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Power is sweet, even unavoidable, at times. Call him president, commander-in-chief, head of the security council, party chief, and chairman of everything from innocuous intra-governmental agencies to multi-lateral conglomerates baptised into China’s mainstream socialistic agenda; Xi Jinping may be brewing a cocktail too detrimental to the future of democracy in Africa.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in effect the dismantling of the “iron curtain” in the early 1990s that pitted the West against the East, the last of the strong men in Africa had almost collapsed. Zimbabwe and Uganda yielded their adamancy until 2018 when Mugabe was silently deposed. Now, and not unusual, Uganda’s Museveni is demanding a forever regime. Next, it will be South Africa, then Nigeria and finally Zambia. Strong men are not a new phenomenon; they predate the collapse of colonialism and outlive empire building. They are as old as monarchical ceremonialism in United Kingdom and monarchical internalism in Lesotho. In all these forms, strong men government was not a threat to world economic and political equilibrium. Until now.

There are three reasons why we should be worried of the new surge in one-man strong rule (OMS rule). The rise of China, the democratic naivety under Trump in the United States of America, and the inevitable catalyst for Africa.

First, China is rising, and with it the enshrining into its constitution of the all-mighty-for-life presidency for Xi. By the new constitutional dictates, Xi has been conferred upon such enormous levels of ideological authority that he is to be only equal to Mao Zedong. The New Era so-donned, will empower Xi with “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” Camouflaged into these so-called glorious words is OMS rule. Xi will be the undisputed one-man ruler of China – controlling everything from economic forays to thought and reason. Thought and reason are the last to fall. When they do as the case in China now, freedom can permanently wave bye-bye!

China has already penetrated most major economies of the world through its products and services. There is no world trade without Chinese advantage. China is everywhere, any time and in any form. But China had resisted ideological domination or should I put it, had its ideological momentum curtailed due to America’s policing in yester-years. However, with the weakening of American democracy internally under Trump, Xi and China have finally found their inner energy to emerge. And “Big China” will emerge. 

Second, the US has been weakened internally by the “Trumpistic” policies to mitigate over China’s rising. This is, perhaps one of the greatest defining marks on world politics. Hitherto, the US kept the world sane by preaching, though not always practicing, democratic ideals. To that end, the world found a level of political equalisation. Small countries had an olive branch to institute democratic standards and be guided by the rule of law (and not of a man). But with this internal moral and political erosion in the US, China will scintillate its own sparkle, and countries, especially in Africa, will again be tempted to return to the vomitus – to the politics of single party dictatorships. Unless America returns to its guardianship of the democratic diadem, there will be no end to which OMS rule will not scale.

Last, Africa will, again and sadly, be the culprit. Mark my words, it is already happening in Africa. Uganda’s ruling party is pushing for a referendum that could extent President Yoweri Museveni’s rule to 2035. This is in spite of the fact that the opposition parties have objected [to those changes]. And for a good reason – because this will be a declaration of life presidency for the incumbent who has been president since 1986. Uganda’s ruling party will then justify its course of action by citing Xi and the Chinese model. Where is the US, and with it the rest of us (no pun intended!)?

The demerits of the OMS rule are intractable. In the least, they insult the collective political conscience of the majority, and at best, they undermine democracy at the expense of autocratic rule. The rule of law becomes the rule of a man, and freedom is relegated to oblivion. Africa should fight against this evil. Even with over economic advances, an OMS rule will always lead to bondage, political disfranchisement and intolerance. Africa must resist OMS rule. African people must rise up and condemn OMS rule, no matter the justification. Government by definitive tenure should be the gold standard, and not life-presidency, no matter how “great” the leader might be!

*Charles Mwewa is the president and founder of Our-Zambian Forum, a Zambian-registered non-governmental organisation with economic and democratic vision for Zambia of the 21st century.