Arrogance of Power and Rogue Diplomacy in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Clearly, it is a no-brainer that arrogance (of power) and rogue diplomacy as part of foreign policy, are not a good recipe for inter-state, inter-national relations and cooperation; they’re a recipe for hostility. There’s no winner in a hostile environment; everyone is a loser!

Ideally, diplomacy should not be a one-upmanship characterised by arrogance and rogue behaviour and attitude.

Fundamentally, diplomacy developed out of the need to deal with problems in the relationship, initially, between neighbouring countries; but has, overtime, extended into various areas of international relations and affairs such politics and trade.

Diplomacy, in essence, is about advancing an idea or cause in such measured manner, yet with impact, without inflaming passions and still attract interest of engagement. It’s about, for instance, circumnavigating an issue that people feel strongly about that might, if approached or handled clumsily, otherwise trigger them off, arousing negative sentiments and reaction such as anger, resentment and/or revenge.

Diplomacy between countries (international diplomacy) therefore, must be exercised from and with that basic principle of diplomacy fully in mind. A diplomat, therefore, must adhere to and endeavour to demonstrate understanding of such sensitivity in their diplomatic engagements.

If diplomatic engagements are conducted with arrogance, i.e, from a position of and with a sense of superiority rather than seek consensus on issues at hand without the need to be condescending towards another party, however weak they may be at the time, it risks to cause, and it will in most cases, cause disharmony in diplomatic relations.

A diplomat who seeks and engages in diplomatic activities or relations with no respect for those with whom they’re engaging; with the sole intention and purpose of proving superiority, to infuriate and humiliate others; is no diplomat: he or she is a misplaced rogue in diplomacy. A true diplomat should avoid trying to prove a point, or seek instant victory; but seek to find a middle ground; especially on issues that are sensitive and prone to misinterpretation, hence, causing misunderstanding and likely to result in negative reactions.

History is awash with examples in the world of cases/instances where a minor misunderstanding or oversight on protocol standards and expectations on relations have led to disharmony in diplomatic relations between countries, eventually deteriorating into devastating political conflicts with far-reaching consequences.

Based on the ongoing political and diplomatic events, there’s a sense in which Africa’s Great Lakes Region seems to be entangled in rogue diplomacy; with those in diplomacy and designated diplomats, violating basic standards and expectations of diplomacy such as foresight and sound judgement.

The level of arrogance of power by and from those who wield the levers of power in Africa’s Great Lakes Region, has effectively bred a growing sense and attitude of arrogance in diplomacy which, in itself, has been an integral factor in the growth of the kind of rogue diplomacy that’s increasingly prevalent in the region and its relational affairs.

That arrogance of power, by those in and with power in Africa’s Great Lakes Region, has thus turned diplomacy – otherwise an important arm or tool of politics supposed to handle and settle political matters, grievances without aggression – into a tool of aggression with rogues as diplomats.

Consequently, the inexcusably intransigent childish, insensitive behaviour and arrogant attitude of some rogue diplomats in diplomacy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region, has stoked and continues to stoke perpetual sociopolitical conflicts in the region with disastrous sociopolitical and economic outcomes.

Institution Building: African Perspective

Interestingly, there’s an almost universal claim that many of Africa’s socioeconomic and political afflictions are due to, and therefore an indication of institutional dysfunctions or lack of institutions altogether.

While that claim is without its substantial merits; there’s and has been, consequently, an equally universal trumpet call, not least from Africans themselves, for, not only building functional institutions but also – and with much emphasis on “strong” – institutions. However, what is and should be cause for concern, is that, the call for “strong” institutions lacks critical consideration to the nuances of the word “strong” in (much of Africa or) African context.

The word “Strong” is widely interpreted (and mistaken) for and associated with physical strength; in many instances, with brutality and, importantly, dominance. So, strength is applied, in most circumstances, to subdue others, often the weak, into submission.

Many Africans, not without exceptions, of course, especially with cultural nuances, tend to demonstrate and convey their “strength”, even in their voices (and intonations), purposely to intimidate those around and surrounding them into fear and eventually submission to their will.

As such, a “strong” institution in a wide African context, is one that displays – and is widely known for – excessive use of physical force, i.e, brutality. Too often, when people say an institution is “strong“, they mean it’s brutal; known for excessive use of physical force.

Where that’s less or, sometimes, entirely not the case, a “strong” institution usually means an institution built on and therefore whose credibility and functions rest on the shoulders and/or head of one person: a single individual in whom institutional power and life is vested. So that, the “strength” of such institution, is in effect and in reality, the strength of such individual. The individual becomes, and is thus, the institution. The institution becomes a conduit of – and functions on – the whims and diktats of such individual.

In other words, the institution works primarily for – and to serve – the interests of such individual. It’s beholden to such individual, in whose (sudden) absence or death, the institution is effectively kaput and rendered ineffectual. That also helps to explain why, for instance, corruption within institutions – institutional corruption, i.e, organised institutional mischief, sometime borderline criminality – and nepotism, cronyism are endemic in many supposedly government or public institutions in many African countries.

It’s not uncommon, for instance, for individuals to brag about their proximity to – or close relationship with – the President (Head-of-State) and his/her spouse and family, and owing their position in a government or public institution to that proximity or relationship with power. So, they serve the individual and his/her interests; and not government or public interests.

Their primary purpose is to effect orders from ‘above‘ and ensure the whims and fancies of those to whom they owe their positions, are catered for and served well, above all else. Theirs, is a concierge relationship with those to whom they owe their positions in what are, supposedly and ironically, government or public institutions.

This also explains why many supposedly government or public institutions in many African countries are run as though they are privately owned entities.

“A system that depends on the right man is a bad system” Milton Friedman

Too often, supposedly government or public institutions are built around a single individual, vesting all institutional power in one individual as the right and only capable individual.

This is why, it is imperative to consider avoiding the use of the word “strong” in institutional vocabulary in Africa. In fact, there should be campaigns against the concept or idea of a “strong” institution in Africa because it often means it’s prone to all manner of abuse.

Strong institutions will require strong people, i.e, powerful individuals in and with power to remain strong. Powerful individuals, i.e, those with sociopolitical and economic power in Africa, have demonstrated that they hijack and individualise, otherwise supposedly government or public institutions, hence, the genesis to the creation of the malaise of “Strong men” that blights Africa’s politics.

Institutional building should really be about the building of stable and independent structures of governance and interactivity. That means building structures and systems of interaction, communications and ethos within the institution and inter-institutional relationship and interaction.

Building internal institutional structures and systems that primarily serve the purpose of the institution but also ensure institutional independence from individuals, such as heads of institutions and checks on the likely abuse of institutional power (and privilege) and therefore, ensure institutional continuity beyond individuals.

The strength of an institution lies and should be in the institution’s ability to continue serving its purpose with or without a designated head of institution. Institutional independence, checks on power and privilege and continuity are and should be, among other important factors, what make a strong institution.

Economic Plunder-ism of Africa

While locally aided foreign plunder of Africa’s natural resources is done in and for the service of foreign interests – economic and otherwise; African colonialists, i.e, those with – and who control – political power and state machinery, who otherwise act as “political gatekeepers and agents” to foreign interests in Africa, facilitate and participate in the plunder to the great detriment of their own economies.

Put plainly, they happily facilitate and participate in the destruction of Africa and their own economies.

While African “political gatekeepers and agents” to foreign interests in Africa are immensely rewarded for their facilitation and participation in the foreign plunder of African natural resources and their own economies; they not only spend their monetary rewards in [the same] foreign economies, but also hoard their monetary rewards in foreign bank accounts, hence further benefiting foreign economies at the great expense and deprivation of their own economies.

While locally aided foreign forces plunder African resources for the benefit of their countries and economies; the African so-called political elite – “political gatekeepers and agents” to foreign interests – and some of their business cohort, usually their business fronts, on the other hand loot their national resources out of their countries and economies and hoard their loot in foreign economies. They buy obscenely expensive- and certainly expansive – high-end properties they rarely or will never use, in foreign economies, flooding such economies with free money.

The African so-called political elite loots their national wealth out of their countries into foreign economies, to benefit foreign economies. While foreign focus and interest in Africa, on the other hand, is motivated by the systematic plunder of African resources to benefit their respective foreign economies.

The African so-called political elite and their business cohort loot their national wealth (resources), facilitate and participate in the foreign plunder of African resources, to be rewarded to buy into investments in foreign economies; not their own African national economies. The African so-called political elite and their business cohort loot their national wealth (resources) to buy foreign luxuries. They hoard foreign consumer luxury goods such as fleets of ridiculously expensive vehicles and all manner of other expensive accessories.

The African so-called political elite and their business cohort do and engage in this kind of national robbery while majority of the people are left to starve and deprived of essential needs – and to bear the brunt as victims of the looting of their national wealth.

Strangely, however, the same African so-called political elite, run with a begging cup in hand, to the same foreign economies and their institutions to beg for “development aid“. Even when and where such “aid” is granted; it’s immediately stolen and diverted by the same group into their foreign bank accounts as recently demonstrated in a World Bank Policy Research Paper: Elite Capture of Foreign Aid: Evidence from Offshore Bank Accounts.…

Even strange, they fervently complain about “neo-colonialism” in Africa and foreign interference in their national affairs.

It’s strange to have some African heads-of-State as among or the top richest people in their countries and in world ranking of the richest – multimillionaires and billionaires – while a disproportionate majority of the[ir] people live in dehumanising poverty.

Since so-called [political] “independence” in Africa, many countries have since had and been in the control of a plundering, thieving political elite that behaves and lives like an invading foreign force. They behave as if their primary purpose and goal is to loot their national wealth to the hilt.

Many so-called “independent” African countries have had and been controlled by a political gang who come to power from an economically impoverished background, sometimes through violent means such as war and conflicts, with no known valued assets to their names, but a few years in power, they are multimillionaires with substantial wealth.

Many, certainly not all, so-called post-independence African countries have had heads-of-state who come to power from an economically impoverished background, with nothing in personal wealth terms to their name, but a few years in power, they are multimillionaires or billionaires.

So-called post-independence African countries have continually had; and the trend does not appear to change anytime soon, heads-of-state who are among or the top richest people in their countries, and feature in world rankings of the world’s richest and wealthiest people.

Examples abound, but it goes without mentioning Mobutu Sese Seko, who was once president of, arguably, Africa’s naturally richest country, who had billions of US dollars stacked in foreign bank accounts and owned obscenely expensive properties in Europe.

Power Succession in Africa

Power successions in pre-colonial African societies were, traditionally and for the most part, always a direct bloodline affair and mostly intense events shrouded in secrecy, and sometimes involved violent rivalries; moreover when the succession was triggered by a sudden death of the reigning power.

In the event of a sudden death of a reigning power, and where the [natural] next to the throne was a minor and/or had immediate rivalries; this would, in most cases, likely cause internal succession and power struggles – some, if not in fact, most, violent and bloody.

Rivalries would ensue from and among a long list of potential successors either with an immediate and direct relation/connection to the deceased power holder. Or among those who constituted the ruling circle who, under whatever pretext, felt they had a legitimate claim to power, i.e, to the top position of power in their society.

Conscious of the divisive power of such internal power struggles and their potentially destructive effects in the wider society; which had potential to cause a much bigger threat to the power structure – senior and influential players in the social power structure, who usually played the role of power brokers, would ensure the death of the reigning power (holder) is kept (a top) secret. While keeping a tight lid on the death of the reigning power (holder); they would likewise move fast to ensure they keep a tight lid on the ongoing internal succession and power struggles.

This would allow the senior and influential power brokers in the social power structure, time to manage the internal succession and power struggles, until a successor was finally agreed upon and approved and/or elected. This was a long and winded process that involved negotiations, compromises and all the relevant power dynamics.

Only after the successor had been approved internally by the power brokers (committee) and ready to be handed the mantle of power, would the death of the reigning power (holder) be announced to the public in a sombre mood. The death announcement would be made by the most senior figure among the senior and influential committee of power brokers, while intentionally feigning a ‘sudden‘ passing of the reigning power (holder); who, during his reign, would have carefully cultivated and projected an image and the aura of an ‘immortal‘ and ‘eternal‘ ‘Great and Dear Leader’.

Importantly, however, the death announcement would be made simultaneously with the announcement of the successor to power, to avoid and remove creating a potentially dangerous impression in the public (society) of a power vacuum. It was also a careful execution to create and project the impression, at least in the eyes and minds of the public (society), of a seamless transition of power.

These power succession dynamics are not unique to pre-colonial African societies alone; they were much a common occurrence in other societies across the word.

The practice has not changed much in modern times. The politics of power successions is much the same, perhaps with a little sophistication, here and there.

Political succession in modern African societies that are more or less a hybrid of monarchical and republican systems, with heads of State/government who exhibit and hence rule with tendencies of a monarch and a president – henceforth called “PresiKings“; power succession is a direct bloodline affair, i.e, much a family affair, in the absence of war and violent internal struggles within the ruling circle.

In the event of a sudden death of a PresiKing; or the PresiKing is severely incapacitated and is no longer able to execute – and capable of executing – his duties; the common tendency and therefore practice, is naturally for the PresiKing’s eldest son, rarely daughters, to immediately, although through some ceremonial rituals, occupy the vacancy and come to power and carry on the family business as it was before the death of the PresiKing – the departed, ironically, ‘immortal‘ and ‘eternal‘ ‘Great and Dear Leader’.

This is usually organised and executed by those – the inner circle of trusted aides – closest to the PresiKing who are, and have been privileged beneficiaries of the PresiKing’s reign, mostly of and through terror, who are usually notorious executors of the PresiKing’s orders, wishes and sometimes their own imaginations and guesses of the PresiKing‘s intentions.

Because they are the principal beneficiaries, they, understandably, have vested interests and therefore are primarily motivated by preserving the status-quo. By electing and/or installing the PresiKing’s next of kin – usually the eldest son as has widely been the accepted tradition in much of African societies – to power, they are preserving their own individual interests. They act in self-interest, rarely in public interest, and where and when they appear to do so; it’s because it serves and helps to consolidate their interests.

This is done, and usually accomplished, with a great deal of internal power manipulations, at times involving mysterious deaths of those suspected of posing threats to the succession by questioning its validity or in form of outright opposition.

There are plenty of examples of where and when a (sudden) death of the reigning power brought in their (eldest) sons such as the death (by assassination) of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo which saw his son Joseph Kabila Kabange (seamlessly, on the surface, of course, and to the unsuspecting and easily gullible eyes of the public) succeed him.

Ali Bongo Ondimba, the present President Gabon, who is said to have suffered a severe stroke on a visit to Saudi Arabia, that left him severely and physically incapacitated; succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who had been President from 1967 until his death in 2009.

Political power, particularly the governance of national affairs, is treated more or less, as a family affair/business where leadership succession has to be – and therefore, for the most, is passed on – from one family member to another, in much of Sub-Saharan Africa; a practice that perpetuates misrule and widespread impunity.

Africa and Military coups: what is brewing in Mali, despite the urgent need for change of government, must be welcomed with deep reservations.

Military coups are generally not the ‘best‘ way to come to power. They are usually an indication that things do not bode well for the future because they have a tendency to be the beginning of the rule of the Gun, by the Gun rather than of the law.

Historically, military coups in Africa have always brought in the rule of the Gun, by the Gun and trampled over the rule of the law; which, unsurprisingly, ferments deep resentments and a desire for more military coups. It becomes a vicious cycle of military coups, one after the other.

A soldier without any political or ideological training is a potential criminal” Thomas Sankara

A military coup, is a dangerous (political) power (acquisition) instrument, primarily because its ultimate power lies, and therefore, derives from a dangerous weapon – the gun. Usually in the wrong hands with heads full of brutality and twisted perception of power as a consequence of lack of clear and grounded understanding of political ideology.

Historically, in Africa, the military – whose formation and code of conduct is deeply rooted in its colonial origin and therefore purpose – has largely been, and remains largely so today, extremely and brutally against the public – the civilian. They treat the civilian as the enemy and inferior to them, hence, the kind of brutality that is typical of most African military personnel against civilians.

Their brutality is facilitated by the power they derive from the possession of the gun. The gun is their power.

It’s this twisted logic and perception of power, at the centre of which is brutality and the willingness to serve it in unlimited measure, that makes a military coup, a dangerous, and frankly, undesirable instrument and a means of acquiring – and coming to – political power.

Military coups and liberation movements in Africa, usually, have quite a lot in common. They are both borne out of deep socioeconomic and political dissatisfaction usually as a result of dysfunctional governments that seem to exist to serve to fatten their officials and starve the masses, eventually to death.

Military coups often bring in a military rule, that is, the rule of the Gun, by the Gun, while promising a ‘quick’ return to civilian rule; a promise that is rarely and/or peacefully honoured. They, however, tend to repeat the same mistakes; or do and engage in far more worse and atrocious mischief; which makes another coup inevitably necessary.

Similarly, many liberation movements in Africa, once in power (government); end – and have indeed ended – up morphing into repressive regimes; as repressive or worse than those they replaced. To maintain their power (grip), and with the help of the memory of the past; they become extremely brutal against and towards those who oppose their repression or express resentment for their failure to live up to the ideals and promises of and during the liberation struggle.

They inevitably create a need for another liberation from a repressive regime, of what was once a liberation movement brought into power by a costly liberation struggle but nonetheless with worthy ideals and a just cause. Therefore, it inevitably becomes a vicious cycle of liberation struggles that, once in power (government) and besotted on the success power brings, and in their infinite determination to maintain power, end up morphing into repressive regimes.

This is why military coups and liberation movements (and struggles) in Africa, as inevitable and necessary as they may be under the prevailing circumstances that make them desired alternatives; they should, however, always be welcomed with deep reservations. They must prove they aren’t merely another pack of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

This possible reality should never be allowed to be lost in the euphoria of the moment of a seeming triumph over the present evil. Because history is not short of examples where triumphant struggles over evil; have instead struggled to bring in and therefore be replaced with another reign of far worse evil than the triumphed.