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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
Do rebels make good leaders?
Rwandan former rebel leader and now president, Paul Kagame
Do rebel turned leaders, like Rwanda's Paul Kagame, have unique qualities?
This week on Africa Live we are discussing rebels turned presidents. How do former rebels act when in power?

Former rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza was inaugurated as Burundi's new president on Friday, following his movement's victory in both municipal and parliamentary elections earlier this year.

We want you to assess how the many presidents across Africa who used to be rebels, both past and present, shape up once they gain power constitutionally.

Is your country led by a former rebel? Do their experiences as a rebel characterise or influence their leadership? Does constitutionally-gained power change them? Are they different to other leaders? Is it true to say: "Once a rebel, always a rebel"?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

The late Congolese leader, Laurent Kabila

Yes my country is led by a rebel of 20-years-old. The dictionary meaning of rebel is "to refuse allegiance to and oppose by force an established government or ruling authority." To this end, I guess no one will oppose me that politics is profession. But which rebel on earth has a single degree in politics?

The main flaw I see on them is they think of themselves as the mastermind for millions of people and also believe that not a single citizen other than themselves can think about her/himself. This is what you can see now in Ethiopia. No! Constituency gained power doesn't change them. Can you guess what they do instead? They change the constitution, their strategy to stay in power.

They form the constitution in favour of their group not the country. Typical example: Ethiopia constituency set my Melees Zenawi doesn't limit maximum years of power for the prime minister. Once a rebel always a rebel. Although I don't want to generalize it to all rebels in the world, I can tell with full confidence what is happening in Ethiopia is this
Selamsew, Ethiopia

All leaders, whether rebels or 'run of the mill' politicians need to have basic education as well as political education in good governance and good government. The international community and the UN could help considerably in this regard to help set up suitable educational centres/provide scholarships where they are lacking, in order to plan at least for the future.
Saravan, UK

Do rebels make good leaders? Is a stereotypical kind of question. I think all leaders should be judged basing on what they have done for their country. Paul Kagame is the best leader Rwanda has ever had especially basing on where Rwanda was in 1994 to where Rwanda is 2005
Yosi, Rwanda

With the exception of PM Meles and President Paul Kagame rebels cannot make good leaders. When they are on their way to power they do it through violence, and then they prefer to disappear the same way.
Robel, Ethiopia

The former rebel leader, who is now Burundi's new president, Mr Nkurunziza will make a good president. He was unanimously elected by the majority of Burundi people and he came to power through African led-peace, a process that has taken five years to be achieved.

My sincere thanks and appreciation to African leaders who initiated this peace to reality for Burundi people, especially former South African president Nelson Mandela who worked tirelessly for all those years to bring a lasting peace to people of Burundi who have been suffering for many years as a result of ethnic rivalry in their country.
Peter Tuach, Minnesota, USA

A leader coming to power, through rebellious movement or democratic election, and his following actions heavily depends on several factors. One of which is if he has the interest of the country at heart. Most come to power through rebellious struggle and make people believe that they have the country's interest at heart, only to generate their individualistic aspirations beyond anyone's expectation. No rebel leader has ever performed well.
Okok-Obuoga Bernard, Kenya

Rebel leaders are beasts of prey that manipulate legitimate issues as a conduit to power. On ascension to power, they use democratic institutions to suppress their people, sustain power and amass wealth. Former rebels turned leaders in Africa have consistently turned their countries into one-party dictatorships in which endemic poverty reigns supreme.
Hakeem Legge, United Kingdom

Rebels make not only good leaders but also make a great impact in transforming their societies
Alex Akankwasa, Uganda

Recent history has proved that rebels make not only good leaders but also make a great impact in transforming their societies/countries into stable countries that flourish economically. However, as they don't willingly hand over power to another leader they are forced out, thus failing the democratic test.
Alex Akankwasa, Uganda

Although, throughout the course of history, we experienced a situation of "Tooth for a tooth", not all former rebels went that way. I simply believe that former rebels are like a chemical catalyst that changes the course of a chemical reaction. But don't alter neither the structure nor the composition of the matter. Former rebels were born to boost the wellbeing of their communities. They are a force for a positive change.
John, Durban, South Africa

The problem of poor governance is the one all important issue hunting African leaders. Neither democratically-elected president nor rebel-elected has the leadership initiative to deliver good and effective government to those whom they govern. Therefore it will be futile to believe that rebel presidents can offer meaningful leadership.
Joe Willie, Libreville, Gabon

Rebel leaders invariably have little respect for democracy. In the first place they ascended to power through undemocratic means. Good leaders respect democracy.
Herbert Nyamakope, Ireland

A good leader does simply not harm defenceless people
Papi Mbikay, Congo/UK

Well, it's a tough one, isn't it? Rebels are breakers of the law. One who does not respect the law cannot reinforce a good one, only a bad law. If the law is bad one must try to change it, not break it. So breaking the law in order to change it is simply barbaric. I am from a country where law breakers have become leaders. The result is what the Congo is today - a lawless land.

Now there are natural laws and human ones. The latter can be sinned against to make the former stronger. The unfortunate thing with rebels is that they don't know the difference between these types of law. This is why they are bad leaders. Kagame, Mugabe, Kabila and Museveni cannot be seen as good leaders. For a good leader does simply not harm defenceless people. So no, a rebel who cannot distinguish the treatment they ought to give to these types of laws cannot make good a leader.

A good leader is one who invites his/her people to make good laws to protect the weak and improve the conditions of life. Rebels as we know them are simply unable to do the above. Therefore, they cannot make good leaders.
Papi Mbikay, Congo/UK

The trouble with former rebel leaders who eventually get into power is that they are too occupied chasing after real and imaginary enemies that they had gathered along the dusty road to the presidency to face the tasks of governance.

History is littered with such people who have not done much to change the lives of the people they had fought to save... Charles Taylor, Paul Kagame, Kabila etc. Guerrilla warfare has no place in civil governance and that is what these so-called leaders must bear in mind when they finally make it to the presidency.
Robert Lazobra, Lagos, Nigeria

Rhetoric does not put food on the table and rebel leaders are full of rhetoric
Olayinka Oyegbile, Atlanta

We must not confuse issues here. How could anyone have compared Mandela with Museveni or any of those rebels who later became leaders of their various countries? Mandela was never a rebel: we must get this straight, he is a freedom fighter. Even Mugabe though has derailed was never a rebel.

Now to the issue on hand: With the likes of Museveni, Aferwaki, Kabila, Taylor etc. who were rebels and were supported by their people and later turned around to kill those same people or oppress them, I think rebels can never make good leaders.

The psychology of rebellion doesn't ever leave them and so they continue to see any opposition as something that must be crushed. What Africa has learnt from these rebels is that rhetoric does not put food on the table and rebel leaders are full of rhetoric.
Olayinka Oyegbile, Nigerian temporarily in Atlanta, USA

Rebel leaders should aim to immediately foster an environment where talented young leaders and politicians are given a chance to develop
Sophie, Canada

All too often, victorious rebel leaders become completely self-obsessed; they convince themselves that no-one is more fit to rule than themselves, that they have no need of others to show them how best to do things (human rights policy, for example), and treat anyone who shows a propensity to govern as an enemy.

Instead, rebel leaders should aim to immediately foster an environment where talented young leaders and politicians, willing to work in a democratic system, are given a chance to develop, and in the minimum amount of time possible, hold free and fair elections.

Ironically, freedom fighters are often unwilling to actually bestow this freedom on their nations, and continue to think of themselves as saviours while they harass the opposition and make the nation's joy to turn to desperation.
Sophie, Canada

One thing is clear that, the activity being led by the guerrilla leaders in itself is not good. It is not good for it causes a lot of harm to the people; some people get separated from their loved ones and others get killed - here we should talk of the means, the means here is not good.

We talk of the means for we have the cause, sometime there is a just cause of wanting to liberate people. Take the example of Uganda under the Amin legacy or take that of south Sudan - the cause here is that of wanting to liberate the people from a given tyranny but now it is the means which is not sound.

I think it could be wise to look at the outcome of the project, the rebels but not all are bad people after all.
Mandalu Martin, Kisarawe, Tanzania

I think rebels are like mosquitoes - they have no love for themselves or their people
Pateh Bah, Madison

I was a soldier who served in the peace keeping mission in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. I think rebels are like mosquitoes - they have no love for themselves or their people. They are wolves in sheep skin.
Pateh Bah, Madison, USA

Rebel leaders are not good managers when it comes to politics and government. They find it difficult to rule when it comes in the political world, a leader delegate's authority and does not dictate. Rebel leaders should only hold ceremonial offices or be appointed party leaders.
Moses S Wilson, USA

The problem with rebels turned leaders is the huge promises they make to individuals or organizations that assist them launch their struggle. In reality, they end up being accountable to these institutions instead of the people they profess to liberate.

The African Union should not only condemn rebel activities, but also exercise every available options to discourage these anti-democracy zealots to ascend to power through the barrels of the gun.
Kazo, USA

A hyena is a hyena no matter which forest he lives in
Allanie Njateni, Malawi

In our mother-tongue we say "Fisi ndi fisi" which means that a hyena is a hyena no matter which forest he lives in. Rebel leaders do not change, they only pretend to change.
Allanie Njateni, Malawi

Rebels only maintain their vision when they're out of government once they're elected constitutionally the game is over.
Abdulhamid, Nigeria

I grew up in rebel-held areas of southern Sudan, and I can't say I was happy with the way the so-called leaders treated the people that they were supposed to be liberating.
Daniel Deng, USA

Professor Ali Mazrui perhaps summed up my argument best when he stated that "great leaders in particular circumstances are not great leaders when those circumstances change". He was here referring to Kwame Nkrumah who as a freedom fighter during Ghana's Independent Struggle was exemplary but in his later years as president became authoritarian.
Matthew Rugamba, UK

Rebel leaders are good people and they know what they want
Manyok Yaak Manyiel, Australia

Yes, former rebel leaders have more experience than civil leaders. They know how to fulfil the needs of their people, they have experiences in many fields, they work for their countries, they act openly to everyone. I believe they are good leaders.

Rebel leaders are good people and they know what they want. Examples of good leaders are Zenawi of Ethiopia, and John Garang was a freedom fighter for southern Sudan. He was a man for peace. I remember his words like Bob Marley: Africa unite.
Manyok Yaak Manyiel, Sudanese in Australia

A rebel can't be a good leader in that, he always believes in violence.
Gus Dolo, Liberia

By definition, a rebel gets to power shooting guns not listening to peoples' opinions. So what makes anyone think that this rebel would listen to them once he/she is in power that was gained through violence?!
Michael, Ethiopia/UK

What is wrong is wrong, they did not follow the rule of law
Kwaku Sakyi-Danso, Accra
These rebels are robbers and not leaders, my God! They come to power illegally and kill people left right and centre. What is wrong is wrong, they did not follow the rule of law from the beginning and cannot deceive us that when they come to power they will be changed people.
Kwaku Sakyi-Danso, Accra, Ghana

Yes and No. It all depends on the circumstances under which one becomes a leader. If it is through dialogue like the case of Burundi, then the theory holds water. Dialogue is a good foundation for visionary leadership.
Musemakweri, Rwanda/USA

I think it depends on the very nature of the rebel leader. There are some leaders with a vision and good charisma that lead their countries. Men like Yoweri Museveni and Nelson Mandela are good examples for this category, but others are terrible as hell, and their only goal is to be another bloodthirsty dictators.

In my judgement leaders are best if they have the confidence of the majority, and that can only be assured through democratic ways. Unfortunately, in Africa if you want to be a leader, the gun is your best bet.
Birre Dhooye, USA

No, they bring war and untold suffering to their people
Kofi E Sarfo, Ghana/USA
No. Rebels derail development and destabilise legitimate governments. They bring war and untold suffering to their people, and the only place suitable for them is jail, not leadership positions.
Kofi E Sarfo, Ghana/USA

Only time can tell.
Niyi Adeyemi, Canada

Rebels, warlords, and generals should be automatically barred from politics. Most rebel movements may start out as a cause for freedom but most end off becoming a business of terrorizing the civilians. If there is only one person in the country who is capable of leading the military and the government then I would be wary of that county's future.
Richard, USA/Liberia

Yes, their experience as rebel leaders would definitely influence their leadership skills
Tamrat, Ethiopia
My answer is yes, their experience as rebel leaders would definitely influence their leadership skills when they become president/prime minister. If you look at most of the current African leaders, Afewerki of Eritrea and Zenawi of Ethiopia, they still think with their muscles not their brains. They believe in silencing their opponents instead of negotiating or resolving a particular issue.
Tamrat, Ethiopia

Let us not forget that it was rebel leaders that led us out of colonialism. They will make good leaders only if they relinquish power early. For example Museveni is now losing his past glory simply because of entrenching himself in power.
Hillary Taban, Sudanese in UK

The years have taken their toll; their minds have been conditioned to think within the box and not outside it. While the state office requires the individual to be loyal to the entire nation, the former rebel leader has been conditioned to be loyal to his ethnic group.

The danger here is that they are in a position to create more damage than the former military leaders. The future of Africa will be in jeopardy as more children become adults in these ethnically divided states that are headed by former rebel leaders.
Makonnen Ketema, Kingston, Jamaica

I really have no hope in rebel wannabe leaders. Most of them misused the terms such as liberation, freedom and justice, because after they gain power they turn away from the things they first stand for and became monsters like Robert Mugabe. All I can say is they are greedy, greedy, greedy!
Loremo Kamanda, USA

Yes and no for John Garang (Sudan) and Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia), respectively. John Garang loved his people and they loved him to death. Meles Zenawi is killing the people who protested against him for rigging their votes, therefore, he is widely hated by his own people. It's just hard for a former rebel leader to let go of the power he earned through war.
Ethiopiawi, Cambridge, USA

Rebels are human beings like you and I. They make mistakes like anybody else.
Nkundabatware, Guatemala

Rebel leaders are all wolves in sheep clothing
Ayuk, Cameroon
Rebel leaders are all wolves in sheep clothing. They have virtually nothing to offer.
Ayuk, Cameroon

One unfortunate reality of rebels becoming leaders, is they very often do not think of an exit strategy, once they assume power. Nelson Mandela has led the way for Africa. We hope that this serves as a lesson on the fact that there is life after public office in Africa.
David Magezi, UK

The part we Africans fail to understand is that there is a big difference between rebel leaders and freedom fighters. While freedom fighters end up being icons like Mandela, rebel leaders end up being a dictator like Meles.
Dawit, Canada

A rebel is a rebel because he is thirsty for power. They want to do anything possible to get into power. Would you call that a good leader?
Campbel, England

Rebel leaders do not have the diplomacy required to govern in politics.
Eseme Ojaruega, Dominican Republic

Their rule is often as ruthless as their rise to power
Gareth Dewa, USA
The difficulty is a lot of rebels are ruthless individuals in the first place, that is how they lead, so their rule is often as ruthless as their rise to power. Generally they do not make good leaders in societies which are striving for democracy. Leaders who are voted in are much better at being kept in line by the public they serve.
Gareth Dewa, USA

Very rarely, but there are some who mature over the years and become great leaders that Africa is proud of. Look at Meles Zenawi, he is one of the most influential leaders of Africa.
Hiwot, San Francisco

History has proven that a rebel will always remain a rebel. But running a country should be left to be done by men and women with proven integrity. Take a look around the world - every country rebels have run or ruled always ends up a mess; Cuba, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, etc. They should focus on their goal which is bringing equalities and opportunities for their people, and leave the running of their countries for "real politicians."
Lyke, USA

A rebel leader who condones rape and other atrocities certainly will not make a good leader
Kingsley Ezenekwe, Nigeria
A rebel leader who condones rape and other atrocities certainly will not make a good leader. "By their fruits you shall know them".
Kingsley Ezenekwe, Nigeria

Can history tell us how many rebels have made good leaders? I don't think you can finish counting the fingers of one of your hands. The reality on the ground and what someone might be thinking while in an hideout as a rebel are two different things. Yes, it may be good to overthrow a regime but not to stay for too long in power.
Maurice Mwana-Tambwe, UK

Without a doubt good rebels make good leaders
Doyenne Ogun, Nigeria/USA
Without a doubt good rebels make good leaders. The problem with many Africans is that we rest on our laurels in times, because we have developed a thick skin amid utter misery. And it is only a few brave hearts that will come out of the bush to topple the useless governments. It is in this times of need that our revolutionaries will come and rescue the masses.
Doyenne Ogun, Nigeria/USA

I do not think ex-rebels have been good leaders in the majority. They all start well, with a lot of rhetoric to please their home and international supporters. Once they are comfortably in their positions of power the proverbial happens!

I am not trying to suggest that the ex-rebel leaders cannot become good leaders, but all I am suggesting is that in the process of criticising or applauding them we need to take cognisance of the environments and systems under which they are operating. We are a developing continent and we need to learn from our actions and mistakes to shape a democratic Africa.
Charles Mutanga, United Kingdom

Yes they can be good leaders. Rebels are freedom fighters. They sacrificed so much to be in that position, and they have seen inequality first hand. A few good examples are Museveni, Kagame and John Garang, who unfortunately didn't get the opportunity to show his full potential.
Dut A deDut, Sudanese in USA

Managing a country in times of peace requires a totally different skill set than during a war
Nqobile, Zimbabwe

So-called rebels fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe, and unfortunately 25 years after independence they still think they are fighting the war of liberation. They still address each other as comrades and sing liberation struggle songs at meetings. The country is in ruins, and it does not take a genius to see that Mugabe has failed dismally.

Managing a country in times of peace requires a totally different skill set than during a war. It is extremely difficult for a rebel to make the transition from leading a band of brothers who will answer to all his commands to leading a country with vastly different people, managing an economy in which he has to make many critical long-term decisions.
Nqobile, Zimbabwe

I don't think a rebel is a good leader. For example, rebel leader Meles Zenawi: 15m people starving on his watch, but he still has an appetite for war and he cares only for his ethnic group. There is no sign of him leaving his post after more than 15 years.
Azmeraw Tigabu, Gondar

Maybe not from a western politically correct point of view
Chris A, UK

I grew up in Rwanda, where Paul Kagame is now the president. I believe that he has made a good leader. Maybe not from a western politically correct point of view. But if you take a look at where Rwanda was in July 1994 and where it is now, you'll see that he has made great strides forward for the country. He has been a powerful ruler where one was needed.
Chris A, UK

Yes indeed. Rebels make excellent leaders. The examples are many: Nelson Mandela, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda to name a few.
Benjamin Sehene, France

To ask such a question is to ascertain that there is some certainty as to whether a formal rebel makes a good leader or not. There is no such certainty. Does an economist make a good leader? Who knows for certain? It all depends on the individual whether or not he will make a good leader. Whether you get Paul Kagame or Charles Taylor out of a civil strife is dependent on the individuals themselves.
Eugene Ashong, USA

Not at all. A leader is someone with a vision; but African rebels have no visions. Look at the misery of Africans and the total lack of solutions from the so-called rebel leaders.
Kiza Marcel, USA

That's a commitment the rebels fail to create or open up to when they become presidents
Robert, USA

Once a rebel always a rebel, this is true. Rebels as leaders they tend to be drunk with power and assume ultimate control and supremacy over their colleagues. The contribution they make in trying to revive their countries leads to a spiral of abuse hence creating counter rebel groups.
Robert, Kenyan in USA

No, they are all power mongers. When they get it they will never let it go. If they lose it, they go back into the bush and start all over again.
William Tangwan, Edinburgh, UK

It's harsh to say once a rebel always a rebel. Some do make good leaders like Paul Kagame. Others are totally useless. On the other hand we may as well say you don't need to be a former rebel to be a lousy leader. Actually the majority of African leaders are major flops, even though many of them are democratically elected.
Pacharo Kayira, Malawian studying in Sweden

The first thing rebel leaders do, once in power, is to consolidate their grip on the country
Anonymous, USA

The first thing rebel leaders do, once in power, is to consolidate their grip on the country. To achieve this, they are willing to kill and violate people's human rights. Most former rebels, all over the continent, have become the neo-dictators of Africa (Kagame, Museveni, Kabila etc.). I do not advocate support for rebel leaders.
Anonymous, USA

There is some good to come from leaders who came from the bush. The problem is when they have to reward those they were fighting with to take control of the country. As we know, the list is very long!
Ray John, Tanzania

We have heard stories of how rebels and their followers acting under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or simply for lack of respect have killed, maimed and raped innocent people within the territory under their control. Some rebels are rebels in the first place because of their narrow views, selfish interests and personal disagreements with those in government. What do you expect from a rebel turned leader whose initial interest in becoming a leader is nothing but personal gains? The answer is more pain to the people they govern.
Ola, USA

Yes our PM is a former rebel. He is trying his best to keep the ball rolling. He went to the bush first to overthrow the dictators and now is trying to bring about economic development. He is doing it. All rebels do not necessarily respect their words; some are corrupt, some are dictators.
Abraham Kahsay, Tigray, Ethiopia

Rebels are selfish groups of individuals preying on public fear for their own personal gain
Joseph Seibure, USA

Absolutely not! Rebels are selfish groups of individuals preying on public fear for their own personal gain. Take a look around Africa and countries around the world with rebel movements, you will not find a single instance where anything positive have come out of any rebel movement. Most, if not all of the rebel leaders have turned out to be worse than the people they forced out of power.
Joseph Seibure, Liberian in the USA

The human nature is a very complex one. Sometimes, it will be unfair to judge a bull by its horns. There is nothing wrong with a former rebel becoming a leader. He will only become a rebel again if he renegade in his promises. Some of the rebels fought against injustice, oppression of the poor, corruption and dictatorship.

President Museveni of Uganda has done a great job so far. Let us give former rebels who become leaders the benefit of the doubt.
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

African countries continue to suffer through poor leadership. It is due to this bad governance that rebels emerge to rescue the boat. Initially rebel leaders have good intentions for the people, but once they taste power they quickly fall into the same bad and tyrannical ways of their predecessors. Whether rebel or not, most African countries lack quality leaders.
James Omedo Kihali, Kenya

A rebel will always be a rebel.
Patrick, England, UK



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