By Innocent Chia
When the UN authorized Military Action against Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi over 7 months ago on March 17, 2011 there was fierce opposition to yet “another Western invasion of an African and Muslim country”- (my paraphrase). African proponents of this anti-Western rhetoric viewed it in black and white terms – the invasion was all about Libyan oil and little to do with the freedom of Libyan people. With reports confirming the killing of Kaddafi in his home town of Sirte, there is much to consider about the claims that only the West wanted Kaddafi gone. But today, The Chia Report makes the argument that when African leaders begin respecting the wisdom of limited terms in office, it will guarantee Africa and Africans the beginning of truly fair treatment from peers and the rest of the World.
President Paul Biya of Cameroon has shook hands with five American Presidents – Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama – over the span of 29 years. President Ronald Reagan served out 2 terms from 1981 to 1988. President George Bush took over for one term from 1989 to 1993. Then Bill Clinton served two terms beginning 1993 to 2001. For two terms from 2001 to 2009, George Walker Bush was President. And now 2009 - , Barack Obama is into the third year of his first term.
For all five Presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, some loved more than the others, it’s all about upholding the institutions and laws of America and protecting Americans, including defending American interests. Defending American interests is a linear constant no matter the party in power or the President. American people and interests come first and are the only constants, where all else are variables that come and go and are expendable.
Imagine that! Obama is expendable. Bush was expendable. Clinton was expendable. H.W Bush was expended after one term. Reagan was expendable. Carter was expended after one term. But all 44 of them, beginning with George Washington (1789 – 1797), fought and continue fighting, through respective approaches, in defense of the preservation of American institutions, spirit and interests. The pattern here does not need a rocket scientist to figure out – the West, represented by America, has figured out that institutions outlast individuals.
What does all of this mean?
As Libya disposes of the remains of the Libyan autocrat, Muammar Kaddafi, and Cameroon ironically crowns dictator Biya in the days ahead, it cannot, nor must it, be lost on any right thinking person that it is easier to figure out one person than it is figuring a number of people.
Paul Biya has been representing (selling) Cameroon interests for 29 years! The upside of it is that he should be great at it because experience “is the best teacher”. Or is it not? Before we consider the question of whether experience/longevity is not the best teacher, it must be said of it that nurtures stability and continuity.
But stability and continuity, in business like in politics, are double edged swords. Opponents get to know very well who you are – including the strengths and weaknesses of the leader or regime. Such knowledge, in the hands of the enemy, becomes extremely important during negotiation.
Term limits will make it practically difficult for the West to justify holding a dagger to the throat of a dictator in Africa because they know everything about that leader. There would be no bombs raining over the skies of Libya and ending with gory pictures of a failed leader. The chances would be slim of any protest marches toppling regimes in Egypt, Tunisia or Cote d’Ivoire if the people know, like Americans that Biya, Gbagbo, Mubarak, Ben Ali, are democratically expendable after one or two terms. Rather, after 29 years in power, Cameroonians continue throwing their hands up in the air to God, in resignation and asking His Divine will be done – death of Biya.
As Kaddafi may testify to Biya from the great beyond, there is no such thing as loyalty to a falling King. Human nature is infallibly treacherous if the price is right. The picture of a bleeding and dying Kaddafi in Sirte, his birth town and now place of death, is yet another reminder to Biya that even his native Mvo Meka will not hide him from the wrath of the people as much as his leaving office will.
It is noble that his sons lived and died by Kaddafi. But I wonder whether that is the life that any parent desires for their kids. Parents mourn when their kids die before them. I am yet to hear someone celebrating the fact that their kid will die with them. The antiquated tradition is extinct even in Kingdoms where servants were buried with their masters.
Kaddafi predicted that his people were going to “die to protect me”. Today, he was killed; fear visible on his battered and bruised face, like a rat. Things do not have to be so, I agree with those who decry such gruesomeness on the streets of Africa. But it must be said, too, that the West – America and its allies – are not gun happy with African leaders who see only the privileges of the position without the responsibilities.
At the end of the day, a new generation of African leaders must see the wisdom in having in their company, the former heads of State. I know the feeling of having a younger peer call me to find out how I would handle a situation that they may be facing for the first time. There is an adrenaline rush, at least for me, in just knowing that I was of help. It is the same way when I look at arch rivals in American politics – Carter/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama – in one room talking about how to defend America and Americans. I believe it is a source of joy that only a hand few are currently enjoying in Africa (South Africa and Nigeria).
There is no reason why Africans can’t find a way to have a former President and the current President in the same room. There is no reason why the next President of Cameroon should have to start anew on everything because Biya has either run into exile or been beheaded. But it all begins with the wisdom that there is another person who can do the job, not because we are done with our work, but also because we can never be done with the work.