The Civilianizing of African soldiers into Presidents


In a country or continent where well-placed members of the armed forces and its retired but not tired Generals are permanent contestants, chief financiers and referees in national elections, that highly valued ointment for the legitimation of all democracies known as credibility becomes a rare commodity.  Thankfully, it can neither be bought nor sold at the auctions now called nominations, political party conventions and elections in different parts of Nigeria and Africa.  Yet, we must say that the retired soldiers and generals have as much right to contest for public office as any other citizen.  The issue is, fundamentally, when stupendous cash and unimaginable funds are deployed to hijack and circumscribe the outcome of (s)elections, it may be seen as a civilianized equivalent of a military coup dressed up in dashiki and agbada..  But Lies have short legs.  We take solace in the fact that Africa, the same continent which cast into our lives Uganda's Idi Amin and Nigeria's late Gen. Sani Abacha also is home to the magnificent statesman Madhiba Nelson Mandela of South Africa , the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Chinua Achebe, and others

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Africa, the home of almost 1000 army generals, is also the land of natural harmony and pristine dislocations.  Africa is truly the continent of the extremes and worn canvas for almost 55 years for the unbridled acquisition of wealth and raw power by assorted bands of soldiers and soldier-politicians.   Within its blessed and despoliated length and breadth of Africa, we still see marks and milestones of glory and pain; of power and despondency and shattered dreams and despoliated destiny. 

In our Africa, events swing and undulate from one end of the pendulum to another like the predictable staccato of violent shots in a shooting range of chartered libertines, licensed to shoot as they wish and without proper aim to the solemn and prayerful quietude following a deathly, monstrous devastation.  Our Africa.   Africa, the continent of natural splendor, differing nationalisms and earthy vivaciousness, is the prime breeding ground for its special export to the world, those  special breed of men mightily known as Generals, Field Marshalls and Commanders-in-chief.  Many of them have such elegant titles as His Excellency the One who is Born to Rule to the end of Time! 

Others are modest and have such titles as The One who swallows the Fire sent by our (!!!) enemies and opponents.  Yes; it's our enemies!  Lest we forget, His Excellency's "enemies" and opponents are the triple horned enemies of  the Republic.  Those opponents must remain, in the "interest of national security and stability" our sworn enemies who must be crushed with all the funds and resources of the impoverished but once wealthy country. 

What is a commander-in-chief worth if he cannot crush errant subjects as he sees fit; or whenever he dreams up new "threats to the peace and stability of the country"?  The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.   Remember that many of those Generals (retired and active) hold as their claim to fame such remarkable and significant  war records as "commanders" of the "law and order" regiment assigned  to shoot unarmed students  who ask for funds to rebuild their colleges and the nation. 

Shouldn't we all agree that no one really "authorized" those "rascally" students to question "the decision and wisdom" of the five-star generals who, first, send their children abroad/overseas to the best schools in the world, and then, immediately commence the  installmental ruination of all (!!!) the local institutions of learning.   Why target the schools?  Remember, the Generals as wise men know that  those  students, egg-sucking socialists and revolutionaries learn "subversive activities" in those schools.   What to do?   "Shut them down!" Thus, have yelled certain cronies and Education (?) Ministers around the Generals.  Our Africa. 

Some of those Generals who have, in most cases, destroyed the destiny of all, living and the unborn beings in their countries, with the threat of the gun and brutal force, have since chosen the arena of citizens' politics as the latest zone to showcase their genius as the ones who must lead lest the countries nose-dive to hell in a Mac-truck!    Why not?  After all, their countries' sun can only shine, dim and set depending on the side of the bed they woke up on.  Our Africa. 

Now the fundamental interest for me here is that our army "Generals" and "Commanders-in-chief" in many countries in Africa are not satisfied with governing with the gun, issuing decrees and barking out orders in their well-starched military uniforMs. They have  increasingly found it quite exciting to civilianize from swashbuckling commandantes to "popularly elected" and "democratically affirmed" Presidents and bankrollers of our political parties.   

Africa, the continent which radiates, at once, with ethnic love and dulled and sapped and sullied routinely from savage rounds of ethnocentric wars, ancient ignorance and the raw animus of communal hatreds is moving into the 21st century with more Generals as "civilian" presidents than ever in its history. 

The West applauds and cites one or two its own soldiers who became presidents.  Interestingly, such rationalizations fail woefully to discuss the process and who the referees are in such quests.  Africa, our continent of sharp contrasts remain a geopolitical mass of antiquated curiosity and projections and yearning for a better future, has defied the obscurantist mis-readings of colonialists and stereotypical chronicles.  Somehow, amidst, the rack and ruin, amidst Africa's ancient and modern history, it manages to find one sliver of hope or two, to begin anew, away and beyond the rubble and shibboleths of its very difficult political ecology and cast of bad leaders. 

From the beautiful, breezy and breathtaking natural wonder of Capetown's table mountain to the harsh Sahelian heat of its northerly areas, from the engagingly unique and the terribly unusual, Africa has in its fertile bowels the capacity and possibility to re-awaken and become a viable part of the 21st century.    One of the retired Generals who seems to have a lot of possibilities and transcontinental expectations resting on his tried and tested shoulders is Nigeria's president-elect Olusegun Obasanjo.  On the other hand, will the man simply become another  notable name in list and pattern of soldiers changing their military uniforms for the legitimation which comes from the ballot box; however tainted and questionable the process? 

When, expectedly, he is sworn in May 29, 1999, to lead the most  important country in Africa, again, retired General Obasanjo will, at the onset, carry the baggage and interests of his fellow retired army Generals. 

Second, he is propelled by his oft-stated determination to make a difference and place Nigeria on a better, nobler road.  Can he?  Or, will those other retired Generals who are said to have massively financed his recent election stand between his agenda to rebuild Nigeria and their private and regional interests?  Will Obasanjo, whom I had the privilege of moderating his meeting with Nigerians in Houston in August , 1998, lead Nigeria to a better future into the 21st century?  Or....

We wish our new president Gen. Obasanjo well as he prepares to begin his new assignment.  May God bless Africa, our Africa; and its assorted Commanders-in-chief.  Stand at ease, my fellow country.


Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), is Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com (first African-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet), USAfrica The Newspaper, NigeriaCentral.com and The Black Business Journal. He also serves as an adviser to the Mayor of Houston on international business (Africa) and has appeared as an analyst on CNN, VOA, NPR, CBS News, NBC and ABC news affiliates. This exclusive column for USAfricaonline.com, is copyrighted and archiving on any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized except with a written approval by USAfricaonline.com Founder May 20, 1999
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