Macky Sall of Senegal swept into power on an avalanche of public discontent with his predecessor, Abdoulie Wade. As candidate, Macky said all the right things. He decried corruption, spoke out against government overreach, condemned power grabs and condemned self-perpetuation in power. He said all the right things then. But as Adama Barrow once deadpanned, when you are campaigning, you can say anything! And that includes anything you think the people would love to hear, true or not!
You see, African governance architecture is built in such a way that presidents and those closest to them are given unaccountable power. Lawyers copy and paste so-called international best practices of governance into national legal documents while giving little to no thought to what Claude Ake called “the character of the state, as if it has no implications…” They essentially create despots but hope despotism never ensues.
The trappings of power can be very hypnotizing. Being president in Africa by itself can be hypnotic. Combine the presidency with unaccountable powers and the president will get lost in the trappings of power. He would never want to leave power. But it’s not just the trappings of power that makes these presidents long for eternal reign in power, there is often a more potent inhibitor: FEAR.
Here’s why they are often afraid to leave power. You see, by the time these African presidents and their closest enablers realize how dirty their hands and feet are, they had already reached the so-called point of no return. They had burnt all the bridges behind them. They had crossed the rubicon. There’s no going back. The president’s freedom, the lives and freedoms of his associates, and family will be upended if they should ever go back. They are too soiled to go back. There’s nothing they can do to clean themselves. Staying in the presidency becomes a Hobson’s Choice.
Associates and enablers will remind the president of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who at some point had to go into exile even though he thought he handed over to an ally. The enablers will tell the president about Joseph Kabila, who has to get clearance from the Agence National de Renseignements (Congolese intelligence agency) even though he too handed over to an ally. They’ll remind him of Yaya Jammeh, whose vacation in Equatorial Guinea is nearing a Guinness world record.
The president and his enablers will conclude that staying in the presidency is the only way forward and the only choice. As long as they remain in power, they can stave off any threats to their ill-gotten wealth and above all, guarantee their freedoms. Whatever consequences come with staying in power at all costs will be better better than the embarrassment and pain of prison. For these presidents, that is even if the country goes up in flames! And that’s because the president and his men reached a point of no return.
I wonder if Macky also strayed too far into the point of no return!