Across many African countries, the transitions from autocracies to democracies have come at gunpoint. And most often, the political change born out of disputed elections, end up transiting on bloody conflicts that last several decades. Among 49 sub-Saharan African countries, fewer than 10 are democracies.
Evidence show that several political changes occurred in all of the African democracies, Botswana being the exception. Then newest democracy, Benin — a west African country — experienced eight coups between 1963 and 1972. Not only that but adopted 10 constitutions and had 10 presidents in less than 10 years. In fact, Benin was the “sick child of Africa,” some scholars describe.
Take it or leave it, guns in the hands of citizens (electorates) have facilitated the transition from autocratic to democratic rule, and not the moral nature of the leader. After all, they say nothing good comes easy and no food for lazy man.
The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli, form the foundation for politics and are political Bibles for every worthy security scholar. Hobbes notes that ” the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Machiavelli suggests that it is best for any rational leader to be “feared than loved.”
I am a critic of democracy but an advocate of political evolution because I argue that politics is planted, it grows, it dies and decays. Cameroon since 1961, has had only two presidents who had their peaks when they came to power but troughed years later. And because nothing lasts forever, Cameroon should be debating change as the regime fades out. But here is Tapang’s puzzle.
Empirical evidence has proven that some conflicts are initiated in regime types that are not transparent about a “successful transition.” A power vacuum is left open. Hence, there is “war of all against all,” to borrow from Hobbes. Also, with a record of two presidents since 1961, it is logical to argue that the next president in Cameroon could be in power for the next 30 years too. Let me explain.
Sir John Dalberg-Acton, an 18th century English politician, is best known for his phrase “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” He was absolutely right. Everyone loves power because in the “state of nature” — the world without an external enforcer, leaders will not leave power because they enjoy it. The choice to glue to power or leave it is purely a rational choice and not irrational. And without any external enforcer, holding everything constant, it would be rationally irrational for any leader to leave power. So do we need external enforcers? Yes, we do.
The electorate in Cameroon is a very weak enforcer whose threat is not credible and capable to force a leader out of power. A threat can only be credible if it believable, and capable it can hurt. Apart from wasting votes in ballot boxes, there is nothing else they can do. They have no military nor tooth to bite the regime’s silver bullets.
So forget it, and take my advice. The next leader in Cameroon will stay for another 30 years in power under citeris paribus conditions. Every regime would keep the military under its control and use the executive to override the legislative. It would certainly play to the Western gallery and avoid some external force from ripping it off in the Libyan fashion.
Tapang Ivo Tanku