must Go I compared Togo’s situation with similar situations in two Caribbean nations; Haiti and the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. I used both nations as an example of some of the challenges that Togo will have to experience once the Gnassingbe dynasty is finally gone. Like Togo, Haiti went through the experience of being under the domination of a brutal dictatorship which was passed from father to son. When François Duvalier died his son Jean-Claude Duvalier took over and continued his father’s regime. The people of Haiti finally put an end to nearly three decades of dictatorial rule when their protests forced Jean-Claude Duvalier to step down as president—this is essentially what the people of Togo have been trying to accomplish with their resistance. The end of the Duvalier regime did not bring an end to corruption and misrule in Haiti, however. A recent example of this was the protests in Haiti in July over the government’s decision to raise fuel prices.
Unlike Haiti and Togo, Antigua has never been under an outright dictatorship, but corruption, nepotism, and family dynasties have all existed in Antigua. Vere Bird was democratically elected as the first prime minister of Antigua in 1981. During the years that he was in office he and his family enriched themselves. Vere Bird, Jr., the eldest of Vere Bird’s children, became a cabinet minister. He was also implicated in numerous scandals. This includes a scandal in which Israeli arms were smuggled into Colombia through Antigua. The scandal forced Vere Bird, Jr. to resign. Lester Bird is the second oldest of Vere Bird’s children. He served as a cabinet minister and when his father resigned in 1994, Lester Bird took over as prime minister. He remained the president of Antigua and Barbuda until 2004. The Birds also owned a family radio station which became a source of dispute between some of Vere Bird’s sons. The Birds established a family dynasty over Antigua and Barbuda. According to Roswald Bird, Vere Bird’s third son, the Birds were “born to rule.” The people of Antigua did not share this view. They became frustrated with the various scandals and after the previously mentioned Israeli arms scandal protestors took the streets holding placards which declared “The Birds Must Go!” They did not want Vere Bird alone gone; they wanted the entire family dynasty gone.
As I pointed out previously, Antigua was never ruled by a dictatorship like Haiti and Togo were, yet we still see the same features of a single family using its political position to enrich itself at the expense of the masses. This type of political culture still exists in Antigua and Barbuda today, which is why the current prime minister of Antigua, Gaston Browne, can request that his salary as the prime minister be increased despite the fact that he was already a millionaire before becoming prime minister. Antigua’s example shows that corrupt leadership can even exist in situations where there is no dictatorship. We have seen this throughout Africa as well.
The thing that Africans must keep in mind is that removing individual dictators is not enough to establish truly free and democratic societies. The institutions that dictators use to maintain themselves in power have to be restructured as well. Examples of these institutions include military and security forces which are often used to intimidate and brutalise the populating into submission; media which is often controlled by dictators to help foster a cult of personality and to spread their propaganda; or national constitutions which fail to properly check the power of political leaders, who are often able to simply alter the constitution whenever it is to their benefit, such as when Gnassingbe Eyadema decided to alter Togo’s constitution to run for a third term.