Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: This image of a cycle in mind is growing where I have heard people say there are no old ex-leaders in Africa. Either they stay in office until they get killed, or they leave to get assassinated. There is a problem in which inhibits the transfer of power, because as soon as they do, then they are getting killed or someone is going to take them down with them. Then I think about the international court of justice and things like that and what incentive do I have as a leader maybe even if I were nominally democratically elected. What incentive do I have to turn over power if I am going to go to the ICJ or get knocked off somewhere or something like that? How do you deal with punishing people who have done wrong versus pushing them in a sense to stay in office longer than necessary?
A: Right, no it is another of the conundrums, or the paradoxes that you don't want to set the bar in such a way that your choices are either steal the election or have you go to jail. If you can give a powerful person that choice, you will have a lot of stolen elections or a lot of elections that are overturned by military coup, or a number of procedures.
Fortunately, in Africa in the last decade you are beginning to get examples of retired African leaders, Nelson Mandela is the most prominent among them. Jerry Rollins in Ghana is an ex-president who is around to tell the tale, Benin in West Africa. Kerekou, the leader was both thrown out of office and four or actually it was eight years later, was brought back in and elected again, sort of an astonishing way. But there are people who say for Jerry Rollins, the president in Ghana, that they want him to account for his deeds, especially in the early days, when he came to power through military coup. He then moved to elections with some trials and his political opponents were executed. That is a very difficult trade off. Eventually people say that one of the reasons why George Washington is such a revered figure is not so much how he governed, but that he stepped down after two terms.
Q: No one remembers what he did!
A: Right. One of the most important things that he did - looking at it two-hundred some odd years later - was not run again and to say that there is life after politics. In Africa and other parts of the developing world, so much power gets concentrated at the head of state level. You don't have the government positions that you gain wealth in or power and privilege. It becomes an all or nothing game. You either win the elections or you are a nobody.
Where in the US if you lose an election you can go off and run your business or become a TV celebrity or do a talk show. Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Gerry Ford; these are all people of some wealth and prestige and power in society, even though they are no longer in formal political office. That is something that takes a long time to develop. I could probably name the handful of examples in Africa where that has happened. But it has happened. Daniel arap Moi in Kenya stepped down. I never thought that would happen, yet it did. He accepted that life after power was better than holding onto power at all costs.