Life Presidency: Africa’s Governance Cancer

Robert Mugabe celebrating his 91st birthday in $1 million-bash last year.

Robert Mugabe celebrating his 91st birthday in $1 million-bash last year.

A medieval Greek philosopher and the first genuine scientist in history, called Aristotle once observed that: “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst creature.”

On the African continent, ordinary citizens have helplessly accepted their Heads of State to amend constitutions and institute other draconian laws in order to stay in power and deny potential political opponents any chance of succeeding them through free and fair elections.

Indeed billions of people the world over have practically witnessed the literary meaning of Aristotle’s contention. I will, nevertheless, restrict the content of this piece on Africa’s contemporary politics for purposes of precision and relevancy; for it’s in Africa we have seen great men rise and fall in pitiable but regrettable manner, leaving their nations is shambles.

And of course, when such scenarios happen, it’s the ordinary and vulnerable citizens to bear the blunt arising from the deaths of their long-term rulers. All is known about how Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya rose to the throne through a bloodless military coup and governed Libya for 41 years- from 1969 to 2011. Gaddafi, the long time leader the  oil-rich nation died on 20 October 2011 during the battle in his home city Sirte. He was found hiding in a culvert like a mere chicken thief, captured by National Transitional Council forces, when his loyalist forces were unable to free him. The strong man was humiliated by the rebel fighters before he was shot several times and dying in the process.

More well-established examples of African leaders clinging on to power include Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema who has ruled for 36 years, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Angola of who has been in office for 36 years, and the soon-to-be 92 year-old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who has ruled for 35 years.

President Paul Biya of Cameroon, has held on to power for 33 years, he ushered in political reforms like a single-party system in the 80s- but bowed to pressure and allowed the introduction of multiparty politics in the 90s. The Cameroonian strong man has maintained a close relationship with France, the former colonial master.

Uganda’s President Gen. Yoweri Museveni, assumed power in 1986, he oversaw the transition from a single-party to multi-party democracy but he abolished the constitutional two five year-term limit in 2005 to tighten his grip on the throne and he  is currently campaigning for his fifth term. Museveni is favoured to win next month’s general election, it’s a rarity for these fellows to lose on the ballot box!

The aforementioned examples illustrate how multiparty democracy swept across Africa in the early 1990s, as single-party states as authoritarian leaders caved to pressure from outside and within. The elite sections and rights activists hoped greater political freedoms and strong institutions would lead to more government accountability – and more effective development.

And this calls for mutual acceptance and respect of the fundamental governance pillars such as rule of law, press freedom, freedom of assembly and opinions, periodic free, fair and transparent elections … which in turn guarantee strong foundation for long-term socio-economic development of nations.

For instance, when individuals including heads of state and governments abide by the laws of the land, they validate the legitimacy of the governing authority. The rule of law provides clear instructions on acceptable behavior- behavior that benefits the community- and the recourse when the behavior is unacceptable. And this is very critical to the realization of successful political socio-economic and cultural development of nations.

However, the moment those occupying the highest positions of authority like heads of state and government misinterpret their private interests to mean the public common good, the consequences will be negative- both to the incumbents and their subjects.

Way back in 2005, when the author lamented President Museveni’s maneuvers in an opinion titled: “Museveni’s third term ploy Africa sad moment” his diehard fans and NRM sycophants responded in trash and subjective articles calling him ‘a pessimist and doomsday soothsayer.’

Since then, Museveni’s bush war spy chief and now Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has followed his mentor’s bad example and amended the constitution in bid to pursue a third, and possibly fourth and fifth term. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza like his counterparts behaved like a judge presiding over his own case concerning the controversial third term that has reverted the tiny nation in a chaotic civil war.

A number of others including Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila also seem keen on the idea of extending their stay in power. At the same time, several countries, including Senegal and Burkina Faso, have seen popular uprisings in recent years, forcing long-time leaders to step down. Senegalese leader, Macky Sall has actually went a step further and proposed reducing his term by 2 years (from seven to five)

The ironic side of long-term presidency in Africa is that the longer they stay in office, the more enemies they create than friends in and outside their countries. Zimbabwe’s leader, the oldest president on the planet cannot imagine handing over power to opposition party MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai for he has belittled and humiliated him in public for decades. Currently, his wife Grace Mugabe is believed to be in the running as her husband’s successor!

President Museveni of Uganda has arrested, detained and tortured his long time bush war physician Col.Dr. Kizza Besigye and his allies for forming the strongest opposition FDC party that has caused him sleepless nights for years.

Draconian legislations have been instituted to keep opposition political parties, civil society organizations and rights activists at bay while partisan elections laws and national electoral commissions have been retained.

Burkina Faso’s former President Blaise Compaore, 63, had been in power for 27 years when he attempted to change the constitution in October 2014 in order to run again in November 2015. As the country’s MPs were debating a bill to change the constitution, thousands stormed the parliament, the ruling party’s headquarters and the presidential palace. The president resigned after four days of riots, making way for a transitional government.

At the moment, Compaore is being investigated for allegedly masterminding the mysterious assassination of the country’s iconic former President Thomas Sankara in 1987. Why do most African heads of state and government wish to die in power? To hide from their ills and protect ill-gotten wealth?

While being praised for his role in transforming the country’s oil sector, Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been criticized for leading one of the continent’s most corrupt regimes. Despite the fact that 70% of Angola’s population live on less than $2 a day, his daughter Isabel has, through her political connections, gone on to become one of the richest Africans and certainly the youngest billionaires.

Corruption and impunity at the highest level are a sign that the balance of power still sits firmly with those in office – and not those who vote them in. According to the African Union, more than $148bn (£93bn) is lost to corruption in Africa every year – much of it through public officials employed by democratically elected governments.

In a nutshell, all our incumbents ought to keep in mind that; life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

The author is an freelance journalist and Investigative Reporter/Private Investigator based in Kigali, Rwanda. He can be reached at