I AM WRITING this article because I don’t want a day to come when I will not be able to write this article even if I want to. I don’t want to have to go underground to be an activist. It’s not like I’m popular or I want to be, I just want to be able to stand by my words openly. In a capitalist “democracy”, I can get arrested for writing this article, but I know that there is freedom of protest and freedom of expression that those who will fight for my release will refer to – this is the importance of a point of reference.
This is the importance of elections. If elections are rigged, the solution is to rearrange the electoral system of countries across Africa through political demands and actions. One example is to demand that all electoral bodies should be filled with elected representatives of the people and not appointees or employees of politicians. The solution is not to turn to military dictatorship. The flaws in our democracies can and should be addressed through political demands, civic engagement, and collective action. This is my reaction to the wave of military coups across Africa.
I remember as a kid in Osun State we were very happy when former military governor, Oyinlola, won the election against Akande who was sacking teachers and owing salary. Oyinlola did worse. He literally shot his way into a second term. Aregbesola was trying to defeat him and when Aregbesola finally won his court case, it was like a revolution on the streets of Osogbo. I have never seen a huge number of people so happy and excited and demonstrating it on the streets, as the craze I saw in Osogbo when Aregbesola was declared governor in November 2010, I think. Aregbesola came and plundered what was left in Osun for eight years. What of the celebration when Buhari won in 2015? Did he not show us Shege banza?
So, I’m disappointed that some pan-Africanists and socialists are trying to define what happened in Gabon as a revolution because the people supported the coup. Does the fact that a number of people celebrated the coup make it a revolution? Or have we started defining revolution as any political action that involves more than one thousand people?
What happened in Gabon is just the same old power grab, just with a different face. Power is just changing hands, but oppressive power still reigns, and it is not just any oppressive power but a military dictatorship that’s accountable to no one. Authoritarianism is the ideology of the military. It is a rule of force, rather than a rule of reason. Force does not favour anybody, even those using it. The rule of reason is how we evolved to be higher animals. Revolution can only happen in a climate of reason.
A revolution is not a numerical contest and it cannot be determined by the quantity of people who rally behind a cause. Number of participants is only one facet of the complex phenomenon of revolution. The objectives of pursuing justice, and dismantling oppressive structures are important for a revolution to be a revolution. The military is one of those oppressive structures. A revolution is an ideological shift, a vision. Revolution does not necessarily mean force. Most part of the revolution will happen in our minds. The most potent revolutions begin in the minds of the people, where new ideologies, perspectives, and visions for a better world take root. It is that mind that we will use for a better form of political organising.
The intention of a revolution is not to grab power. It is for everybody to be empowered. A revolution can be violent or peaceful based on circumstances, but it must be democratic to be a revolution. A revolution is not about public support, it is about public participation. The people of Gabon or Niger are not supporting the military out of reason but out of sentiments. They are supporting the military out of their understandable need for an escape from the frustrations of the past civilian rulers. We must acknowledge this and help them understand, rather than encourage that backward consciousness.
As an unrepentant critique of capitalist ‘democracy’, I want to state clearly that I prefer capitalist democracy to capitalist authoritarianism. And it’s clear why. Democracy is not perfect, but it gives me a reference point. A benchmark from which I can fight! I hate capitalism and authoritarianism, but instead of using the democratic concession I’ve fought for and gotten in the struggle against authoritarianism to fight capitalism and defeat it and win concessions/revolutions on that front too, you are asking me to let go of that concession of civilian rule as an expression of my anger at capitalism and imperialism? In what world is that reasonable? Is one bird in hand not worth more than ten in the bush?
The “revolutionary” train is going backward to the 1960s and 1970s when military coups were proffered as a solution to the failure of capitalist democracy and as a solution to imperialist domination. This is the mistake that gave us Obasanjo, Babangida, Buhari, Abacha, etc. in Nigeria – military politicians, who have held this country hostage for almost 60 years. But some “revolutionaries” don’t mind jumping on that train that’s circling back because they are happy that finally the people are angry. Anger alone does not guarantee progress! It can only be a catalyst for change. Why then do we leave the reactant (reason) to treasure the catalyst? Yes! The people are angry, but our voices should coherently create a better society. We would be foolish to do the same thing all over again and expect a different result. Albert Einstein once said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
While I understand that there is no military solution to the problem of terrorism, except we end the vindictiveness of the justice system, we all agree when it is pointed out that terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Ansaru, ISWAP, etc. thrive in Northern Nigeria because of the corruption of Nigerian military top brass who feed on those anti-terrorist missions. Do we still want the same military to take over? Are we just confused? Military institutions are built to not care about the freedom, justice, and democracy that we are fighting for yet we expect them to help us? They don’t hold elections within the military. Military institutions prioritise discipline and hierarchy over justice or democracy, and that should make us pause and reflect on whether we truly know what we want.
Back to Gabon, the same military that was used to steal democracy away in the elections and repress the people is offering itself as a solution to a situation it was used to perpetuate. The same military is offering itself as a representative of the people. Not even a new faction that has never participated in the oppression of the people. We’re just running around in circles. It’s a vicious cycle. Should we not be busy questioning the motivations and sincerity of these supposed champions of the people, instead of celebrating? The coup leader in Niger was the leader of the presidential guard just like the coup leader in Gabon.
The same leader of the presidential guard who protected the president against the people while he was rigging elections and carrying out a democratic coup is the same person who’s offering himself up as the hope of the people. What kind of special confusion is this? Truly, a disinformation war between the two sides of imperialism is going on and the people of Africa are the targets. This continent has been a battleground for global powers seeking to advance their interests, at the expense of the African people, and this is just another expression of that ongoing tug of war. No wonder either side of these “revolutions” waved the flags representing either side of imperialism. The military interventions are just political manipulations of one side of imperialism and we know which side it is!
Some people have raised the question of what happens if those military officers have radical ideas or they are socialists. They have cited the example of Sankara. Yes, we must talk about Sankara and why the Burkinabe “revolution” failed. Thomas Sankara was a military officer who took power and tried to move in a socialist direction. He was a charismatic leader who was a Marxist and a Pan-Africanist. But why did that revolution fail? It failed because it was not yet a revolution. The people had only been mobilised, but a new society with new institutions was yet to be built before Sankara was assassinated.
This would have been impossible in a democratic revolution where the people had the mental and physical weapons to defend their revolutions from assassinations, the geopolitical reality of being a landlocked country, internal divisions, the country’s elites, or international pressure. The reason why it was possible to reverse the direction of Burkina Faso just by killing Sankara is because it was a military coup and not a democratic process where the people could learn by themselves, no matter how slowly. The revolution failed because it was approached from the wrong direction – from the top. There was no platform for dialogue and debate with the people, which are important tools for progress.
A revolution is not possible from the top, it is either built from the foundation up, or it is not a revolution at all. This is where the process becomes important. The end does not justify the means, because the journey is all we have. The means is all we have. The process is all we have. “Everything will be okay in the end” means that the end is just “okay”. There is nothing interesting about it. The story is no longer great when it comes to the END. So, quoting Thomas Sankara to defend new military dictators across Africa is like using that failure of a revolution despite Sankara’s great efforts to justify embarking on another journey of failure. No sensible person will do that! History is not a stage play to re-stage. It exists only to provide us with valuable lessons to heed rather than repeat.
We must build the strength of our society’s collective consciousness. The masses and their numbers are not just there waiting to be mobilised for an agenda – they need to also be engaged and educated. We must continue to engage with the people in a democratic framework to help them explore, understand, and articulate their needs, aspirations, and goals. People should have the freedom to explore their desires and arrive at their own conclusions rather than having decisions dictated to them.
As anti-authoritarian as I am, I agree with those who express the reality that people do not know what they want. That reality exists sometimes. That’s the observation of the few thousands of loudmouths across Africa who think military takeovers are the way to free Africa. I agree with the reality they express because the reality is true. It’s the inference from our mutual observation that’s different.
Sometimes people don’t have the ability to know what they want because of the “survival’ society we live in, and the solution to that is not to dictate to them or over them. Human desires are sometimes conflicting because they are going through a process of evolution. The solution is to start conversations with them that can help them find out what they want, and that conversation is only possible in a democracy.
Comrade Ibukun writes from Abuja and can be contacted on 09167636201.