Considering incidents that make headline news internationally, given the modern information and communication technology revolution, the facility of citizens to rapidly mobilize represents a considerable threat to autocratic survival. While the speed with which popular movements emerge has increased exponentially, and the news of their existence spreads faster and farther, civil unrest has threatened the stability and survival of dictators for centuries. The paranoia and machinations of dictators depicted in films, such as the portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while sensationalized, capture the astounding array of threats with which unelected leaders must concern themselves. On the one hand, they must worry about insider threats to their standing, such as conspiratorial plots from people within the dictator’s own circle or mutiny among government soldiers. On the other hand, dictators also must monitor threats originating from non-regime actors, such as new alliances forming among once-fragmented opposition groups or the possibility of sustained insurgency or a popular revolution. From force to finesse, autocratic leaders have developed a broad and evolving range of tactics and tools to diminish both internal and external domestic threats to their reign. The success of dictators’ endeavors to insulate their regimes from forces that might challenge them depends on accurate and reliable information, a resource that can be as valuable to the leader as would a large armory and loyal soldiers. Dictators invest significant resources (monetary as well as human capital) to try to gather useful information about their existing and potential opponents, while also trying to control and shape information emitted by the regime before it reaches the public. New information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have drawn a great deal of scholarly attention since the beginning of the 21st century—present both risks and rewards for dictators; inversely they also create new opportunities and hazards for citizens who might utilize them to mobilize people opposed to the regime. While civil unrest could encompass the full range of domestic, nonmilitary actors, there also needs to be a specific focus on various forms of mass mobilization. Historically, more dictators have been forced from office by elite-initiated overthrows via coups d’état than have fallen to revolution or fled amid street protests. Civil unrest, in its many forms, can affect autocratic survival or precipitate regime breakdown. While mass-based revolutions have been a relatively rare phenomenon to date, the actions of many 21st-century dictators indicate that they increasingly concern themselves with the threats posed by popular protests and fear its potential for triggering broader antigovernment campaigns. The ease of access to information (or the lack thereof) help explain interactions between authoritarian regimes and citizens emphasizes. The role of information in popular antigovernment mobilization has evolved and changed how dictators gather and utilize information to prevent or counter civil unrest that might jeopardize their own survival as well as that of the regime.
Elizabeth Ann Stein
Politics in Chad was militarized at the time of colonial conquest and has remained so ever since. Except for the French-supported candidacy of François Tombalbaye for the presidency in 1960, all other presidents of Chad have been connected to a coup d’état. All presidents in independent Chad have relied heavily on armed support, creating ample armies, feared presidential guards, and terrifying secret services. Proxy wars, political mistrust, economic opportunity-seeking, and strategic ever-changing armed alliances characterize Chadian politics. Flexibility and fluidity have embodied the heart of armed resistance in Chad since the establishment of the first important politico-military rebel movement Frolinat in 1966. In fact, for rebels and powerholders alike, the state is at its best when it is most fragile (in a Western sense). With fragility comes blurriness and flexibility and thus predation opportunities. During the Cold War, most of the various armed fractions were supported militarily and economically by either the United States and France or Libyan Colonel Gaddafi and the regime in Khartoum. During Habré’s regime (1982–1990), the Cold War heated Chad. Fearing to lose Chad to the communists or “crazy” Colonel Gaddafi, the United States and France supported a brutal and ruthless Chadian president who ruled with terror and force. The current president, Déby, gained power in the wake of the Cold War and has managed to keep it ever since by cleverly changing his rhetoric from a hope for democracy to a fear of war, both internally and internationally. After starting to export oil in 2003, Chad has used petrodollars to upgrade its armed forces, both in numbers and in materiel. Since about 2010, Chad has been a prime EU- and US-financed antiterrorism force in the Sahel. With its courageous troops, especially the former Presidential Guard, transformed in 2005 to Direction Générale de Service de Sécurité des Institutions de l’État (DGSSIE) and from 2014 led by Mahamat Déby, son of President Déby, Chad’s army has gained international fame. The Chadian army has benefited largely from the tactical training and military equipment provided by the United States and France in the name of antiterrorism. Thus, by the end of the 2010s, Chad had one of the best-equipped and trained armies in Africa.
Kristen A. Harkness
The military plays a vital role in upholding Cameroon’s authoritarian government. Since independence, in 1960, the country has been ruled by a single political party and only two presidents: Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya. Both have gone to great lengths to secure military loyalty: counterbalancing rival forces, personalizing command hierarchies, ethnically stacking both the regular military and presidential guard, and providing extensive patronage benefits to soldiers. Ahidjo and Biya have both also repeatedly used the security forces to repress threats from below and stabilize their dictatorships. Combined gendarme, army, and paramilitary units have been deployed to defeat the southern maquis rebellion of the 1960s; the mass protests for democratization in the 1990s; the fight against Boko Haram, beginning in 2014; and the Anglophone separatist movement, which exploded in 2017. Whether facing nonviolent demonstrators or armed rebels, the military has never defected or refused to obey orders. Yet, as the 1984 coup attempt demonstrated, the bounds of military loyalty are not limitless. When Ahidjo retired, the northern Muslim Fulbe members of the elite Republican Guard attempted to prevent Biya—a southern Christian Beti—from rising to power.
Emizet F. Kisangani
The fundamental challenge facing social engineers is to project authority. State building is a process that establishes political order over time. As a top-down strategy, it emerges as an antidote to state collapse. The success of a state is in its capacity not only to provide national security while controlling the means of violence, but also to supply other public goods funded through direct taxes on citizens, who are supposed to make their rulers accountable. The absence of such state capacity perhaps explains the unending political crisis that plagues many post-colonial states, because they tend to control populations rather than territories. Although some efforts have been made toward state building, the state remains fragile in many post-colonial states. Territorial control is limited, and private taxation continues. Local tensions based on ethnic affinities rather than national allegiance remains intense. The analysis of Congo-Kinshasa illustrates these assertions by contrasting three successive periods: the Congo Free State (1885–1908), the Belgian Congo (1908–1959), and the post-colonial period (1960–2019). Of these three periods, only the second entity was able to professionalize the military for state-building purposes. The emphasis on this top down approach in state building overlooks other configurations that postcolonial state builders should contemplate. Societies have historically compensated for the failure or absence of statehood through a number of mechanisms that include, among others, councils of elders and secret societies that may not be difficult to reconcile with the demands of the modern state. The search for this bottom-up approach to state building perhaps explains so many internal conflicts in most post-colonial states as marginalized groups intend to insert themselves into the political system that has excluded them from power.