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The Culture of Silence,an unguaranteed Grip for Prolonged Regime in Africa

From studying prolonged regimes in Africa, it has been observed that leaders that desire to perpetuate their regimes or quest for continuous political powerin office always invested state resources in particular security apparatus for installing the culture of silence as a guarantee grip.

From the look at the demise of most of the prolonged regimes in Africa, this article argues that the culture of silence that leaders rely on is an unguaranteed grip that is detrimental to the very regime and life of the leader. Let’s proceed with the argument by firstly conceptualizing the culture of silence.

A culture of silence seen as one of the distinct features of prolonged regime describes a situation in which people fed up or frustrated with the regime don’t dare to publicly criticize or voice out their opinions due to fear of severe repercussions. In the culture of silence regardless of the population size, those fed up with the system hold unto to their criticisms against the regime and pretend that all is well. Even though, in the culture of silence, those suspected by the regime don’t talk but possibly engage into planning about what to do to topple the regime.

The masses also accept the status quo but anticipate a suitable event that will pull the trigger for change through protest. Moreover, the culture of silence forced those suspected to be strong opposition into exile. These are influential people capable of toppling the regime. A contemporary example can be seen from the assertion of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh that blamed the failed coup attempt on exile Gambians in the UK, USA and Germany.

There are many ways in Africa the culture of silence has contributed to the demise of the regimes. Let’s take a look at few examples. In Africa most of the rebel movements are directly linked to the exile of oppositions created by the culture of silence.

These are people favored by the so called asylum providers that mobilize resource in the diaspora to end the prolonged regime. The rebel movement led by the late Laurent Kabila that ousted Mobutu from Congo came from Rwanda and Uganda.

Similarly in Uganda, Idi Amin Dada arguably one of the more infamous figures in the history of African dictator must have taught that instilling the culture of silence was a sure guarantee to prolong his regime. Unfortunately, those Ugandans that his regime forced into exile (Tanzania) grouped under the banner of Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) supported by Tanzanian President Julius Nyerereousted him in 1979.

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In Liberia, the rebel movements that ousted the Doe’s regime came from diaspora. Similarly, it happened to Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Sierra Leone etc. 

Another pitfall for the culture of silence probably unknown to the leaders is the feelings intolerance, distrust, bitterness, and revenge that the masses continue to harbor. Whether influence by external factors as always the argument by our leaders, any of these feelings can assemble people on the streets to demand regime change.

Arguably, the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia in 2011 may be used to validate this hypothesis. Another example that may validate the hypothesis has to do with Blaise Compaoré, who has ruled the Burkina Faso for 27 years with a culture of silence following 1987 coupthought he could have relied on State security as the grip to guarantee his regime but met serious resistance from the protesters that ended his regime.

Besides the masses frustration with the culture of silence, it is interesting to know that the very regime is vulnerable to the same security apparatus or the one that is being neglected or marginalized.

In the Gambia, the National Intelligence Agency is the strong arm of the government that used to maintain the culture of silence.This suggests the level of support enjoyed by this agency as compared to other security apparatus. The group of disaffected soldiers that launched the failed coup may arguably explain some kind of neglect or poor support to the military. 

Still on the pitfall, prolonged regime must realize that the culture of silence will not chase all of the oppositions to exile. Some will definitely choose to sacrifice to remain regardless of the obvious repercussion. They plan well to outset the regime.

Take for example;following theSharpevillemassive organised stay-away from work and demonstrations during the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1960s, the Prime Minister Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd declared a state of emergency that authorized security forces the right to detain people without trial.

Over 18,000 were arrested, including much of the African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress leadership. Some leaders went into exile abroad, while others stayed in South Africa and pursued the fight domestically. They went underground and initiated secret armed opposition groups.

The culture of silence that a leader employed to prolong his regime may at the same time help to improve the living standards of the people on the average but still remain as unguaranteed grip. The case of Libya under the late President Muammar Gaddafi may arguably validate this postulation. With the help of research, we learned that Libya under Gaddafihad the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy in Africa and less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands. Libyans did not only enjoy free health care and free education, they also enjoyed free electricity and interest free loans.

The price of petrol was around $0.14 per liter, 40 loaves of bread cost just $0.15 and When a Libyan woman gave birth, she was given 5000 (US dollars) for herself and the child.Consequently, the UN designated Libya the 53rd highest in the world in human development.

Despite these great achievements, Gaddafi for the 42 years (prolonged regime) managed to instill a culture of silence by way of human Surveillance in the government, factories, and in the education sector. This he used to keep tight control over internal dissent.

Moreover, foreign languages such as English and French were banned from school syllabus and talking with foreigners about politics carried a three-year prison term according to research.
Although Gaddafi maintained his argument welcomed by sympathizers that the conflict was masterminded by the West not his people that he claimed loved him.

Without an attempt to rubbish or trash out his argument,let it be borne in the mind of sympathizers that Gaddafi wouldn’t have succeeded for 42 years in power without instilling a culture of silence that he probably never thought was detrimental to his existence. Moreover, if we are to accept Gaddafi’s argument as face value, it still ask the question as who created the situation for the West to incite internal dissent forces against his regime?

From the many demise of prolonged regimes in Africa that the culture of silence failed to guarantee, it now be inferred that leaders who in their right state of mind that sees it as tactic have unknowingly designed their own trap for dead end or failure.

About the Author

Mr. Ambrues M. Nebo holds MSc in the top 5 % of the graduating Class in Peace and Conflict studies with specialty in Humanitarian and Refugee Studies form University of Ibadan, Nigeria, Post Graduate Certificate with distinction in Public Administration from Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration Ghana, BA Hon (Magna Cum Laude) in Sociology from African Methodist Episcopal Zion University College in Liberia and various International Certificates in peacekeeping operation from Kofi Anna International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana.
Besides this article, he has authored a dozen of articles dealing with contemporary issues in Africa and Liberia in which three (After the Deadly Ebola Virus, What’s Next? Stop Pointing Fingers at the West for Political Problems in Africa, Is Prolonged Regime, a Recipe for Potential Problems in Africa? and Instead of the International Criminal Court, blame our Leaders) can be accessed online at google search.

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