Dictatorship has been given different meanings over time but is originally referred to as the system in which a ruler wields absolute power over a country. These autocratic leaders abhor democratic structures and use the military and other security agencies to quell dissent.
Several African independence leaders who were anti-neocolonialists and anti-imperialists have been described as dictators due to their leaning towards leftist ideologies and rejection of Western ideals including capitalism. The United States of America and its rightist allies orchestrated the overthrow of some of these leaders creating anarchy in many African states.
In the 21st century, the definition of dictatorship has been skewed to mean a system in which leaders remain in office for a long time even if they adhere to democratic principles like elections and decentralization.
With that being said, some Africans have rejected the “dictator” tag placed on their leaders and have regretted their exit from office either in the form of a coup d’etat or an uprising mostly fueled by Western agents.
Here are some of the leaders whose exit was openly regretted.
Ghana’s first president and the first black president of a sub-Saharan African country, Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in February 1966 but was missed a few months after he was ousted.
A founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, Nkrumah studied in the United States but became leftist and won the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. His political philosophy and pan-African ideologies became a threat to the West as he gained a growing support base from all over the world.
From humble beginnings as the secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political group seeking “independence within the shortest possible time”, to the leader of his own party Convention People’s Party (CPP) seeking “independence now” and “the total liberation of the African continent”, Nkrumah was both loved and hated by many who could not envision the future he had planned for Africa.
Ending diplomatic ties with Western powers, taking bold decisions to help liberate other colonised African states, strategically building infrastructure to support his development plans, building formidable structures for a pan-African revolution, enacting laws to stop opponents interfering with his development dreams were regarded as threats.
Orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States of America, Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup d’etat on February 24, 1966, while he was out of Ghana on a peace mission to Hanoi aimed at bringing an end to the United States’ intervention in Vietnam.
In 24 hours, lower-ranking military officers and police officials led by Colonel E. K. Kotoka, Major A. A. Afrifa and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr J. W. K. Harley had carried out the coup and formed the National Liberation Council to run the country. They privatised many of the country’s state corporations under the supervision of international financial institutions.
They announced their plan to the jubilating public which was to end Nkrumah’s alleged alliance with the Soviet Union and China; end alleged corruption, dictatorial practices, oppression; and the introduction of the unpopular preventive detention laws. These were the exact sentiments of the United States and its allies.
There was immediate economic hardship after the coup as the system and structures built by Nkrumah were destabilized and there were no plans of reviving the economy. There was a failed coup attempt on April 17, 1967, followed by demonstrations against hard economic times.
CIA documents later revealed that the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson at the time was advised to consolidate his relations with the coup makers by supplying “a few thousand tons of surplus wheat or rice” to create “a psychological significance out of all proportion to the cost of the gesture.”
“I am not arguing for lavish gifts to these regimes—indeed, giving them a little only whets their appetites, and enables us to use the prospect of more as leverage,” said a memorandum from the Acting Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, Robert W. Komer, to the 36th U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, handwritten on March 12, 1966.
The country barely recovered after Nkrumah’s overthrow despite the general election held in 1969 which saw Kofi Abrefa Busia elected Prime Minister from 1969 to 1972 when his government was overthrown in a military coup by Ignatius Kutu Acheampong.
Nkrumah lived the rest of his life in Guinea where he was named honorary co-president and later died on April 27, 1972.
His plans for his country and Africa – which he had written in dozens of books – have always been a point of reference during debates about African unity.
Muammar Gaddafi – Libya
Assassinated in 2011 after four-decades of being tagged a dictator, former Libyan revolutionary leader, politician and pan-Africanist, Muammar Gaddafi has been missed by many Libyans and Africans who regret his ouster that has ushered in hardship under the new regime deeply influenced by the West.
Gaddafi’s regime, although a no-nonsense one, focused on getting the desert country and the continent developed out of the so-called third world category with policies and investments streamlined to accelerate growth in unity.
Libya’s social and economic positions were appreciable to Africans and the country was transformed into a rich socialist state that was a seeming threat to Western powers who believed Gaddafi’s influence and power could shake the superpower table.
A proponent of African unity, Gaddafi was feared by many who believed if the continent unites, he would forcefully lead and control its affairs. He became Chairperson of the African Union from 2009 to 2010 and led a group of African chiefs and kings reviving the powerful traditional foundation of the continent.
Gaddafi’s strong character was met with strong opposition from his neighbours Sudan, Egypt and Chad, as well as sworn enemies, the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel. These superpowers grouped under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invaded Libya after anti-Gaddafist rebels started an uprising that lasted from February to October 2011.
Muammar Gaddafi was killed on October 20, 2011, by militants of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) in Sirte after his government was militarily overthrown.
In 2019, the country is in disarray as it fails to solve its myriad of crisis from social, economic and security among others. Libya has become a lawless state with several militant groups taking over regions while human rights abuses are heightened.
The Western allies have failed to solve the political problem facing the country which now has to rival governments, one formed by the United Nations based in Tripoli.
In 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama said his biggest mistake during his presidency was the lack of planning for the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster that left the country in chaos and under threat from violent extremists.
In 2017, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo paid tribute to Gaddafi when he visited Uganda.
“I remember our hero Gaddafi who used to promote this African solidarity but sadly most countries would not still agree with him … The instability Africa is suffering is due to the egoism of each country.
“We forget that we are Africans. Things are not moving in the right direction for our countries and it is not that Africa is not self-sufficient but Africans look at ourselves as people who cannot develop ourselves yet we have many resources. Africans think all civilisation lies in the Western world,” he added.