The Arrogance Of Power

President Blaise CampaoreBlaise Compaoré, the erstwhile ruler of Burkina Faso, is now ensconced in what is described as “luxurious exile” in Yamoussoukro, the incredibly opulent capital built in the Ivory Coast by a man of his ilk Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who was blessed to die in his own bed in 1993, after dominating the politics of the Ivory Coast r for nearly 50 years.

Compaoré managed to be President for “only” 27 years (against Houphouet’s 33) but he was hard at work trying to emulate the longevity in office of the “Grand Old Man” of French-speaking Africa when his “ungrateful” subjects gave him the boot.

They wouldn’t allow him to extend his rule for another five years! The wretches had the audacity to congregate in the streets and noisily demand his exit from power! They even burnt down part of the National Assembly and the headquarters of the glorious party through which he had bestowed “democracy” on the country!

Oh well – they would see. Apres lui le deluge! (After him, only chaos would ensue). Why – the chaos has started already. In two days, the Burkina Faso army announced the names of two different heads of state. General Honore Traore said it was he who was going to head the Government that would look after the country for a transitional period. But then, a Lieutenant-Colonel came on to the scene and declared that the General’s statement was “obsolete”!

This state of affairs would have pleased Compaoré, who would have seen in the apparent power struggle signs of the “deluge” which most dictators imagine their ouster would bring about.

Blaise would have been even more pleased to learn that it was the lieutenant-colonel who had emerged “triumphant”, since he was the second-in-command of the presidential guard on which Blaise had lavished resources in the past few years.

However, out in the streets of Ouagadougou, the public was not buying into a military takeover of the sort that had made military “musical-chairs” politics a cursed term throughout Africa in the post-colonial days. “We will not allow the army to confiscate the freedom we have won!” read placards held by some of the demonstrators in Ouagadougou.

It is too early to tell how events will turn out in Burkina Faso. The vicissitudes that have marked the unfolding of the “Arab spring” have taught the world that it is not enough to throw out a Hosni Mubarak: you could get a religious fanatic like Morsi, who then is “justifiably” replaced by a General al-Sisi.

So we have to watch things closely in Burkina Faso. What is clear is that unless the people are vigilant enough to outline clear demands that must be met, and to whose implementation they will be committed at all times things like genuine democracy; good health and education facilities; the provision of irrigation and other services that can eliminate the fear of drought and famine for ever; they will be treading water. Their ”revolution” will be hijacked, just as has occurred in too many African countries than I care to name.

Also, France and lately, the United States, will do everything in their power to ensure that the regime that succeeds Compaoré will be one that facilitates their attempts to subdue Al Qaeda in the region, rather than one that sees to the well-being of the Burkinabe people. So they too will have to be watched carefully and resisted if necessary.

Why was Compaoré so blind that he could not see his downfall coming? I suppose political blindness comes with a lust for power. If a man can kill his closest friend Thomas Sankara whom he had himself rescued from prison once, then what could he not do?

Having skeletons in the cupboard does not make for psychological equanimity: one is always afraid that if one allows other people access to the cupboard, the skeletons would roll out and begin to speak!

But in keeping the lid of the cupboard on, one might have to add to its contents. And so the cupboard and its secrets begin to feed on each other.

Already, a human skull or two are alleged to have been found in the house of Blaise’s brother and alleged executioner, Francois. (The search for psychological security can take impoverished individuals who can suddenly dip their hands into the sumptuous coffers of the state, in many horrendous directions.)

And before long, stories will emerge from Ouagadougou that will make enlightened Africans hang their heads in shame.

I was challenged, the other day, on AFRICA WRAP, a programme that goes out from London at 1800 GMT daily on AriseTV ( to give a background to the sort of “African realities” that give rise to situations like the one in Burkina Faso at present.

I asked the presenter: “How much time have I got?” He laughed and said, “One minute!” Yes: there are people who think that one can diagnose the African problem in one minute.

I tried to give the guy some “bullet points”:

What we have in Africa even in the countries that have formal democracy  are governments that are largely irrelevant to the true interests of their own people.

They are gangs that have taken over the treasury with what appears to be legitimate means and who use confidence tricks to improve the standard of living of gang members beyond anyone’s imagination. Including gang members!

Formal democracy, in which people vote once every four or five years and then have to accept whatever the “elective dictatorship” dishes out to them, is a recipe for disaster. But we have closed our eyes to the deception because dismantling it demands political imagination and we don’t have too much of that.

Okay, so what is the alternative to ”formal democracy”? The alternative can be found in the philosophy behind many African traditional administrative systems. It can be summed up in the word, indaaba, which means “talking together until we agree”.

Most African socieities are organised for self-defence purposes, so it is not possible to ignore the wishes of any section of the society and survive. You cannot ignore the elders because they teach the youngsters whom you cannot snub because they possess the brutal strength.

You cannot ignore the women because they provide the food the soldiers need and choose wives for them who can keep them psychologically stable. Every section of society is dependent on the other, so you have a co-operative ethos that eschews stealing and fosters communal progress.

What has replaced this? An entity called the state where numbers constitute the basis for policy-making. Components of the society that were once competitive or even antagonistic are supposed to become suddenly co-operative and acquiesce in robbery against themselves, in the name of something called the nation.

I grow foodstuffs or cash crops of my own volition, but the nation wants to pass laws that will oblige me to do as it says, not what I please. And they call that democracy!

Unless we learn that even those who brought us the politics of numbers are changing their own game  look at how the English, for instance, are trying hard to give recognition to the wishes of the Scottish people  we shall die by our own hand. Through greed for power.

Through naked thievery that goes unpunished. And through an ingrained ignorance that makes us stubbornly refuse to embrace changes that can bring stability to our body-politic. We resist change so long as such change threatens our access to cash-in-the-national-till.

Mubarak and Ben Ali stashed millions abroad before they lost power. But did that deter Compaoré? Alas, man, in his short and brutish life, appears bent on self-aggrandisement and on being insensitive to the needs and desires of others.

In other words, many of our rulers are in it for themselves only. Which leaves others no quarter but to regard them with fear and scorn. Compaore has found out – too late. But how many others will learn from him? Were there not Mobutu Seseseko? Emperor Jean-Baptisete Bokassa? Omar Bongo? Etienne Eyadema? And others before him?

It is time for Africans to think. But shall we?

I doubt it.

And that realisation makes me fear for the future.

Cameron Duodu

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