Democracy in Africa: The Hard Road Ahead

By Marina Ottaway | Go to book overview

6
Highjacking Change: Zaire's "Transition" in Comparative Perspective

Michael G. Schatzberg

Since the late 1980s the world has witnessed the decline and, in many cases, the seeming demise of various forms of authoritarian rule. Besieged everywhere by the forces of change, long-ruling autocrats of both the left and the right have pursued a range of strategies and tactics to remain in power. Few have gracefully ceded their coveted positions as heads of a state-party without resistance; fewer still have openly and sincerely embraced the new crosscurrents of political change. The vast majority of them have waged a fierce and occasionally violent political struggle to retain both their positions and their power. Zaire's president, Mobutu Sese Seko, is no exception.

Even when autocrats have either departed or been removed from the scene, however, we should not assume that the political struggle is over, because they often leave behind them political forces and erstwhile allies who continue to fight to preserve or restore the old order that nurtured them. The Nigerian military is a case in point, as Peter Lewis explains in Chapter 7. Although the precise tactics such politicians pursue in hijacking the processes of political change may vary because of specific contextual differences, certain strategic commonalities have nevertheless begun to emerge from the welter of information surrounding particular cases.

This chapter is about the "hijacking," or the co-optation and subversion, of political movements directed either against autocrats who have long been part of the political landscape or against the repressive and anti- democratic forms of political order that have survived their departure. Except indirectly, this chapter does not discuss "democratization" — a term of distinctly limited applicability in the present political moment. Although it is certain that we are witnessing an increasingly clamorous retreat from autocracy, to label this historically open-ended autocratic recessional as democratization is to confuse a normatively desired goal with a complex series of political processes whose outcome is far from predetermined.

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