Saturday, 2nd December 2023

After 244 years of reign, sit-tight African leaders review security architecture 

By Joseph Onyekwere, Ngozi Egenuka (Lagos) and Terhemba Daka (Abuja)
01 September 2023   |   4:26 am
Following the seizure of power by Gabonese military junta on Wednesday, making the country the 7th in the wave of countries to succumb to military coup in the continent, Rwanda and Cameroon yesterday unveiled significant shifts in their security forces, impacting senior military personnel. 

Paul Biya PHOTO: Getty images

….as Rwanda, Cameroon make military changes
• Gabon set to swear in transitional president
• Sit-tight mentality, poor governance record, render them military target, says Prof Oyebode
• Retiring, reshuffling soldiers, not likely solution, Prof Omoregie says
• Soremekun: African leaders must allow citizens enjoy political and economic freedom
• I’m not interested in war, Tinubu tells Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs 

Following the seizure of power by Gabonese military junta on Wednesday, making the country the 7th in the wave of countries to succumb to military coup in the continent, Rwanda and Cameroon yesterday unveiled significant shifts in their security forces, impacting senior military personnel.

Specifically, no less than seven African leaders have hung onto power for at least two decades. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, 37 years; Teodoro Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, 44 years; Paul Biya of Cameroon, 48 years; Denis Nguesso of Republic of Congo, 38 years; Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, 30 years; Paul Kagame of Rwanda, 23 years and Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, 24 years. They have cumulatively held on to power for 244 years.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame retired hundreds of soldiers within the nation’s security framework.

New generals have also been appointed to lead army divisions across the country.

The Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) released a statement disclosing Kagame’s approval of the retirement of 12 generals, 83 senior officers, and six junior officers.

Additionally, 86 senior non-commissioned officers will be retired. In all, about 678 soldiers retired as their contracts concluded, with 160 others medically discharged.

Prominent figures from Rwanda’s 1994 liberation war, including Gen. James Kabarebe, Gen. Fred Ibingira, and Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga, are among the retirees.

Both Kabarebe and Kayonga previously held the position of chief of defence staff of the Rwandan army.

On the same day, Kagame elevated several young officers to the rank of colonel and designated new generals to lead military divisions.

Other retirees encompass Lt. Gen. Frank Mushyo Kamanzi, currently Rwanda’s ambassador to Russia, and Maj. Gen. Albert Murasira, a former defence minister.

In June, Kagame appointed Juvenal Marizamunda as the new defence minister, succeeding Albert Murasira, who had held the role since 2018.

Similarly, Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, enacted fresh appointments within the Defence Ministry’s central administrative unit, as outlined in a decree shared on social media.

Biya has been in power since 1982 and does not seem to be interested in relinquishing power even as his health is failing at 90.

Professor of international law and Jurisprudence, Akin Oyebode believes these sit-tight rulers in Africa are running panicky as a result of developments in the Sahel and Central Africa.

According to him, their sit-tight mentality and poor governance record have rendered their countries targets for blood thirsty men on horseback.

“They are today afraid of their shadows and seek to do whatever they can to stem the tide of military action against them.

Well, there is a lot of discussion regarding democracy and development. There is a body of opinion that democracy could be incompatible with development and, therefore, Africa is better served by dictatorship.

“Indeed, there are those who argue that the African soil is hostile towards western-style ballot-box democracy, but it must be stated that the jury is still out on that,” he argued.

Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law and Governance, Edoba Omoregie (SAN) charged citizens of countries where coups happened to rather seize their political destiny in their own hands, with the support of the rest of Africa.

They would be making a big mistake, he pointed out, to depend on military officers to help them to institutionalise their democracy, and make it enduring with all the ingredients of fair competition in place.

According to him, the response of reshuffling military personnel by those described as “sit-tight” political leaders is a reaction to the wave of military putsches in some parts of Africa.

“That’s not likely to stop the unprofessional impulses of military personnel who wish to stage a coup. It may only produce even more repression of opposition and deliberate undermining of the military establishment in such countries.

President Yoweri Museveni

“In the end, it is important that none of us should celebrate military intervention even as we should also never tolerate sit-tight political leaders. It’s a two-edged sword which must be delicately addressed by African leaders at the different fora of regional and sub-regional interactions with a view to restoring faith in the democratic system as the only enduring guarantee of progress in Africa,” he advised.

Senior Lecturer, Department of History and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Friday Aworawo, said the attempt by Rwanda and Cameroon to reshuffle its military is a temporary fix and would not produce the desired outcome.

“Why are they afraid? This is just a temporary approach. Those who have always held on to power need to let go. Reshuffling cannot solve the problem because even a Colonel can take over power.

“The solution is a constitutional order where president’s rule for at most four years for two terms or five years for two tenures,” Aworawo said.

Associate professor, NIIA, Dr. Joshua Bolarinwa, believes that it is a signal by the both countries to forestall such occurrence, as a preventive measure.

He, however, said that although Rwanda has been enjoying good governance and infrastructure development, the step to change the military is preventive diplomacy or measure so they are not caught unaware.

“I think what Paul Kagame has done is to take preventive measures so as not to be caught unawares.

“These issues of long serving presidents have necessitated reshuffling in the military, especially in the top tier echelon cadre of the military in Rwanda and Cameroun,” he said.

Bolarinwa predicted that some other African countries like Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire would follow suit in rejigging it’s military.

According to him, African leaders must quickly be wary of the Wagner groups in the continent as they have had a trail of insurgency and violence in the states they have encountered like Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

“There is a new scramble for Africa, the interest of these big powers in Africa is contributing to the challenges in the continent,” he declared.

Professor of Political Science, Lagos State University, Kayode Soremekun, said there is a fairly predictable dimension to the coup in Gabon, and given the recent contagious dimensions of coups, these responses are expected.

He, however, added that resulting in these measures would not save Rwanda and Cameroon unless they become repentant democrats and allow the people enjoy political and economic freedom.

According to him, Cameroon and Rwanda are both dictatorships masquerading as democracy so their reaction was expected as their circumstances are similar to Gabon, where they have made a caricature of elections.

Research professor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Femi Otubanjo, said reshuffling is not the solution, but the reshuffling of the mentality of governance, as it is not a dynastic rule or kingship.

He said the two nations are taking such steps because they are aware that a particular sect has been in power for the longest time.

He stated that the only solution is to have a constitutional change where individuals would be allowed to rule for a specific period of time.

Otubanjo noted that both countries have different experiences. “Cameroon’s president, who resides more outside the country, is giving off a panic reaction but Rwanda, whose situation is a bit steadier, might have been a routine administrative process,” he suggested.

FILE PHOTO: Paul Kagame. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana/File Photo

Otubanjo said that Biya who has been in power for 41 years and Kagame for 23 years are long overdue for replacement, as no president should be in power more than eight or 10 years, adding that their reaction is a panic measure.

He said that it’s time for long ruling presidents to leave for the development of the continent, adding that most countries in Africa are in civilian autocracy and not democracy.

Meanwhile, President Bola Tinubu yesterday declared that he is not interested in war but kinetic intervention in the Niger Republic.

He stated that the issue has equally not been jettisoned, as efforts are still ongoing to exhaust all diplomatic options with the military junta in the beleaguered country.

Tinubu, who did not rule out the last resort to military intervention if diplomacy fails, maintained that any forceful removal of a democratic government remains “wholly unacceptable.”

The President spoke when he received the Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), led by the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, at the State House, Abuja.

“I must thank you for your several visits to Niger Republic, Your Eminence, but you will still have to go back. My fear has been confirmed in Gabon that copycats will start doing the same thing until it is stopped.

“We are neighbours with the Niger Republic, and what has joined Nigerians together with their great people cannot be broken. Nobody is interested in a war. We have seen the devastation in Ukraine and Sudan. But, if we don’t wield the big stick, we will all suffer the consequences together,” the President warned.

President Tinubu noted that Nigeria, under General Abdulsalami Abubakar, instituted a nine-month transition programme in 1998, and it proved very successful, leading the country into a new era of democratic governance. The President sees no reason such cannot be replicated in Niger, if Niger’s military authorities are sincere.

“Your Eminence, please don’t get tired, you will still go back there. The soldiers’ action is unacceptable. The earlier they make positive adjustments, the quicker we will dial back the sanctions to alleviate the sufferings we are seeing in Niger,” the President affirmed.

On the hardship faced by many Nigerians post-fuel subsidy removal, the President assured that all ongoing reforms will liberate and reposition the economy, which will benefit the majority of the population in terms of opportunities, infrastructure, healthcare and education.

“Nigeria is headed for a promise. Our diversity will turn into prosperity, not adversity. We will build a country that our children will be proud of,” the President assured.

The President told the delegation that the Federal Government had opened talks with State Governments to provide land for the proper sustenance of animals with a view to developing pan-national animal husbandry and agro-allied production and processing facilities for mass export, job creation and revenue generation.

“If Nigeria is still looking for vaccines for basic health issues; if infant and maternal mortality is rampant, then we should examine ourselves. I will commit to consulting with other leaders, like the NSCIA, and we will meet the needs of our people,” he said.

Contributing at the meeting, Vice President Kashim Shettima said the President had budgeted N50 billion to support the ongoing rebuilding of lives and property in the North West and North East, and with a new focus on dialogue to address security challenges.

The Sultan of Sokoto pledged “100 per cent loyalty” to the President, affirming that a leader can only reach a position by the will of God, and not man.

He assured the President that the NSCIA will be available to advise and support him to realise his dream for the country, adding that “God will hold all leaders to account, in justice and fairness.”

He suggested that the distribution of palliatives across the country should be monitored and augmented, to ensure that it reaches the people who are in dire need.