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Reading the Pan-Africanists: Kenneth Kaunda (VI)

August 17th, 2022 | 3 min read

By Jake Meador

Here Kaunda is discussing military rule and why he sees it as a dead end for newly independent African nations. (Military rule mostly came in with the second generation of dictators, such as Idi Amin and Mobutu, and usually with strong support from the US and western Europe.) What’s helpful about this is Kaunda actually comes to power in 1964, so he is around when Nkrumah is overthrown and is able to witness the ascent of military states in post-colonial Africa. While we obviously don’t have military governments in the west, I worry that the fears Kaunda associates with military governments—ruling only by force and never by persuasion, possessing an indifference to their credibility with the people, a certain remoteness from the virtues of civic life, and so on—are all very much with us today.

To my mind, military government is always bad government.There are whole areas of the nation’s life where a government, conscious of the deep feelings of the people, must desist from the use of the power at its disposal in order to persuade. Education rather than coercion is the only way in which certain national goods can be achieved. Military government has only one tactic—the unquestioning use of physical force. And for a government’s image to appear before the people primarily as an authoritarian agency is bad for morale and poor education in democracy. The dference which is given to army officers is not evoked by their personal qualities however fine; it is respect paid to them in their capacity as servents of the state; it is the people acknowledging the sovereignty of the state through them by virtue of a commission granted to them to discharge certain functions. When those whose authority is vested in their servanthood become masters, the moral basis of Government is discredited.

With certain brilliant exceptions, the military mind is not adept at the arts of politics. It knows little of the compromises, accommodations, and persuasion which underlie political decisions. Because the military leader must have an unquestioning conviction that he knows what is best for those under him, he is prone to translate this possibly unwarranted self-confidence into the political sphere with disastrous results, for there are no representative mechanisms through which he can be curbed. Every political leader can be removed by due process of the constitution. He must always be keenly aware of the power of the people to dismiss him. The authority of the military leader is derived from sources other than public accountability and so he is likely to foment more trouble than he believes he has taken over power to settle.

Military power is always negative in character. There may be circumstances where widespread corruption justifies a military coup. But the most the army can do is to ensure basic law and order. IT has not the means, the skill, or the mandate to achieve detailed political reform.

Any government established by military force is inviting its overthrow by the same means. God forfend that Africa should see a succession of revolutions and counter-revolutions of the kind which have scarred the face of the Middle East and Latin America.

The organisers of recent military coups in Africa have declared their intention of handing back power as soon as possible to the civil authorities. I pray that they do so at the first possible moment. Meanwhile, the moral of these coups must be taken to heart by all leaders in Africa. Corruption or complacency, degeneration of the nationalist Party, increasing remoteness of Governments from the people all invite this swift retribution. But let no one imagine that military coups are the final answer. The onward progress of the nation will be retarded and forces set in motion which inhibit that respect for democracy which is the essential prerequisite of all nation-building.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).