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Governments that Do Not Govern?
A Contribution to: Dunken, Arnold. Africa: Appearance and Otherwise, pp. 324. Lillihan&Danupe. New York, 2000.
Abdirizak Adam (DOURQUN)
sounds like a joke to even slightly
speculate the existence of a government that does not govern. The
irony strikes the mind and a set of questions quickly kick in. What
is the essence of a government if not governing? What people on
earth would accept such a government to be theirs? Does such a
government exist anywhere known in this world? It is neither a
thought tweaking proposition nor a joke in cosmic philosophy but our
contemporary world is awash with authoritative functionaries who
pose like proper governments as an outer shell, but in fact rule
their people as conquered societies whose common will and
aspirations must be subdued. The only aspect of governing they
practice is that of a ruler whose role must be seen as the strong,
the master and the feared. The rest of the art of governing, becomes incompatible
with the strong, the master and the feared, and thus, inconceivable to
these rulers as its not desirable.
a result, societies of the Third World are mostly under the
grip of recalcitrant and ruthless rulers who never bother to
struggle with the political complexities of their countries. Their
interest in the public service are not very different from each
other. The pleasing sense of being recognized as the most
powerful in their own cultures appears to be the prime common
denominator of these rulers. In addition, lining up their deep empty
pockets is either their ultimate end to power, or a secondary but
closely important motivation. Seen through these two premises (power
and money), governments instituted and policies exercised under
these rulers, divergently depart with our most rudimentary
understanding of the essence of governing and policy making.
Third World governments (mostly African) defy any easy articulation
of their kind, both in form and content. The formation of the
government usually considers two factors. First, appearing to the
outside world as a full-fledged legitimate government, which of
course entails calling the person at the helm as "the
president" and the rest of the gang "the ministers".
Second, the careful appointment of loyal individuals as the
"custodians" of nominal portfolios in dozens of
ministries. These individuals must be under no illusion that their
role, as members of the government, is solely to help the
patriarchal ruler realize his ends: to remain in power and to
accumulate wealth. Favorably, they should also have similar aims,
albeit lesser aims in scope and limitations.
symbolic appearance as a full-fledged government has its importance
in its external; appeal and international interactions. Such a
government typically owes its existence and even legitimacy to the
hand-outs of the international community. What is calling itself a
government, therefore, is a ruler whose quest for power is the only
way he knows how to attain self actualization of a peculiar kind:
feeling relevant and recognized as important in his own culture and
enjoying the luxury of richness in material terms, in the form of
estates, gainful trades and stashed cash in distant anonymous banks.
for all practical purposes, the ruling group is usually under no
naiveté that they lack any modest attributions of a government.
They are very aware, that what is required of them is the simple
pass of a credibility test in the international arena, especially
the donor countries and the United Nations. The test includes
mastering the official procedures of governments in international
circles as well as the portrayal of governmental symbolism. They
play two inherently contradictory roles in their domestic and
to the international one, the domestic role is simple. Carrying a
shinny, silver tipped, little stick under his arm-bit - so
reminiscent of a colonial governor - often enhances the ruler's image
of appearing presidential and in control. It seems as though the
position of the presidency is not enough for these leaders.
Wild claims of total wisdom and uniqueness fill the air. Dubious
titles of self-aggrandizement and ego boosting are accorded to the
'president', such as, the father of the nation, the all too
powerful, the light of Africa, the mighty warrior, the king of
kings, the muwalimu (teacher) and many others. Implicit in these
titles is the intentional conveyance of the message: there is no law
in the land except the utterances of the ruler. Consequently, legal
jurisprudence and even routine administrative procedures would be
derived from the speeches, decrees and mere rhetoric of the ruler.
Public institutions and the bureaucracy who runs them become agents
of implementation and enforcement only. The daunting task of
initiating, formulating and delivering any kind of a social policy
is relieved from hands of the bureaucracy. The public sphere slowly
deteriorates both in quantity and quality.
a typical 'president', would insist that he only meets with his
counterpart of the host country. Who receives him at the airport
often becomes a big issue. In addition, long waits before a meeting
usually annoys him as a slight to his stature and as a sign of his
irrelevance. That insistence - demand indeed- of a red-carpet
reception stems from their inner awareness that they are very far
from a national government, that they are a government if the world
says so, and that official mistreatment might be an early indication
of a bad report card; hence a failing grade in the test. Most
importantly, their continued appearance as government to their
populations would be in jeopardy.
structural nature of the international system worked, until
lately, in favor of these despots. The world is made up of
states and international interactions take place between
the states. The system is designed in such a permissive way that
states are equal in principle. This makes the 'Ruritanias' of the
world to equate themselves with the U.S.A. and since the
president of the US is representative of his nation, so is the
'president' of 'Ruritania'. The peoples of the world are, thus,
known through a global landscape of state icons that
are less than two hundred in their current tally. A great
majority of them are not states at all, in the Westphalian sense of
statehood. At best, some of them would qualify as quasi-states. At
the end of the spectrum, however, there is a third group, mostly
African 'states', who are nothing but feudal rulers wielding state
sovereignty and international legitimacy. Since the so called
'free-ride' of the Cold-War era is no longer there to support them,
the thriving enterprises of these rulers become bankrupt. The recent
phenomena of collapsed states is in fact the crumbling of feudal
entities who lost their importance after the end of the Cold War.
the zenith of their power, the days when the international community
poured praise and money to their coffers, their domestic behavior
was like a bunch of drunkards, with complete disregard of their
domestic front. Brute force and repression was preferred over the
application of governmental fair handedness and objectivity. Every
possible opportunity was taken to show the public that they are in
the saddle for their own interest at the expense of the
common-good. With this kind of a relationship to their
population, choking off the financial flow renders them vulnerable
and not to withstand the fury of the people. Understandably too
paranoid of a possible tilt towards that dreaded fait, it becomes an
obsession to them to constantly gauge and probe into how the world
regards them. In the event of a poor rating - sometimes giving the
cold shoulder to them is just about enough - the world of the
'feared' is never the same. If the reputation of ruthlessness used
to be the best currency of the feared, it abruptly becomes the
inescapable horror that haunts him. Whatever essentially was a solid
asset for their continuity and legitimacy turns into a liability and
a pay back time of their making starts. The real nature of the
interest group starts to become clearer and up close to the people.
Astonishingly, the army disappears and police dissolves. The day of
the slum boys arrives and life in the capital becomes a "hell
on earth". The man who used to call himself as the master, the
powerful and the feared, turns into the serf, the powerless and the
coward. Along with his group, he flees away leaving behind
everything he accumulated when the skies was so laden with
generosities from unassuming nations of distant lands. This
typically accounts for such rogue rulers like Barre, Amin, Bokasa,
Mengistu, Doe (who never made it), Taraore, Bongo, Mobutu, and many
others. The prime candidates of the same fate are Moi, Mugabe,
Chilupa, Guelleh, Kabila, Al-Bashir, and others.
the end of it all, neither the interest of the ruler nor the needs
of the people are realized. Invariably their destiny - and that of
their entourage - ends with an abrupt exile. Curiously, most of them
die shortly after that. One wonders who owns and enjoys the $6
billions of Mobutu Seso Seko Kuku now, since he is dead. In any way
you cut or slice it, their whole effort boils down to utter
absurdity. So you think it is a bleak picture of Africa? Well,
wait until you see the next generation of African 'presidents'.
Those who failed themselves and their countries succeeded in shaping
the political culture of their countries under their image.
"Chicago" I refer not to Chicago, Illinois, but a slum
district of Abidjan, which the young toughs in the have named after
the American city. It is a slum: a check work of corrugated zinc
roofs and walls made of cardboards and black plastic wrap. It is
located in a gully teeming with coconut palms and is ravaged by
flooding. The crumbly red latrine earth crawls with foot long
lizards both inside and outside the shacks. Children defecate in a
stream filled with garbage and pigs, droning with malarial
mosquitoes. In this stream women do the washing. Young unemployed
men spend their time drinking beer, while gambling. These youth rob
houses in more prosperous Ivorian neibourhoods at night.
list of ruler wanna-bees is long. It is almost safe to say that in
every African country there is an aspiring Savimbi waiting for an
opportune time. There are two major thinking at play here. First,
the erroneous conception of governance in the minds of such men.
Second, they tend to equate themselves with the late ruler and
genuinely believe that it is a business they can very leisurely do,
the reasoning being: if Siad Barre can do it, I am sure I can and
with flying colors.
Somali setting, we all recall Faay Cali and Mooryaan (the
likes of Demba Tasele). Why Abdi Qassim is now calling himself the
Somali 'President' should not be all that mysterious. To his
mind a government is whatever Somalia has done after
independence and the kind of rule it had: Barre. Curiously,
why Barre failed is not at all a relevant inquiry for Abdi Qassim.
forty - five years, I have never seen things so bad. We did not
manage ourselves well after the British departed. But what we have
now is something worse - the revenge of the poor, of the social
failures, of the people least able to bring up children in modern
society." --- Sierra Leon Minister of Education.
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