President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and former Burkina Faso's President, Blaise Compaoré, have been trailblazers for new African dictators, who have sought to extend their power indefinitely, by extending Presidential terms of office through change and misinterpretation of international agreements like the Arusha Agreement, and their countries’ constitutions.
By using police and army to impose themselves against the people, African Presidents leave people with absolutely no choice but protest against their power grab in the streets.
Blaise Compaoré was the first one to attempt an extension of Presidential terms after being in power for 27 years, having assassinated popular President Thomas Sankara to take power.
Pushed to the wall, people had no choice but to pour into the streets to protest both against Compaoré who wanted more of Presidential terms, and the Parliament – his pliable tool to legalise and legitimise his power grab. Fortunately, people were successful in throwing out both him and the Parliament.
After Burkina Faso, it was hope of Africa that African leaders would learn from the failure of Blaise Compaoré and avoid extending their terms of office against people’s will. But this optimism was misplaced.
One year was hardly over when President Nkurunziza also attempted to extend his Presidential terms by misinterpreting the constitution and the Arusha Accord, both which forbid a third Presidential term in office.
Even as thousands of Burundians were loudly and dangerously protesting against Nkurunziza’s determination to prolong his stay in power, world governments were warning against his extension of power. Even Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of ICC, was threatening to arrest the President for igniting chaos and violence, and it seemed as if nothing could stop the President’s insatiable greed for more power.
Fortunately, as in Burkina Faso, the Burundian army had sane and patriotic souls with courage, patriotism and enough sense of duty to rescue people and democracy from Presidential madness.
But what was inspiring Nkurunziza to seek a third Presidential term against the opinion of the whole world?
First, Nkurunziza was not alone in seeking dictatorship and life Presidency. Indeed in Africa, there is a new school of thought advocating dictatorship as Africa’s only effective tool of development.
While African leaders call themselves Presidents, they are dictators when they seek power for unlimited terms of office against the will of the people.
In their quest for dictatorship and limitless power, Nkurunziza and Compaoré were not alone. Despite the land reforms, if possible, President Mugabe will die in power. President Kagame of Rwanda, Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru of Kenya, Afwerki of Eritrea and Desalegn of Ethiopia – also dictators – are cheering and encouraging Nkurunziza to hang on to power for as long as he can. In East Africa, Tanzania seems to be the only country whose President, Kikwete, does not seem bent on seeking a third Presidential term.
President Nkurunziza was also getting encouragement from African Union that has changed its charter to rule out prosecution of African leaders while in office, and encouraging them to seek life Presidency – their only true guarantee against prosecution for any crimes done while in office. Indeed, the only African leader who will not seek a third term in office is the one whose people will seem impossible to remove from streets.
In the eastern Asia philosophy, there are three kinds of people who will seek leadership and power: People who are driven by desire or greed, soldiers who are driven by courage, and philosopher kings who are driven by wisdom.
Of these three categories of leadership, philosopher kings are considered best leaders because they are driven by a desire to serve, and don’t insist on keeping power when their leadership is no longer needed.
In Africa, most people in leadership are those who are drawn from the category of greed. While they are in power to enrich themselves, families and friends, they are a tragedy that is impossible to remove. During the one-party dictatorship in Africa, they wreaked havoc as life Presidents and their children are now organising themselves to inherit power and wreak havoc again in pursuit of power and wealth.
The other category of African leaders who are impossible to remove are those like Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame who believe they are superior to other people for winning military campaigns for power. Because they won wars, these leaders believe they are superior to the governments they defeated, and the masses they liberated from tyranny. Because of their assumed superiority, leaders with a background of armed struggle think their power is divinely ordained, and only God may terminate it. And often, they defy God himself.
Looking at Nkurunziza and Compaoré, they had a military ground and are also inflicted with greed for wealth. They were therefore doubly difficult to remove from power. Indeed, they seem to have a terrible contempt for institutions of democracy like elections – they don’t respect them and they don’t feel bound to them. The only time people have power to remove leaders of the gun is when they are ready to die protesting against them, or when armed forces rebel and oust them from power.
In Dar es Salaam, East African leaders have already condemned the coup that ousted Nkurunziza. But what could people of Burundi have done to save themselves from the menace of Nkurunziza, when regional leaders were quiet and not condemning dictatorship as they have condemned the coup? As the American Declaration of Independence said: "When citizens are subjected to tyranny, they have the right to overthrow it."