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“It won’t happen to me syndrome”

“It won’t happen to me syndrome”

About six months ago, I wrote an article on “THE ADDICTION TO POWER,” and specifically referenced two African leaders, Mamoud Tandja of Niger and Guinea’s Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara. Both I said, were examples of leaders who were addicted to power. Based on their actions, they erroneously believed that nothing bad will ever happen to them, and that good fortune will continue to shine on them forever. Now that both have been removed from power , I would like to revisit the topic for the benefit of those leaders who are still under the false notion that what has just transpired will never happen to them. (Photo: Hassan B Sisay, Author)

Many African leaders rely on their careful planning, the support of their own ethnic groups, disunited militaries, and corrupt members of the elite to roll back democracy. They behave as if they will rule for ever, with or without the approval of the electorate. The cases of Presidents Tandja and Captain Camara demonstrate that “part of learning to stay safe is to get rid of the it won’t happen to me mentality.” Life is full of twists and turns, and as Americans would say “stuff happens.” Ignoring or wishing danger away will not make it disappear, neither does resorting to denial or “ostrich mentality.”

I have always told my friends that human beings in general are capable of making elaborate plans that sometimes do not work.  We tend to equate “plans” to success, only to discover later that things have not happened as anticipated. Case in point, former President Tandja of Niger scheduled to leave office in 2009, meticulously implemented a plan that he thought would keep him in power “ad infinitum”.  Among other things, Tandja re-wrote his country’s constitution, abolished parliament, fired alleged anti-government judges, and conducted a fake referendum to approve his grab for power. When opposition and international groups cried foul, Tandja ignored their objections and steadfastly clung to his plan to extend his term of office. But on February 18th, all those plans crumbled as he was forcibly removed from power by the military. Whilst I am vehemently opposed to change of governments through military intervention, this time around, I will make an exception. This one seems to have been a “good coup.” However the army in Niger should avoid the temptation to stay in power indefinitely, and conduct presidential and parliamentary elections within the shortest possible time.

Like President Tandja, Guinea’s Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara also allowed the “power bug” to infect him. Initially, he said he was not interested in being president and that he would not contest the impending elections.  On September 16, 2009, he changed his mind and announced his intention to be a presidential candidate. His plans were cut short by gun shots fired at him by one of his presidential guards, and he is reportedly recuperating in Burkina Faso.

Another leader whose plans may disintegrate is Laurent Gbagbo, current president of the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire). He has continuously stood in the way of democracy and frustrated presidential and parliamentary elections, which were supposed to have taken place in 2005. Lately, like Tandja, he too has dissolved the government early this year, and dismissed the electoral commission. Most Ivorians have now concluded that Gbagbo has no intentions of ever holding an election for fear of losing. Last week, Frustrated and thoroughly demoralized, opposition forces called for demonstrations against Gbagbo’s undemocratic administration.  News media outlets indicate that at least 8 people have so far been shot dead by the police.

Events in the Ivory Coast seem to confirm  George B.N. Ayittey’s analysis of how the destruction of African countries commence. First, he said, it’s usually a dispute over the electoral process, and especially the “adamant refusal of one individual or the ruling elites to relinquish or share political power.” Thereafter, members of the elite who benefit from corruption tell the president in question whatever he or she wishes to hear. Control and manipulation of leaders is a favorite elite “modus operandi.” Through behavior and pronouncements, they justify and or provide legal basis to the leader for actions of  political exclusion. Often they do not care if their suggestions would lead to national instability or mass suffering.  In the Ivory Coast, those who have been excluded from the political system have decided to protest against the entrenched insiders. As the crisis escalates, U.N. Secretary – General Ban Ki-Moon has “urged Ivorians to remain calm and avoid any action that could trigger renewed violence.” But what other options remain for the excluded? Accept the status quo? Probably not. In the Ivory Coast, many have decided to over throw the system. Every indication shows that time is running out for President Gbagbo.

Dr. Hassan B. Sisay, Green Bay, Wisconsin

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  • As ususal Dr. Sisay’s insights into West African politics are excellent. i hope to hear more from him in the future.

    5th March 2010

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