Funeral Attendance: A Coup-rageous Act for African Leaders
I will be the first to admit that I am NOT an African politics expert.
Disclaimer: I am not an avid consumer of academic production on statecraft in Dark Continent.
Never been to Zambia.
Malawi? Togo? Equatorial Guinea? Nope, nope, nope.
Truth in advertising: I know less about African affairs of state than I do about Angelina Jolie’s breasts.
One could argue, then, that I am not well placed to step out on a limb and give advice to African leaders. My education and experience give me absolutely no authority or credibility on this account, some would say.
But I am nevertheless qualified to hereby announce David Amulet’s Two Rules of African Politics.
RULE #1: If you are an unpopular African leader with dictatorial tendencies who has stayed in power through flawed elections, without the firm support of the military, DO NOT LEAVE THE COUNTRY FOR A FOREIGN HEAD OF STATE’S FUNERAL.
RULE #2: See Rule #1. Rinse. Repeat.
You see, I will go on my hunch that you have not been closely following Mauritanian politics lately. Let David fill you in.
President Maaouya Taya of Mauritania flew to Riyadh early this week to attend the Islamic funeral of the late Saudi monarch, Fahd bin Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud. (Or, as his buddies called him, King Vegetable.)
And while good old Maaouya was gone, Mauritanian military officers seized power, ending his 21-year rule.
Maybe my memory is flawed … but has this not happened about a gazillion times in Africa during the past few decades? The learning curve among African dictators, semi-despots, and presidents-for-life is slower than among juice-shooting baseball players. By this point, you would think they would know to send an underling or two to these funerals.
Of course, we may want to give President Taya the benefit of the doubt. He lives in Mauritania, after all … so we should consider the possibility that he planned this whole thing as a face-saving way to get out of his ruler gig and retire somewhere pleasant.
Think about it—would YOU want to live out your final years in a capital named Nouakchott? And how embarrassed would you be to show your face in Africa as the only continental leader who voluntarily stepped aside?
Perhaps our boy wanted to play more bridge, hit the links, maybe play some shuffleboard on Carnival Cruises. Hanging out for one day in Riyadh—even in the summer—might be worth it to get away.
Then again, Taya has fled not to Fort Lauderdale but to Niger—site of the world’s famine du jour. Not exactly prime retirement real estate.
Thus, we are left with the sad-but-true explanation: Another leader was dumb enough to fall for the military leaders’ old line: “Sure, Mr. President, go ahead and fly to the funeral … we’ll watch over things here for you!”
So I log off tonight with some words for President Bush—sending VP Cheney (who is not going to run in 2008) and your daddy (who has already been booted out of the presidency) to Riyadh to pass America’s condolences on your behalf was a swell idea.
Especially after Rumsfeld was pushing you so hard to go.