Contagious 'strongman syndrome' reverts democracies to totalitarianism

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Contagious 'strongman syndrome' reverts democracies to totalitarianism
Robert Kigongo

By Robert Kigongo

With recent election results in Chad in West Africa where military leader Mahamat Idriss Debby controversially won with 61 percent defeating his main opponent Masra who has rejected the results;

The Constitutional changes in Togo from adult suffrage to parliamentary college elections to Ethiopian totalitarian regime killing Bate Urgessa, its main opposition leader;

‘Day and Night, Africa’s democracy is perverting into totalitarianism due the Strongman Syndrome that has infected not only the dictators but the population as well’.

The strongman thrives on populism, low civic involvement, political elitism, fear, poverty, illiteracy and the abuse of the rule of law.

Africa’s democracy is falling in the hands of strongmen, resulting in nations moving from democracy to authoritarianism and eventually flipping to totalitarianism, and is accompanied by diatribe, civil unrest and unconstitutional change to governments.

Despite, African nations under authoritarian rule experiencing high rates of unemployment, human rights violations, gross inequalities, industrial scale corruption, gross impunity, depreciating currencies, absence of constitutionalism and the rule of law.

Sadly, still African people tend to support strongmen either as peasant victims or apologists and henchmen.

In Uganda, the peasantry population has been led to believe that a strongman is a guerrilla general and have been “persuaded” soldiers are the only capable rulers of Uganda and not civilians such as opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, despite the world agreeing in 2021 at the first Summit for Democracy to end gun rule.

Predictably, Uganda is at the very extreme verge of becoming totalitarianism state similar to North Korea under constitutional monarchism where Museveni will hand over to his biological first son and a military General Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

The strongman syndrome thrives on populism,civic incompetence, political elitism, fear, poverty, illiteracy and the abuse of the rule of law and democracy.

What is criminal is the underrating the magnitude of the threats and long-term negative consequences of strongman syndrome cum populism on democracy, sustainable development, genuine peace, justice for all, and healthy institutions.

The rise of guerrilla leaders across Africa in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, who staged military coups in the immediate post-independence era, paved way for strongmen, who first appeared as liberators, to become presidents.

Uganda is an example of a country under a strongman ruler, Museveni, who has ruled for close to 40 years, as is Equatorial Guinea under Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Cameroon under Paul Biya, Eritrea under Isaias Afwerki, and the Republic of Congo under Denis Sassou Nguesso.

We should learn from past events in Zaire,Somalia,Libya, Arab spring among others that Africa's mistake of building strongmen rather than strong democratic institutions.

‘The most obvious characteristic of a strongman is glorifying the mighty power of the gun and personalising the army and state institutions.

By repression, strongmen consistently demonstrate that they are much stronger than their opponents.

Leaders of opposition parties in Uganda are often arrested at each presidential and parliamentary election cycle in the country.

For example, NUP’s Robert Kyagulanyi was arrested on November 18, 2020, and Dr Kiiza Besigye in 2011 upon his return from exile in South Africa.

The strongman syndrome orchestrates the fear factor by use of the army and militia groups to arrest or abduct torture people.

Ultimately, the peasantry population is subdued through fear, creating a sense of hopelessness, silence, political compromise and forced support of the strongman.

The strongman mentality thrives under political elitism where political merchants regroup after election cycles with an objective of controlling power and natural resources among themselves.

The survival of a strongman at the helm of a country economically harms the national treasury.

The strongman always entrenches a patriarchal system to political elites and proxy businessmen and this may be through the misallocation of state resources.

The strongman syndrome is associated with constitutional and military coups, as well as draconian laws against citizens’ freedom and rights, destroying democracy.

Repression such as cramping down civic spaces, press freedom and independent media, the right to dissent during election cycles curtails all the principles of democracy.

My call to democracy deliverers and defenders of defenders is to finance civil society and the media to carry out education programmes about democracy and democratic processes.

Pressure from institutions such as the regional cooperation, United Nations and the African Union, through high level political dialogues are necessary to tame the evil of authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

Democracy as the software of global and regional integration should be the yardstick for all regional cooperation, United Nations and AU member states.


Mr Robert Kigongo is a democracy activist, peace and conflicts negotiator

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