By Ebou Gaye
Our venerable prophet, Muhammad (may peace be upon him) is reported to have said that a person who expresses a desire to hold a position of responsibility should not be given the mandate, and that he once declined the request of one of his disciples to be appointed governor of one of the regions of the then Islamic State, saying that his request rendered him unqualified for the post.
Superficially, this Islamic principle runs counter to the principles of democracy which generally require those who feel qualified to occupy positions of responsibility to seek the mandate of the people or those in high authority. The questions arise now: What is the logic behind this Islamic principle? How can we interpret it or reconcile it with democratic principles? Should we jettison or discard the latter for the former?
The above questions can be answered thus. During the time of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and sometime after he passed away, people were nominated or appointed to positions of responsibility without expression of desire. Therefore, deviating from the norm by seeking appointment would arouse suspicion or make people believe that the individual concerned wanted to serve his personal interest rather than serving the interest of the people. Even in democratic societies, certain positions are filled by way of nomination, and seeking appointment to them would generate negative interpretation, rightly or wrongly.
Those over-ambitious to hold positions of responsibility tend to be egoistic or selfish. The rationale behind the Islamic principle is simply to ensure justice, fair play and peace by preventing self-centred or self-serving people from being elevated to positions of responsibility, which is in accord with genuine democracy. I accentuate the word genuine because not any act qualified as democratic or undemocratic is really so. It therefore follows that not all self-proclaimed democrats can be accepted as such, and not all those branded as undemocratic are truly so. To many, anything that favours them and puts their opponents at a disadvantage is democratic, whereas anything that does not is undemocratic. To others, what they practise or what pleases them is democratic, and what the enemy does is undemocratic. Put in crude terms, the meaning of the word democracy is intentionally distorted for various reasons, the main one being egocentricity or selfishness. Words like dictatorship, patriotism, terrorism and jihad fall victim as well. This explains the motive behind the coining of the term dictator for development by a head of state in response to his critics who view him as a dictator due to his sheer lack of democratic tendencies. He baptized himself Dictator for Development in an attempt to justify his dictatorial attitude. Hence, we cannot separate the chaff from the wheat by merely listening to or reading a political discourse. Nevertheless, democracy could be of immense benefit if not misconstrued as pointed out above.
Therefore, I do not call for its abandonment. I rather advocate it. However, the political situation in Africa depicts fake democracy in many cases. In Africa, the norm is to seek power or endeavour to remain in power through violent, knavish, fraudulent or deceitful means while trying to fool people into believing that one is sincere, patriotic, impeccable, infallible, indispensable or invincible. This clearly explains why our venerable prophet (may peace be upon him) cautioned against appointing over-zealous aspirants to positions of responsibility.
Some African countries espouse unique-party system of government otherwise known one-party state, and others that claim to be democratic or multi-party states are characterized by one-man rule, coupled with zero tolerance to dissent and freedom of expression. Hence, it is not surprising to hear an African head of state say in plain language that he would not compromise with his perceived enemies or take things for granted as he had put his life on the line to come to power. My question to that head of state is: Have you sacrificed or risked your life more than Nelson Mandela who languished in jail for twenty-seven odd years and retired honourably from active politics after serving as president for only four years? Certainly not! Mandela’s altruism earned him the respect and admiration of people the world over, my humble self included. This is exemplified by the rejoinder published in the Daily Observer newspaper of The Gambia in 2000 following the publication of my article entitled Nelson Mandela: My Hero in which I extolled Mandela’s virtues, contrasting him with African dictators.
The co-authors of the said rejoinder accused me of trying to hijack Mandela as an international hero and statesman, contending that Mandela is everybody’s hero. Some African leaders reject the idea of having a presidential term-limit enshrined in their constitutions, while some accept that, only to amend the constitution later with the complicity of rubber stamp parliaments so as to stay in power as life-presidents. Some African politicians dish out prodigious sums of money to bait the electorate or make specious promises to them during campaigns but desert them or inflict sufferings on them after assuming office. Others resort to harassment, vilification, castigation, insulting or issuing threats.
To cling onto power, some African leaders rule with iron hands by dismissing, torturing, incarcerating or executing their opponents or perceived enemies as a way of intimidating the populace, while others practise nepotism blatantly, hire the services of praise-singers or use religion as a means of hoodwinking people. In some African states, the constitution is subjected to endless amendments to arm the president with sweeping powers, or deliberately violated where it conflicts with his selfish interest. In those countries, the members and supporters of the ruling party are treated as first-class citizens by being granted special favours. Besides, they are licensed to behave anyhow without any penalty. They can act in total contravention of the law or take the law into their own hands and easily get away with it or go scot-free, while the rest of the population are branded as detractors or unpatriotic citizens, and hence victimized or punished harshly for flimsy reasons or minor offences.
Thus, many people in those countries identify with the ruling party by serving as sycophants, puppets and torture tools, always trying to justify the unjustifiable and defend the indefensible, portraying their leaders as demigods while demonizing their opponents and brutalizing innocent citizens. Imagine a person whose relative has disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the reign of a brutal dictator going public to defend the ruthless despot, trying to brush his sadistic, repugnant, reprehensible deeds under the carpet, claiming to be hundred percent loyal to him, labelling his critics as cowards and unpatriotic citizens! This is the climax of insincerity, hypocrisy and cowardice, to say the least! What does such an errant, misguided, mendacious, devious and heartless character expect to gain from his abhorrent, outrageous, obnoxious acts? What is expected of him is to simply keep quiet if he lacks the nerve to protest over the lugubrious, melancholic disappearance of his loved one.
Some people serve as professional sycophants under different regimes in those countries, claiming to have switched allegiance or loyalty, eulogizing or flattering the head of state while denigrating or lambasting his predecessor whom they used to praise to the extent of equating or associating him with God. It is very common to see unscrupulous politicians behaving like a poacher turned gamekeeper in those countries. Such greedy, selfish and opportunistic sorts would launch blistering criticism against their governments while in the opposition, only to join them later and become their fervent defenders and bitter enemies of the opposition and the press. It is also common to see ousted politicians going round preaching democracy, suggesting constitutional amendments, policies and laws that they never contemplated championing while in office. Some electoral officers dance to the tune of the ruling party, turning deaf ears and blind eyes to the concerns and complaints of the opposition in those countries. Opposition parties are denied their constitutionally-allocated airtime in the public media which is monopolized by the governing party. To add insult to injury, members of the opposition and their supporters are constantly denied their constitutional rights to assembly and subjected to all sorts of victimization or brutalization by security forces and law enforcement agents who are supposed to remain neutral, protect all citizens and enforce the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
It is common knowledge that some African leaders and their associates become superfluously rich in the twinkling of an eye and spend profligately and extravagantly, consoling the suffering masses by telling them that the hardship they experience springs out from inevitable or uncontrollable factors; that it is caused by the reality of the world; that they are not alone in their sufferings and that they are even well-off compared to their neighbours. Some African leaders who claim to be Pan-Africanists and cultivate the habit of slandering Westerners plunder and spend astronomical sums of money to secure Western citizenship for their children by sending their wives to deliver in the West, particularly the USA. They also use their loot or rapidly-accumulated wealth to purchase expensive mansions and open bank accounts for their families in the West. They do this to ensure the security and safety of their families, thinking that they are smart. This is grossly hypocritical, ironical, irrational and unfair! It shows clearly that those crooked leaders are fully cognizant of the fact that they are not treating their people nicely as expected of them. They know that they have oppressed their people too much, and hence their fear for the security and safety of their families should they stay in their countries.
My message to them is that the best way to guarantee the security and safety of their families is to treat their compatriots with justice and mercy. If they were fair with their people, they would create a peaceful, safe environment in their countries- like that in the West, which they want their families to enjoy. This is more reasonable and advisable than seeking peace and security for their families at the expense of their compatriots whose inalienable rights they mercilessly, shamelessly and senselessly seize for their selfish interest. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. It is high time for them to see reason and kick out their nasty behaviour or desist from oppressing their people.
How can we expect transparency, accountability and probity in such a situation? In fact, these terms have long ago been expunged from the vocabulary list of the political leaders who initially claimed to be using them as guiding-principles chanting them loudly and monotonously at every opportune moment. The reason for the sudden disappearance of this once famous triplet into thin air is that those fake, self-proclaimed patriots, like everybody else, know fully well that they have conspicuously violated the very rules they had laid down. How can we expect those involved in such a dirty game to serve the interest of the people? Such selfish, power-hungry and bloodthirsty people are not qualified to run even a household, let alone govern a nation. Evidently, one is amply justified in saying that seeking power or appointment to a position of responsibility in Africa is synonymous with seeking self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment in many cases. If you have ever wondered why the press is muzzled in most parts of Africa, here is an answer. If you want to know why election results are furiously disputed or why coups are common in Africa, here is an explanation. In Africa, many people want to rule at all cost, not only to rule but to rule forever for selfish gains. This explains why Africa is politically unstable and why regime change is always bitter for some people in Africa.
Although altruism- a virtue found in Nelson Mandela- is alien in most African politicians, our political leaders should- at least- try to put national interest before personal or individual interest. A person who puts his/her interest beforenational interest is unqualified for position of responsibility. We can thus draw a conclusion that a leader who has mounted power through the barrel of the gun and vowed to overstay his welcome or perpetuate himself at all cost is unqualified to be head of state. The same thing applies to a leader who has abundantly demonstrated his reluctance to relinquish power peacefully by saying plainly and publicly that he cannot be removed by any means (neither election nor coup) and that he can slaughter ten thousand of his compatriots and have sound sleep. His utterance is utterly provocative, spiteful, malicious, irresponsible, infantile and immature. It can rightly be interpreted as inciting violence. Such a leader is manifestly selfish and cannot truly claim to be peace-loving, development-oriented or have the interest of his country and people at heart. He is totally unqualified!
NB: This article is an amended/modified version of an article under the same title which the author wrote in the Daily Observer newspaper of The Gambia on 24 January 2004 and later published in Gambian online newspapers in November 2011.