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African Armies Threaten Democracy On The Continent


Last week in Egypt, democracy as we know it, was turned on its head by a ragtag team of boisterous demonstrators and coup-happy soldiers; a democratically elected president, the first in the country‘s storied history, was abruptly ousted. Glued to my television, I watched events  crestfallen.

As the army stamped its authority on this nation of nearly 80million souls, there was an inclination among many to depict the army’s action as meeting the demands of the majority of the people of Egypt who had grown increasingly fatigued with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, it is foolhardy to assume that the army is acting on behalf of a weary population.  The truth is that the Egyptian army has never been a force for democracy.

From all indications, the army embarked on this journey for the second time in two and half years – in 2011 it toppled Hosni Mubark – to protect its privileges which it felt were being threatened by Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Morsi had forced out top generals and with this action he thought he had tamed the Egyptian army.

It is an established fact that the Egyptian army cannot seem to shake its obsession with coups. It has a well-documented history of usurping power. It all harkens back to the 1952 military putsch that installed a young Colonel Gamel Abdul Nasser as head of the Egyptian government.

That was the beginning of a 60-year rule by the Army that lasted until 2011 when Hosni Mubarak  himself an air force commander was deposed by a popular uprising led by his former defence Minister, Field Marsha Mohammed Husein Tantawi.

The ousted Morsi who, last year won an electoral victory that earned praise from many quarters as fair and transparent, tried to save his presidency by haltingly declaring that the army’s action was unconstitutional and illegal. Gen. Abdul Fatah al Sisi, head of the Egyptian military was unimpressed.  Morsi and 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were immediately placed under “house arrest.”

Not unexpected, some have, with the military once again dominating affairs in Egypt, began singing the dirges of political Islam, as a viable alternative to secularism. But this perception is wrong on many fronts. For one thing, political Islam is alive and well in Turkey and Tunisia.  

In Turkey, political Islam has embraced some principles of capitalism and in the ensuing process turned the fortunes of the country around. Turkey is now a wealthy and powerful nation.  Political Islam in Tunisia is still in its infant stages, but so far has withstood sustained efforts by secularists and other vested interests to derail it.     

While the rest of the world wrung its hands, the African Union was swift in condemning the Egyptian military and followed that with the suspension of Egypt from all its activities. The AU’s action was not unexpected; the Central African Republic, Madagascar and Mali were all suspended after civilian governments in those countries were overthrown.

As Admore Kambudzi, secretary of the African Union Peace and Security Council put it, “ As mandated by the relevant AU instruments, the African Union Peace and Security Council decides to suspend Egypt in AU activities until the restoration  of constitutional order.”

I fully endorse the AU’s action which at its face value sends a strong message to the continent’s armies that if they interrupt constitutional rule, they face immediate sanctions from the organization, ostracization and isolation. Time and again, armies on the African continent have wrested power from duly elected civilian governments with impunity but only to worsen existing political, social and economic conditions.  

It is a widely known fact though not openly acknowledged that African armies are incompetent, corrupt and disdainful of human rights. Prior to French military intervention in Mali, European experts publicly ridiculed the competence of the Malian military and by implication, African armies in general.

African armies, by and large, are more interested in protecting their privileges and status.  Recent events in Mali and elsewhere on the continent substantiate these claims.  The Malian army was roundly defeated by Islamist rebels and had to rely on outside assistance from France to regain territory it had lost in the northern region of the country.

And in Nigeria, the military has been accused of killing hundreds of innocent civilians in its fight against Bokom Haram. In Egypt, there is a rebellion in the Sinai desert by Islamist extremists which the Egyptian army has failed to suppress.  

So, there you have it; when it comes to defeating insurgents and containing threats that could jeopardize national stability, African armies are found wanting. However, throwing out hapless civilian but democratically elected governments has become the specialty of African armies and Egypt sadly exemplifies that ugly caricature.  



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