Many countries in Africa and the Carribean suffer from ‘kleptocratic’ regimes, where the State is controlled and run for the benefit of an individual, or a small group, who use power to transfer a large fraction of society’s resources to themselves.
Examples of kleptocratic regimes include the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) under Mobutu Sese Seko, the Dominican Republic under Rafael Trujillo, Haiti under the Duvaliers, Nicaragua under the Somozas, Uganda under Idi Amin, Liberia under Charles Taylor, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and the Phillipines under Ferdinand Marcos. In most of these cases, kleptocratic regimes appear to have been disastrous for economic performance and impoverishment of citizens.
Most kleptocracies are characterised by ineffective institutionalised polities where formal institutions neither place significant restrictions on politicians’ actions nor make them accountable to the citizens.
The qualitative nature of politics appears to differ markedly between the strongly and weakly institutionalised polities. It is a fact that when institutions are strong, citizens punish politicians by voting them out of power.
To skirt around this possible disaster, politicians engage an extra gear and vie for support and endorsement from interest groups whose function becomes pivotal.
In a strong institutional set-up, citizens realise that exercising their constitutional rights is not a favour accorded to them by the politicians, but part of the constitutional order that everyone has to observe and support in a typical democracy. The assumption is that such a process would be part of the political dialogue within the ‘precincts’ of constitutionalism.
In contrast, when institutions are weak, politicians punish citizens who fail to support them. Politicians use the divide-and-rule strategy by creating and controlling some groups (through huge pecuniary incentives, for example) to advance their agenda while leaving the others in the periphery where they continue to languish in impoverishment. Some Malawian politicians have applied this strategy in their quest to consolidate power, which is very unfortunate.
It is a fact that Malawi has an ineffective institutional polity structure that has been ‘breeding ground’ for corruption, cronyism, and nepotism. Malawi does not have effective institutions that could be used to remove politicians from power—due to under-performance, among other factors—even if their constitutional terms of office are far from conclusion.
What is more worrying is that even if a particular political regime becomes synonymous with disastrous policies, corruption and cronyism, for example, there are ineffective constitutional mechanisms that would be used to, say, impeach such regimes.
In the absence of effective remedial mechanisms, such kleptocratic regimes—assuming we have had some in Malawi—would continue with their oppressive, but constitutional, mandates.
In the case of DRC, Dominican Republic and Haiti, this regime longevity has been made more paradoxical by the fact that such regimes apparently lack a core constituency (political base) for their support.
In the absence of strong institutions, such regimes adopt political strategies which become highly effective at defusing any opposition to their rule. In most African countries, such rulers tend to buy off opposition lawmakers, for example, with the aim of phasing out any functional opposition to their rule.
It is, however, fascinating to note that some of these rulers got their way to the higher echelons of power from the opposition benches in Parliament—or in churches! When in power, their behaviour smacks of pharisaic hypocrisy, to say the least.
It is also important to note that most of these kleptocracies we have in Africa plunder State resources for self-aggrandisement. They develop ineffective policies that catalyse the transfer of State resources to the ruling groups and their supporters, for example, as one way of incentivising them for continued political support. In particular, the nexus of inefficient policies becomes useful in creating an environment where any group that becomes politically mobilised against the ruling party (or the rulers) could be punished, while those that remain loyal are rewarded.
So what is the way forward then for Africa, and Malawi, in particular? The ‘line of best fit’ is the removal of such kleptocrats from power if the masses get ‘fed-up’ with their oppressive tendencies. If there are insufficient constitutional remedies, the oppressed should advocate the incorporation of adequate constitutional remedies in their laws to help in the removal of such oppressive kleptocracies. Oppression is alien to humanity.
The author is a consultant based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.