George Ayittey Defeating Dictators

George Ayittey Defeating Dictators


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Reform must start with intellectual freedom and freedom of the press. Reform must come from within—made

by the people themselves, not by Western governments or financial institutions. Internally-initiated reform is

far more sustainable and enduring. The self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi started the Arab Spring.

His was the ultimate and extreme form of freedom of expression.



Books by George Ayittey

Defeating Dictators  /  Africa Betrayed / Africa Unchained

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George Ayittey Defeating Dictators

Interviewed by Thor Halvorssen


22 June 2011 

Ghanaian economist George Ayittey recently spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway about how to get rid of dictators, a process already underway in north Africa. A chat he had with Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation, is food for thought.

Thor Halvorssen: How pervasive is dictatorship in Africa today?

George Ayittey: Africa has more dictators per capita than any other continent. In 1990, only four out of the 54 African countries were democratic; today, 21 years later, it is only 15. Fewer than ten can be deemed economic success stories and a free media exists in only ten African countries. Some people call this progress…. that’s not what I would call it.

Thor Halvorssen: That means at least 39 countries in Africa are still ruled by dictators.

George Ayittey: And we are fed up. Fed up! Angry Africans are fed up and are taking the heat to them. Dictators cause the world’s worst problems: all the collapsed states, and all the devastated economies.

All the vapid cases of corruption, grand theft, and naked plunder of the treasury are caused by dictators, leaving in their wake trails of wanton destruction, horrendous carnage and human debris.

But guess who’s always cleaning up their mess?

For decades, the West has spent trillions of dollars trying to persuade, cajole, and even bribe them to reform their abominable political and economic systems. The West has even tried appeasement in their rapprochement. Enough!

Thor Halvorssen: But shouldn’t the West pressure dictators with other measures like cutting off IMF loans and international aid packages and threaten to stop recognizing them diplomatically?

George Ayittey: The West has to understand that dictators never have and never will be interested in reform. They are stone deaf and impervious to reason. Period.

Dictators are allergic to reform, and they are cunning survivors. They will do whatever it takes to preserve their power and wealth, no matter how much blood ends up on their hands. They are master deceivers and talented manipulators who cannot be trusted to change.

Thor Halvorssen: What kind of resources do they need in order to maintain their survival? Surely the loss of Western funding would hinder them?

George Ayittey: After a mere four-and-a-half years in office, the late dictator of Nigeria, Sani Abacha, managed to accumulate a personal fortune of 5 billion dollars. Omar Al-Bashir has siphoned 7 billion out of Sudan. And Hosni Mubarak of Egypt managed to accumulate a personal fortune of 40 billion dollars! All stolen from their own people.

Let me put that into perspective. The net worth of all U.S. presidents, 43 of them, from Washington to Obama, amounted to 2.7 billion. That means that Africa’s kamikaze bandits each stole more than the net worth of all U.S. presidents and then more.

Thor Halvorssen: How does a human rights activist fight against 40 billion dollars of bribe money?

George Ayittey: This is exactly what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Fed up with their corrupt antics, angry street demonstrators started pushing dictators out: Ben Ali fled, Mubarak was shoved aside, and more coconuts will tumble

But caution: Noisy rah-rah street demonstrations alone are not enough.

Three cardinal principles must be followed for a popular revolution to succeed. First, a united coalition of opposition forces is essential. Second, the dictator’s modus operandi—strengths and weakness—must be studied in detail. Lastly, getting the sequence of reform right is crucial; there are several steps that must be followed precisely in order.

Thor Halvorssen: The sequence you just described should perhaps be named Ayittey’s law. By a “coalition” do you mean a political alliance? Wouldn’t that be difficult in most of these countries suffering under dictatorships or one-party rule?

George Ayittey: A small group of pro-democracy activists—call it an elders council—is imperative to serve as the nerve center, plan strategically, and coordinate the activities of the various opposition groups, civil society groups and youth movements.

For example, The Gathering in Sudan in 1985, The Danube Circle in Hungary in 1988, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and the Alliance for Change in Ghana in 1995, in which I participated. If the dictator schedules an election, the council must rope all political parties into an electoral alliance.

In 2010, dictators “won” elections because of a divided opposition field. For funding, the council should rely on its own diaspora community, not on Western donors.

Thor Halvorssen: Why should reformers depend on their community as opposed to Western donors?

George Ayittey: Reform must start with intellectual freedom and freedom of the press. Reform must come from within—made by the people themselves, not by Western governments or financial institutions. Internally-initiated reform is far more sustainable and enduring. The self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi started the Arab Spring. His was the ultimate and extreme form of freedom of expression.

Thor Halvorssen: OK, so first a coalition, second we find the dictator’s weaknesses…

George Ayittey: The modus operandi of all dictators is essentially the same: Besides parliament, if there is one, they seize control of six key state institutions (the security forces, the media, the civil service, the judiciary, the electoral commission, and the central bank), pack them with their supporters, and debauch them to serve their interests.

To succeed, a popular revolution must wrestle control of at least one or more of these institutions out of the dictator’s clutches. The game was over for Ben Ali  and Hosni Mubarak when the military refused to fire on civilians. Ditto in the Philippines in 1986 and Georgia in November 2003, where the security forces were charmed with roses (hence, the “Rose Revolution.”) Ukraine’s Orange revolution of November 2004 won the Supreme Court to its side and Pakistan’s Black Revolution of March 2007 had the full support of the judiciary.

Let me give you 3 more ways of toppling a dictator’s stronghold:

First, get the media out of their hands: create pirate radios, use social media. That’s what will unleash the reforms we all cherish so dearly, not Western sermons, sanctions, or appeasement.

Second, hit them with their own constitution. For example, Article 35 of China’s Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. In Ghana, we used the Constitution and the courts to free the airwaves, leading to a proliferation of FM Radio stations, which were instrumental in ousting the regime in 2000.

Third, a dictator’s weakness is exploited by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g its military geographically. Shut down the civil service and any military regime will collapse. It will not have enough soldiers to replace civil servants across the country; we saw this in Ghana in 1978 and Benin in 1989. We also saw the same thing this year, as street protests in Tunisia and Egypt erupted simultaneously in several cities and towns, straining security forces

Thor Halvorssen: But, that’s not the end, is it? Toppling the dictator is just the beginning…

George Ayittey: Getting rid of the dictator is only a first step in establishing a free society. The dictatorship must also be disassembled. We didn’t do this in Africa in the 1960s. We removed the white colonialists and they were replaced by black neo-colonialists, Swiss bank socialists, crocodile liberalists, quack revolutionaries, and briefcase bandits.

Africans will tell you, we struggled very hard to remove one cockroach from power and the next rat came to do exactly the same thing. This is because we did not disassemble the dictatorship state.

To disassemble a dictatorship you have to do things in order and steps. This is like overhauling a vehicle where repairs must be made in order: you don’t fix the transmission when the battery is dead, nor do you install a new sound system when the battery is dead.

Disassembling a dictatorship requires first intellectual reform (a push for freedom of expression and the media); second, political reform (democratic pluralism and free and fair elections); third, constitutional reform (limiting the powers of the executive); fourth, institutional reform (independent judiciary, electoral commission, efficient civil service, and neutral and professional armed forces); and fifth, economic reform, or liberalization (free markets and free trade).

Thor Halvorssen: What happens when revolutions don’t follow this sequence in that order?

George Ayittey: Reversals of revolutions occurred in several countries because the reform process was out of sequence or haphazard. For example, premature economic liberalization—like the “shock therapy” in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia in the early 1990s—produced vampire capitalists.

The institutional reforms and legal framework needed to make economic liberalization succeed had not been undertaken. The nomenklatura remained firmly entrenched, frustrating reforms. A few (eight) oligarchs used inside knowledge and political connections to gobble up state assets at rock-bottom prices and became instant billionaires.

Most disastrous for Africa was economic liberalization ahead of all other types of reform—like the Washington Consensus. To be sure, economic liberalization engenders prosperity but dictators never level any playing field. They implement only those types of reforms that benefit themselves, their families, and their cronies.

Those African countries that pursued economic liberalization eventually failed the political test and imploded: Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. In Egypt, the street protesters who ousted Hosni Mubarak now seek to roll back his free-market reforms and hold its beneficiaries accountable.

And Ivory Coast, once described as an “economic miracle,” now lies in ruins. China currently faces this quandary. If it opens up politically, the Communist Party will be swept away; if it doesn’t, it may disintegrate like the former Soviet Union.

Thor Halvorssen: So, in your speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum you will provide a roadmap on how to defeat a dictator in three principles and five steps.

George Ayittey: That’s right. Mikhail Gorbachev started with glasnost; Africa needs to start with blacknost.

Source: GobalPost

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George Ayittey—Oslo Freedom Forum 2011

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Defeating Dictators

Fighting Tyranny in Africa and Around the World

By George Ayittey

Reviewed by Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta

After publishing Africa Betrayed (1992) and Africa Unchained (2005), intellectual gadfly, Professor George B. N. Ayittey has crafted yet another masterpiece, Defeating Dictators: Fighting Tyranny in Africa and Around the World (2011) in which he adumbrates the deceptive habits of highly defective despotic regimes in Africa and beyond. Ayittey contends that a dictator is a dictator. He further points out that “The only good dictator is a dead one” (218). The crux of the argument in his book is that Africans and other people chaffing under the yoke of despotism should steer clear of confusing ideological with systemic dictatorship—dictatorship that emerges from faulty institutions and systems. Any political system that concentrates power in the hands of one person, he argues, will inevitably degenerate into a dictatorship. The culprit is the system—not ideology or culture.

Defeating Dictators is a vitriolic lampoon on abuse of power, electoral gerrymandering and rape of democracy in the developing world. Ayittey observes that “modern dictators come in different shades; races, skin colors and religions, and they profess various ideologies” (7). This notwithstanding, despots have a lot in common: they are leaders who are not chosen by their people and, therefore, do not represent the people’s aspirations. As opposition mounts against them, they refine their tactics and learn new tricks in an attempt to stem the tide of pro-democracy forces. Despotic governments are highly deceptive regimes that are recognizable from distinctive traits.

Unyielding grip on power is the hallmark of every dictator in Africa. Elections are farcical and always won by the despot. As Ayittey would have it, dictators “…fix the rules of the game and secure 90 percent of the vote all the time” (201). Dictators grow senile, and then they start to groom their sons, wives, and half-brothers to succeed them. African despots are notorious for these treasonous acts of insanity: Paul Biya of Cameroon, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ben Ali of Tunisia, Colonel Qaddafi of Libya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Idris Deby of Chad and more.

Dictators have the knack for looting the nation’s coffers. More often than not, the country is broke because the dictator and his henchmen have looted the treasury unashamedly and stashed their loot in foreign bank accounts—the safe haven is Switzerland. The dire consequence is that the country is saddled with a mountain of foreign debt. Ayittey laments the fact that “Paul Biya, the dictator of Cameroon, who has been in power for 29 years, has received a long series of loans—known as ‘Poverty Reduction Growth Facilities’— from the IMF” (181). When the same poor Cameroonians in whose names he had received the loans protested in 2008 against skyrocketing food prices and a constitutional amendment that was intended to extend Biya’s rule to 2018, Mr. Biya ordered his brutal security forces to fire live bullets at protesters. One hundred people died instantly. Ayittey notes that “many of the victims were apparently shot in the head at point-blank range…” (181).

Dictators are impervious to reason. The only voice a dictator listens to is his own voice. Political repression is an effective weapon in the hands of African despots. Opposition parties are either outlawed or accorded very little political leeway. Key opposition leaders are arrested, intimidated, hounded and even killed. Cowed into submission, some intellectuals in the opposition tend to switch camps.  In other words, they become political prostitutes. Though highly educated with PhDs, a multitude of them have sold off their consciences, integrity and principles as they kowtow to the diktats of barbarous dictators.  To borrow words from Ayittey again, “as prostitutes, they have partaken of the plunder, misrule and repression of their people” (185).

The pet aversion of all dictators is press freedom. Censorship is imposed; journalists, newspaper editors, and columnists are harassed and arrested for telling the truth. Newspapers, radio and television stations that are critical of the despot are shut down. Ayittey points out that “it is important to keep in mind that a despotic regime can always block or shut down a critical media outlet and that the remaining ones are often state controlled” (180). Although freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, Article 9 of the Banjul Charter of Human and People’s rights, and the constitutions of many countries in Africa, this has not deterred Africa’s dictators from violating this fundamental human right of citizens. The reason for this state of affairs is simple: dictators love to hide their failures; they want to keep citizens and the international community in the dark about the heinous crimes they have committed and continue to commit. Free media exposes their lies, bloopers and gross incompetence. That explains why President Paul Biya of Cameroon took it upon himself to imprison Mr. Pius Njawe, owner of the Le Messager group of newspapers more than 100 times for reporting on corruption and other sensitive topics before his premature death at the age of 53 in a car accident near Norfolk in the United States not long ago.

The grim reality about all this is that despotism and tyranny have socio-economic ramifications. Autocracy depletes human conscience and dignity. It exacts a heavy toll on human and economic capital. Infrastructure such as telecommunications, roads, airports, bridges, schools, hospitals, and seaports begin to crumble because contracts are awarded by the despot to his cronies, close friends, and family members. Ayittey notes that “commercial properties of businessmen alleged to be ‘anti-government’ may be confiscated or seized for distribution to the poor masses in the name of social justice” (19). He further points out that such was the case in Zimbabwe, where the despotic regime of Robert Mugabe (in power for 29 years) organized ruthless thugs to grab white commercial farmlands.

In a similar vein, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (in power for 10 years) seized rural estates, and factories, including some assets of Lorenzo Mendoza, Venezuela’s second wealthiest man, and of H.J. Heinz Co., the world’s largest ketchup maker. Such contempt of property rights undoubtedly scares off potential investors who nurse the fear that they may be the next victims in the hands of a predatory regime. Foreign investors have fled from Venezuela on account of Chavez’s dictatorial policies. Inane diktats and reckless mismanagement of state funds inevitably engender economic doldrums.

Africa is replete with tin god dictators whose deleterious governmental modus operandi has brought untold hardship upon their people. A handful of despots on the continent have inflicted misery, despair, hopelessness, and death on millions of citizens who have protested against tyrannical rule. Hundreds of thousands have been jailed. Women have been gang raped by security forces in open day light on account of their affiliation to opposition political parties (Guinea and DRC). Some more have fled their homelands to become refugees in foreign lands.

Dictatorial leaders are self-seeking and insensitive to the plight of the governed. They take over and subvert key state institutions (civil service, judiciary, media, etc) to serve their interests. They are poor at governance given that good governance entails not only cognitive wherewithal but also the ability to compromise and bargain successfully with a plethora of competing groups. They are terrible at economic management. Hence the demise of domestic industries.

Interestingly, Ayittey does not handle Africa’s political opposition parties with kid gloves. Although he does not paint the continent’s tyrants and the opposition with the same brush, he finds fault with the modus operandi of most political opposition parties struggling to unseat dictators in Africa. In his own words, “It takes an intelligent or smart opposition to make a democracy work” (4), not the rah-rah noisy type that simply chants ‘Biya must go!’ He maintains that dictators have triumphed mainly because the opposition is fragmented, lack focus and prone to squabbling.

All too often, opposition parties that set out to liberate their countries from tyranny wind up selling out, fighting among themselves, and sowing seeds of discord. Some opposition leaders are themselves closet dictators, exhibiting the same dictatorial tendencies they so loudly denounce in the dictators they are eager to replace (164). Ayittey sounds a note of admonition to Africa’s opposition political parties: “No single individual or group by itself can effect political change. It takes a united opposition or alliance of democratic forces” (165). The prime objective of any bona fide opposition group or groups should be to get rid of the dictatorial regime. Once this task has been accomplished, the opposition can then establish a level political playing field. All other issues such as who the new president should be, what the new flag or national currency should look like are distractions; they are irrelevant and secondary. These issues are divisive and nothing delights a despotic leader more than a divided opposition.  The opposition has to be conscious of the fact that the dictator may infiltrate their ranks by planting moles among them with the intention of destroying the opposition. Such moles, Ayittey suggests, “need to be tracked down and squashed” (181). A smart strategy would be to identify the props of the despotic regime and sever them methodically, one at a time.

Last but not least, to defeat a tyrant in an election, a coalition of opposition parties must field only one presidential candidate. Once a coalition of opposition forces has been cobbled together, the second imperative should be to lay down the rules of combat (168).  The first rule is to know the enemy—the type of dictator (civilian or military), how he operates, his strengths and weaknesses. Then, it is incumbent on the oppositional coalition to devise effective counter-strategies and modalities for defeating the despotic leader. Most importantly, the language of the opposition must be devoid of zealotry, incensed ideology, ethnocentrism and elitism.

In a nutshell, at time when the entire world is agog with expectations about what the Arab spring portends for countless people gripped by stifling fear and apprehension under dictatorial regimes in Africa and around the world, Ayittey has produced a work that may fulfill the crucial function of a blueprint for oppositional militancy, a veritable modus operandi for undoing dictators in the contemporary world. Defeating Dictators is the handiwork of an academic virtuoso. The language is lucid and free of sophistry. This book is a treasure trove of information that deserves to be read meticulously by every student of Africa’s political economy. Students, researchers and casual readers would find Ayittey’s new brainwave a fascinating book to read.

Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta is professor of Modern Languages at the Department of Defense Language Institute, Monterey-California, USA.

Source: PostNewsLine

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