Does George Weah want to Die or Live Peacefully? Eschewing the Stupid Notion of ‘Benevolent Dictator’

By Julius Kullie Kanubah

Does George Weah want to Die or Live Peacefully? Eschewing the Stupid Notion of ‘Benevolent Dictator’

Any democratically-elected President that is against ‘checks and balances’ is a dictator, whether benevolent, wicked or otherwise. Horizontal accountability as a key mechanism of governance and one embodying the Legislature is meant to ensure executive restraints, but also institutional constraints of other arrangements of governance.

It is a mistake to think that ‘development’, however defined, comes only through dictatorship of benevolence.

Contextually, it is also fundamentally flawed to advance the so-called Paul Kagame mode of rule for Liberia, not least an Asian model. Kagame operates an authoritarian regime underpinned by vicious attacks against Rwandans critical of his one-man, single-party style of rule. His coercive powers are not a result of democratic deepening but rather as a ‘warlord democrat’, Kagame has substantial ‘conflict capital’, which he has employed and maximized as a technology of rule under authoritarianism.

The extent of democratization in Rwanda is thus not comparable to Liberia and, those advancing the stupid ‘benevolent dictator’ notion needs to consider the socioenvironmental governance structures of Liberia and the collective will of Liberians, both across time and space as well as the implications and meaning for political stability.

The institutions of governance in Liberia are not just merely existing because of our simplistic understandings of governmentality as a technology of rule. Governing through a ‘benevolent dictator’ without a constraining Legislature is likely to plunge Liberia into another rounds of instability.

Benevolent dictatorship is by and of itself a form of exclusionary rule without institutional constraints. Political exclusion is regarded as one of the central causes of political instability and large-scale violence as in armed conflicts. The case of Liberia has been extensively documented as regard the violence of exclusionary rule through dictatorship, oligarchy, military tyranny – whether benevolent, malign or benign. Charles Taylor, Samuel Doe and William Tubman, for example, are known to have exercised power, similar to that of the benevolence of a dictator. Neopatromonialism comes to mind.

It should sicken anyone when a democratically-elected President is being transformed into a so-called ‘benevolent dictator’ in the name of speeding up ‘development’ through quick decision-making. The transformation from a ‘benevolent dictator’ to a ‘wicked dictator’ is only but a degree on the same side of the autocratic, authoritarian spectrum.

Rather than the stupid ‘benevolent dictator’ idea, we must work to govern within our democratizing institutions with diverse competing actors and perspectives; thereby, managing the inevitable collective action dilemma, which pervades in governance and developmental processes in many countries in Africa. There are good examples of African democracies that have and continue to foster democratic governance on a mass scale with positive effects for society. It is surprising that countries like Botswana and even Ghana are not used as reference points for how to govern and develop through local innovations in multiethnic societies as ours.

The idea of benevolent dictator is but only an idea from a narrow-minded man and his small-minded followers, lacking wider imagination about governance and development within a contested, shifting and emergent state as Liberia. And in the context of a democratizing Liberia, the infeasibility of a benevolent dictator is much more pronounced than Rwanda. For instance, Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as darling of international interventionists had to abandon any idea of a benevolent dictator, or even, extending her rule. Imagine if the mass support base of Ellen had transformed her into a benevolent dictator? Weah and the CDC would not have existed, apparently. Perhaps, a ‘new war’ would have emerged.

To become a benevolent dictator in Liberia would require waging a war similar to what Paul Kagame did and achieved in Rwanda. In Liberia, unfortunately, warlords don’t necessarily win or survive on the battlefields or even through the contentious political game or in private life. Some are killed. Some died painfully. Some are jailed. Some are stigmatized.

If George Weah wants to die peacefully or be retired from the Presidency peacefully, he must eschew any stupid notion of a ‘benevolent dictator’ as advanced by his Finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel Tweah. The adjective and label of a ‘benevolent dictator’ diminishes Weah’s standings with repercussions about how he might survive with a positive legacy, if any, is to emerge.

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