Monday, June 6, 2011

Prof. George Ayittey -- How To Topple A Brutal Dictator

Like many learned Africans, I've been patiently waiting for Prof. George Ayittey's new book to come out. He first mentioned it to me (in correspondence)  about three years ago and I'm still waiting. Fortunately, he did email me a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of his new-book, and I have posted the synopsis below. The Title of Prof. Ayittey's upcoming book is, "How To Topple A Dictator". Read below, in his own words.

Prof. George Ayittey: dictatorship is a system of governance and will emerge in any political system that concentrates power in the hands of one individual without any checks and balances. I argued in Chapter 2 that a dictatorship is incompatible with the tribal or traditional systems in most developing countries, whereby decision-making is by consensus. These systems also have checks and balances. Dictatorships proliferated after these countries -- mostly ex-colonies – gained their independence. They inherited a unitary system of government, which centralizes decision-making and power. They also acquired the “means” or instruments of coercion (standing armies) and the “reach” (improvements in communications and transportation), which enabled dictators to flourish (Chapter 3).

Chapter 4 discussed the modus operandi of dictatorships. They seize control of key state institutions (the media, security forces, civil service, judiciary, electoral commission, etc.), pack them with their allies, supporters and subvert them to serve their dictates. In other words, a dictatorship insidiously develops tentacles that reach into all segments of the society. Eventually, it collapses under the weight of its own internal contradictions and intrigues (Chapter 5).

However, its demise is accelerated when growing social inequality and discontent spark civil unrest and street protests (Chapter 6). But street protests alone are not enough to topple a dictator. The aid of an auxiliary agent or institution is needed (Chapters 6 and 7) to finish the job. Even then, getting rid of the dictator does not necessarily get rid of the dictatorship. The institutional framework that bolstered the dictator must also be dissembled or gutted (Chapter 8). Otherwise, the next rat will use the same institutional set-up to transform himself into another dictator. Recall the Tunisian lament: “We got rid of the dictator but not the dictatorship.”

Therefore, the question then is not just toppling the dictators but uprooting or dissembling the dictatorship. Chapter 8 is the most important of all the chapters because uprooting a dictatorship requires, not just political reform but also intellectual, constitutional, institutional and economic reform. The judiciary, intelligence services, the media, the electoral commission would all have to be cleansed and the tentacles of the dictatorship severed. But, as I stressed in Chapter 8, all these reform initiatives must be taken in sequence. Reform that is out of sequence creates problems. Premature economic reform or liberalization creates crony or vampire capitalism. In other words, it is not enough to cut down the tree; the roots must also be pulled out in sequence or order. Else, the tree will grow again.

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