A Member of the Dictators' Club Speaks Up: President Bakili Muluzi Defends Comrade Taylor

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 21, 2003

The president of Malawi, Bakili Muluzi, recently voiced an opinion against President Charles Taylor's "exit plan". He referred to the situation as "usurping democracy". According to President Muluzi, "since Taylor was elected democratically by the Liberian people, it is wrong for rebels, with the support of other democratic countries to force him out". He argues that the "Taylor exit plan" is tantamount to a "coup d'etat".

In his arrogance (or shall we say his ignorance?), he asks: "Today it's Taylor; who will be next? Where will Taylor go if not in the bush to become another rebel"?

I find these comments quite irresponsible and reprehensible coming from a "president" at such a crucial time for the people of Liberia. But I was not quite surprised because this is the mentality I associate with most of those who call themselves ‘leaders' of the African people.

For example, in one of my earlier articles (From OAU to AU: Same Old Lady, New Dress), President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal was quoted as saying: "What right does one president have to tell another how to lead his people, particularly after having been ‘democratically' elected"? This statement conveyed the impression that the people of Africa are some inanimate objects who must be "led" at the whims of whomsoever their "leaders" are. Shouldn't there be a two-way street between the governors and the governed?

I fired back then: "President Wade seems to be under the illusion that the OAU or the AU, as a club, should be about the presidents, not the people. That a president, once "elected" should have the freedom and right to do whatever he chooses even if it means annihilation of the same people who elected him. If that is the case, why should the people care about what this club does or what it calls itself"?

In my most recent article (The African Union: Still an Exclusive Club), I revisited this issue of the misconception of democracy held by these African "leaders". I expressed the opinion that some of these people were of the mindset: "We don't care about the suffering masses; we must protect our friends because we belong to the same club".

Some might have thought my analyses too simplistic or a bit sensational. But hear for yourself what the President of Malawi said about the Liberian crisis upon returning from Maputo, Mozambique to attend an AU presidential conference. He seemed to be repeating the same old, tired argument in defense of "elected" dictators. The question is, was this man speaking for himself, or was this view held by many of his club members? The latter seems more likely, unfortunately.

I do not presume to be in a position to lecture the President of Malawi, but for the sake of public discourse, I shall challenge the honorable president to reexamine the meaning of the term "democracy". It means: "Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives." In a democracy, the common people are considered as the primary source of political power. It is further defined as, "the principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community; it encompasses majority rule".

In view of the above definition, it is unfortunate and short-sighted that some of these leaders are bent on placing heavy emphases on the latter part of the equation, ‘elected representatives', while ignoring the ‘people', without whom there cannot be a democracy.

It is true that Charles Taylor was elected by the Liberian people. But it is also true that for him to have his mandate for leadership, the people must continue to express a vote of confidence in his administration. Once the Liberian people have withdrawn their support – which they have overwhelmingly done and declared to the world – Charles Taylor has no legal recourse to impose himself on them any longer.

It is, therefore, regrettable for President Muluzi to suggest that if Charles Taylor is forced to vacate the presidency, he will return to the bush as a guerilla to haunt (or hunt) the Liberian people. The exact cynical and threatening statement was made by Tom Woiwoyou, a Liberian rubberstamp legislator on American TV, during an interview. The Liberian people are determined to stand against such conspiratorial threats.

There must be more sensible and peaceful alternatives to such madness and greed for power. Sooner or later, Senator Tom Woewiyu will lose his mentor and benefactor or he may choose to go into the bush to fight again. That's where some of them belong, after all.

As for President Muluzi, he will soon be losing a club mate. President Taylor is about to relinquish his membership to the exclusive ‘dictators' club. President Muluzi himself is increasingly coming under pressure in his own country for attempting to divert the democratic process. As election time nears in Malawi, he will also be losing his membership to that most revered club. Does he intend to join Charles Taylor, as well? There is plenty of room for them all.