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2023 | Book

The Political Impact of African Military Leaders

Soldiers as Intellectuals, Nationalists, Pan-Africanists, and Statesmen


About this book

This edited volume examines the cases of four African military leaders who had enormous impact on the continent and beyond. These military officers, and later heads of state -- Jerry Rawlings of Ghana; Moammar Gaddafi of Libya; Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso; and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt – were provocative and polarizing figures, beloved domestically but mostly viewed with suspicion and hostility by foreign governments. This volume studies these leaders as a group, engaging in a critical but systematic examination of their personalities, leadership styles, official performance, legacies, and their continuing impact on the future and political destiny of the continent. Providing a survey of controversial but important African political figures, this volume will be of use to scholars and students in the social sciences, especially those interested in African history, African studies, military science, Black studies, political science, leadership studies, and the politics of developing nations.

Table of Contents


Military Engagement and Leadership in Africa

Chapter 1. The Colonial Origins of African Military and Its Implications for African Politics
The origin of African military greatly influences its character, ethos, and mores. The military in most African states were products of European adventures in Africa. Many started as armies of private trading companies. The defining ethos of the colonial armies were centered on conquest and dominance through the use of violent force to achieve the colonial agenda of Europe. European governments licensed private companies known as charter companies to trade in different parts of the world. They were principally concerned with profit making which cannot be realized if they cannot dominate “their sphere of influences.” This they achieved by establishing military forces. The military forces in this African states have their roots in the commercial greed of private entrepreneurs. The military therefore took the form, ethos, and culture of the European colonizers. Critically these values were transferred to African militaries at independence. This chapter sets to study how the colonial origin of the African military impacted on contemporary African politics. It is this thematic issue that the chapter seeks to explore using historical descriptive method which relies on secondary data and analyzed through content analysis. The research concludes that the irrational behavior of dominance and violence is a critical fallout of the military being a continuum from colonialism to contemporary period. As such the military is central to the defining political dynamics in the African states and therefore remains impactful on politics in the continent.
Emmanuel Chijioke Ogbonna, Adebukola Olubunmi Ayoola, Olusoji Alani Odeyemi
Chapter 2. Military Coup D’états in Africa: A Survey
The recent resurgence of military coups in parts of Africa has revamped global scholarly attention on the causes of military intervention in politics and the consequences of military rule on the African continent. It must be emphasized that it is an understatement to say that military coups were in vogue in Africa between the 1950s and the late-1980s. Military coups were so rampant and were the most common way of carrying out regime change in many African nations in the past. As a result, Johnson et al. (1984) described the study of African politics as the study of military intervention and military rule. They also argued that military coups were the most frequent means of regime change in Africa (Johnson et al., 1984). Although military rule, in general, is seen as a bane to Africa’s democratic and economic development (Hyden, 2012; Oquaye, 1980), scholars are divided on whether there is a value for military regimes to Africa’s peace, stability, and development (McKinlay & Cohan, 1975; Nordlinger, 1970).
Samuel Kofi Darkwa
Chapter 3. Political Economy of Colonial and Postcolonial African Military
The military as an integral institution is as old as organized societies and communities in modern nation-states. As societies started becoming organized through the modernization process, they needed protection from other organized societies which might have wished to absorb or subjugate them (Huntington, 1966; Heywood, 2007). Consequently, the philosophy behind the creation of armed forces in modern society was underpinned by protection, the pivot of which was the “soldier.” The primary purpose of the military was to serve as an instrument of war that can be directed against other states. Today, the armed forces belong to a more sophisticated structure in modern society, where there are clearly defined organizational frameworks into which its members are recruited, trained, and administered by states and governments (Huntington, 1966; Heywood, 2007; Ejiogu, 2007). In a modern liberal democracy, the state is represented by the government which has a monopoly over the use of legitimate force. This function of power by the state is exercised through the military (armed forces) which are traditionally under the control of governments in modern democratic states (Huntington, 1966; Heywood, 2007). Besides, it was through the military that the colonial governments perfected the art of governing a varied collection of “natives,” whose culture and customs were foreign to them and whose ways of life were vastly different from that of the colonials that the only effective way to create efficiencies and camaraderie was through a command-and-control system.
Gbensuglo Alidu Bukari
Chapter 4. Postcolonialism and Elite Contestation for Political Power in Africa
The struggle for self-determination and emancipation from colonial rule and domination came to fruition when many African countries gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. Independence was heralded with pomp and pageantry in many capital cities across Africa. Anti-colonial and nationalist leaders with resilient and unwavering personality like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea, Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, Sylvanus Olympio of Togo, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, etc. espoused Pan-Africanism, and were strong believers in the freedom from the bondage of British colonization and the liberation of the African race. Today, where is the leadership, good governance, and development struggle that epitomized the nationalist leaders in Africa? The chapter discusses: (1) Africa postcolonial elite, mirroring on their philosophical and ideological thinking of independence and how this has been carried forward, (2) military engagement in politics and leadership, (3) elite contestation for power and governance, and (4) the development ethos of African elite. The chapter concludes by examining the qualities of visionary leaders that can or have inspired development in their countries and left behind a lasting legacy. Current deficit in leadership and governance in Africa has led to economic crisis and pervasive insecurity, and therefore Africa needs patriotic and transformational leaders.
Chris Agoha
Chapter 5. Leadership, Constitutional Changes, and Functions of Governments in East Africa
While addressing the subject of leadership, constitutional changes, and functions of governments in East Africa, this chapter answers the following question. “How does changing the constitution of a state affect leadership and functions of a government?” This question is addressed while focusing on leadership in East Africa and examining how changes made in the constitutions affect the functions of a government. Using evidence drawn from the literature that accounts for the past and present political occurrences in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, the chapter maintains that the differences that are striking in these three countries have to do with pull and push eminent in the constitutional politics in Kenya, the militaristic style in Uganda and the modest approach of leadership in Tanzania. The three countries were under British colonial rule and gained independence over the same period in 1961, 1962, and 1963 in the order of Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, respectively. The three nations are the founding members of the East Africa Community (EAC) formed first in 1967, then rejuvenated in 2001 upon the collapse of the first EAC in 1977. The EAC, which is a Regional Economic Community (REC) in Africa, is premised on what integration scholars Karl Deutsch (1954) and Ernst Hass (1961) refer to as a regional integration scheme—a community that aspires to facilitate joint solutions to problems experienced by East Africa states and their people by working toward their stability, prosperity, identity, and other multipurpose goals.
George Katete

The Revolutionary Comrades in Ghana and Burkina Faso

Chapter 6. Thomas Sankara and Jerry Rawlings: Intellectuals, Populists, Revolutionaries, and Pan-Africanists
Human history began in Africa, and according to all available historical, biological, and anthropological sources and understanding, it is the origin of modern humans. However, things have not gone well for the continent and many of its people. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the continent had been ensnared by a succession of calamities and iniquities, which include the Euro-American slave trade and colonization. And while Africa was not the only continent that suffered such inhumanities, she seems to have suffered more and the negative impacts seem more lasting and troubling. Beginning in 1957, and more rapidly in the 1960s, political independence came in quick succession. Even so, conditions on the continent seem not to have improved significantly. For instance, transiting from agrarianism to modernity, the modernization of the economy, and the issue of governance and leadership seem to be the three main problems faced by the continent. However, the inability to get the question of leadership right have hindered the continent’s progress.
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
Chapter 7. Third Era of Jerry Rawlings as a Democratic President (1993–2001): Ideology and Leadership Style
This chapter examines the leadership emergence of Jerry John Rawlings (22 June 1947–12 November 2020) as a democratic ruler. Ghana’s Jerry John Rawlings is arguably one of the most charismatic leaders to have ruled an African country in contemporary times. His charisma and leadership style helped to transit Ghana from a political and economic decay in the 1980s to constitutional rule and economic recovery in the 1990s. Although he was a coupist, Rawlings became an icon and respected leader in Ghana, Africa, and the world during his term of office as Head of State and President. Rawlings’ ideology and leadership style was a mixed bag of approaches grounded in his belief in the principles of probity and accountability. The goal of this chapter is to examine how Rawlings emerged as a transformational leader in Ghanaian politics, and African and world politics at large. We, therefore, argue that he demonstrated transformational and charismatic leadership skills which led Ghana through a successful economic recovery program and democratization. We do so by unpacking his ideology and leadership style from 1993 to 2001. The chapter shows that Rawlings’ goal was to rid Ghana of corruption and to decentralize the decision-making process and enable institutional process for development that centered around the people at all levels of governance. He had a vision of a government free from corruption and inclusive government connected to the grassroots. Rawlings pursued economic reforms through structural adjustment programs that help to strengthen Ghana’s economy.
Emmanuel Graham, Kafui Tsekpo
Chapter 8. Statesmen: Burkina Faso and the Dream Deferred: Ideology and Leadership Style
At 4:30 p.m. on October 15, 1987, Thomas Sankara walked out of the headquarters of the old Conseil de l’Entente, where he and his aides had gathered for a meeting and which had served as an office of the National Conseil national de la révolution (CNR), into a hail of bullets. The meeting, which started at 4:15 had barely gotten underway when they heard gunfire. Sankara’s aides quickly took cover, but Sankara got up and told his aides to stay inside for their own safety. “It’s me they want,” he told them and left the room, hands raised, to face his executioners. Those were the last words he said before he was shot several times and, on that day, after the silence of the guns, the brief presidency of one of the most charismatic leaders in Africa came to an end. By 10 p.m. that night, he had been buried as if to hide a secret, and his one-time friend and the suspected assassin had assumed the presidency. For the next 27 years, Compaorè would undo the work that Sankara had begun and plunge his country further into debt to line his bank account. Because Sankara did not publish anything, this chapter will focus on his speeches which were published after his death to flesh out his leadership style. His political intervention and his desire to change his country cannot be understood outside of his personal views and his background. He sought to break the longstanding tradition of corruption that gripped the country while promoting women’s rights. He also sought to liberate his country from the grip of foreign aid and foreign loans with crippling interest rates that allowed these same countries to have a say in the workings of Burkina Faso.
Nada Halloway
Chapter 9. Thomas Sankara: An Intellectual Statesman in Power, Culture, and Education in Burkina Faso (1983–1987): A Review After 30 Years
Some persons within the African environment have made remarkable ventures in the terrain of politics, within the context of governance, by using their intellect to produce ideas to inspire certain physical actions to demand social justice and transform the terms of political and social practices in neocolonial moments in Africa, where an array of problems of underdevelopment and social injustices has been rife. This situation in Africa has witnessed the rise of several heads of state and statesmen who did not only engage in politics, as action, as the physical movement of human bodies and activities, through time and space but as a combination of intentionally theoretically and intellectually generated thought, plans and policies and the practical actions of bodies. Such leaders included civilians like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Sekou Touré of Guinea, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa. However, there have also been leaders of governments who were soldiers who exhibited this character. These included Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Muammar Al Gaddafi of Libya, J.J. Rawlings of Ghana, and Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. Observably, these leaders exhibited degrees of statesman, Pan-Africanist, nationalist and intellectual attitudes.
De-Valera Botchway, Moussa Traore
Chapter 10. Thomas Sankara’s Ideology and Political LeadershipPolitical leadership
The search for Africa’s development through effective political leadership and governance has continued to attract scholarly interests and policy debates on the importance of re-visiting the political ideology and development strategies of past leaders whose ideas for the total liberation of Africa might still be relevant in our contemporary era. Leaders such as Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and Jerry John Rawlings of Ghana, among others, are some of the transformational leaders whose ideas and achievements have continued to be debated. While the background and leadership styles of these leaders were military and authoritarian in nature, it will be out of place to disregard the achievements of these military leaders in Africa’s development discourse. Thomas Sankara was one of those extraordinary political leaders whose ideology and leadership are still being debated in relation to how his ideas and strategies can be re-visited to help address the challenges of Africa’s development. To explore these issues, the chapter examines Sankara’s political ideology and leadership within the context of his impact as a military officer, nationalist, statesman, and a Pan-Africanist. The chapter argues that Sankara’s ideas and strategies of development are still relevant to the discourse on Africa's development agenda. 
Felix Kumah-Abiwu
Chapter 11. Thomas Sankara: Mixed Legacies of a Charismatic Statesman
Since the 1960s, military regimes have been a dominant feature of the political landscape of most African states, either through forcefully assuming state power or by wielding veto rights on decision-making institutions and the core policy orientations of civilian-led governments. In this regard, Burkina Faso’s case serves as a perfect illustration. Since its independence, the army has firmly held an entrenched monopoly on political processes except for three civilian presidents. This iron grip on national politics has entrenched the routinization and the formal legitimization of military rule as the de facto form of political government.
The army’s long politicized tenure has been broadly cast at best as mediocre and at worse as dismal for the gross abuses and for undermining the democratization efforts of Burkina Faso. Nevertheless, the army has produced an iconic statesman Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (1949-87), one of the finest minds in African political leadership, driven by a radical political philosophy championing the decolonization aspirations of Africa. This paper attempts to unpack the salient characteristics of his political philosophy and praxis, his servant leadership style, and the relevance of his dedicated life of service and abnegation, which compellingly speaks to the leadership and governance deficit experienced across Africa today.
Barthelemy Bazemo

The Colonel and the Iconoclast in the Desert

Chapter 12. Muammar Gaddafi: An Assessment
In the first part of this chapter, the focus is on aspects of Libya’s geopolitical and historical background before the rise of Muammar Gaddafi. The chapter includes references to the French, Turkish, and Italian power struggles that culminated in the Italo-Turkish war of 1911. This is important for the focus on Gaddafi because of its direct impact on the Qadhadifa ethno-regional configuration. Rodolfo Graziani and other Italian fascist occupiers, in the era after World War I, are also of concern, since their genocidal campaigns would have a major impact on Libyans of that era, and no less on the Qadhadifa clan, and Gaddafi. Developments preceding the 1969 coup d’état of Muammar Gaddafi and his comrades, and the dethronement of the Sanusi dynasty, are not disconnected from these events and will be mentioned. The chapter identifies some of the complaints of the 1969 coup makers, and some of the mechanisms that were proposed to solve the various problems. US foreign policy and goals as they affected Libya, before and after the coup, will also be discussed, and so, too, Libya’s foreign policy toward other African countries, after 1969. We shall attempt to answer some of the following questions in the course of the discussion: What would Gaddafi accomplish in the early years of his regime? Did Gaddafi bring to the table intellectual sagesse and erudition, or merely unreflective pragmatism? For example, what was the intellectual context of Gaddafi’s famous Green Book? Of what threat to Gaddafi were the jihadists in the later years of his regime, and what is the nature of his legacy for Libya and the rest of Africa? What explains the rather erratic, anarchist, and somewhat iconoclastic modus operandi of Muammar Gaddafi? The chapter concludes with an overall assessment of Muammar Gaddafi before his demise on October 20, 2011, based on past and ongoing developments.
Gloria Emeagwali
Chapter 13. NATO, EU, and Libya: A Decade of Turmoil
In the following chapter, I will present the strategic constellation between the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United States (US), and the Arab Republic of Libya in the timeframe between 2000 and the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011. Already at the beginning, I would like to mention some restrictions and constraints regarding this work. Much literature had been written about the military intervention, the coalition-led air raids, the turmoil and violence that wreaked havoc within the country, and the problematic situation with the uncontrolled flow of migrants and refugees through the Mediterranean route towards the EU. But instead of wrapping up all those facts, I would like to present the reader with a more nuanced way of how the situation within these 10 years had changed in so many ways most people had already forgotten. Starting with the early 2000s, when Libya was still a pariah in the Western world, a slow but steady decline happened which found its climax in the official visit of al-Gaddafi to Brussels and his speech in front of the European Commission (a fact that is not often communicated in Europe), which led a new path to the reintegration of the country in a European-led project which offered peace and prosperity.
Cserkits Michael
Chapter 14. Psychobiographical Analysis in International Politics: A Focus on Moammar Ghaddafi of Libya
In analyzing modern history, it is imperative to note that the world has witnessed unusual political leaders whose actions and politics had or have meaningful consequences for both the destiny of his or her nation and the international community as a whole. Such individuals emphasize the importance of personality in politics because it is difficult, if not impossible, to critically evaluate the behavior of the countries that they lead without understanding their own personalities, motivations, and the historical circumstances that shaped their attitudes. It is this reality that has given credence to psychobiography as a tool of analysis.
Idowu Johnson
Chapter 15. Gaddafi, Tito, and Libyan Non-aligned Policy
After coming to power in Libya on the first day of September 1969 until his overthrow and assassination on October 20, 2011, Muammar Gaddafi represented a controversial figure in international relations. During his first years in power, guided by the ideology of Arab socialism and Pan-Arabism, he advocated the unification of all Arabs, unconditional support for the Palestinian struggle and the right of its people to self-determination, and the destruction of the state of Israel. While the latter two goals persisted during the 1970s, Arab unification was de facto abandoned in 1974, despite subsequent agreements with Algeria in 1982 and Morocco in 1984. Instead, the second half of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s were marked by more pragmatic Libyan foreign policy. Libya tried to establish and expand various forms of bilateral cooperation with the Soviet Union, France, Italy, West Germany, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. At the same time, and especially after the Fifth Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Algeria in 1973, Libya became more active within the Non-Aligned Movement. Immediately after coming to power, the new regime in Tripoli began to build diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia due to ideological closeness, economic motives, similar views on international issues, and the pragmatic need of both countries for a political partner in the Mediterranean.
Nikša Minić

A Soldier from the Cradle of Civilization

Chapter 16. Gamal Abdel Nasser: A Hero in Africa and the Arab World
This chapter examines the role of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s iconic revolutionary hero, continental liberation and unification, as well as regional cooperation, building on his visionary nationalist political activism and leadership. Using personality and leadership symbolism, the chapter interrogates the significance of Nasser’s involvement in the geopolitics of Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism, and in relations between the two regional blocs. The chapter aims to demonstrate, in line with the spirit of the volume, the relevance of Nasser’s legacy in the politics of the regions to which he dedicated his life and public service. The life (and death) of Nasser, the young idealistic activist, purposeful military officer, committed and selfless nationalist leader, erudite internationalist diplomat, and Pan-African statesman standing tall in the modern histories of the Arab world and Africa, provides an important source of knowledge on leadership and international relations broadly, and with specific respect to Africa and the Arab world. Nasserism is an integral philosophy and key intellectual re/source in national and continental leadership, as well as African, Arabian, and Afro-Arabian geopolitics.
Timothy Adivilah Balag’kutu
Chapter 17. Hero in Arab Maghreb and Mashreq
This chapter addresses militarized “heroism” and military intelligence, in the context of regional and international developments. The noun “hero” can be defined as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities: a war hero”; certainly, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein (born 15 January 1918, died 28 September 1970) is identified as such a “hero” in Africa and the Arab world. While his is not a sole or unique stature, it is exemplary: historian Joel Gordon titled his profile, Hero of the Arab Nation (2012), for Omar Khalifah, Nasser was “a legendary hero from early on in his political career” (2016, p. viii), and for Lahouari Addi he was “hero of the crowds from Baghdad to Casablanca” (2018, p. 41).
Elizabeth Bishop
Chapter 18. The Sons of the Revolution: Umm Kulthum, Abdel Halim Hafez, and the Nasserist Regime Between Artistic Agency, Propaganda, and Nationalism
The period of the 1950s and 1960s was regarded as the 'golden age' of culture in Egypt due to the widespread popularity of Egyptian arts and media. Notable singers and performers, such as Umm Kulthum, Abdel Halim Hafez, Fareed al-Atrash, and Mohammad Abdel Wahab, became the symbols of Egypt's cultural prowess. This artistic movement was closely tied to the country's political agenda, which was centered around President Gamal Abd al-Nasser's pan-Arab, anti-imperialist policies. Artists and filmmakers were influenced by Nasser's charismatic leadership, resulting in their work reflecting themes related to decolonization, de-westernization, and the daily struggles of common people. Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez, in particular, were strong supporters of Arab nationalism, and their relationship with Nasser proved to be mutually beneficial. The numerous songs they recorded (in some occasions commissioned by the regime) to sustain the Nasserist regime helped to strengthen the connection between the media, the regime, and the masses. Nasser's promotion of Pan-Arabism and anti-colonialism was aided by the propagandistic Voice of the Arabs, the first transnational Egyptian radio service broadcasting in Arabic. Through an analysis of Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim’s less known but numerous patriotic artistic production, this chapter aims to show how their careers reflected the political environment at the time in Egypt, as well as the national dreams and visions. It also aims to understand the extent of Umm Kulthum’s and Abdel Halim’s role in the immense success of Nasserist ideology, by examining the correlations between the singers’ productions and Nasser’s political agenda.
Omar Bortolazzi
Chapter 19. Egypt and the Arab World: Five Decades After Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser, the paramount leader of Egypt from (1952–1970), saw his country at the center of three “circles,” the Arab, the African, and the Islamic, with the Arab world being in the natural sphere of influence. Nasser’s priority was deepening Egypt’s independence and completely divesting from British colonial presence, particularly in the Suez Canal. Nasser centered the Arab component of Egypt’s national identity. While Nasser did not start this pro-Arabization nationalist ideology, he elevated it to a new height. In 1948, Egypt found itself in the middle of an anti-colonial struggle against Israel’s expansionist presence and occupation in Palestine. Nasser himself fought in the 1948 war against Israel. He criticized King Farouk for setting up the military for failure, a disillusionment he wrote about in his Arabic text, The Philosophy of the Revolution (1954). This experience led Nasser to form the Free Officers Movement, a military group he used to subsequently overthrow the monarchy. The 1948 war, despite its bitter ending, was the first pan-Arab struggle against the Zionist occupation. His pan-Arab ideology was bolstered by Egypt’s strategic position at the crossroads of Africa and Asia. Nasser saw Egypt’s potential to be the leader of the Middle East (Nasser, 1954, p. 79). The pan-Arab philosophy of Nasser was not the Pan-Arabism of the Ba’ath party, however. Nasser’s Arab nationalism centered on Arab solidarity against colonial hegemony, unity of ranks, and cooperation, rather than a full Arab unity of the existing state.
Najib Ghadbian
The Political Impact of African Military Leaders
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
Felix Kumah-Abiwu
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