Robert Mugabe’s election to AU helm, the surprise that wasn’t

Zimbabwe Mugabe Birthday Celebrations

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe celebrating 91st birthday

The recent election of Robert Gabriel Mugabe as the chairperson of the African Union took several people in Africa and the world at large by surprise. To many in Africa, the Zimbabwean leader needs no introduction.

One of Africa’s longest serving presidents (world’s oldest), Mugabe has been in power for 35 years and has snubbed the West where he is regarded a leader of a failed state.

Until recently he has been facing sanctions imposed on him by the European Union and the United States (travel ban) after he prominently promoted a land reform program that is widely regarded as a disenfranchisement of the white settler community in Zimbabwe.

Today, for the first time since execution of the controversial plan, Mugabe  publicly conceded “mistakes were made” as blacks haven’t made good use of the land.

ugabe, Africa’s third longest serving president, was elected by his colleagues at the 24th AU summit (23-31 January 2015) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and is currently enjoying untroubled leadership at home in Zimbabwe after he ‘won’ a contentious election.

He trounced erstwhile contender Morgan Tsivangirai, a former Prime Minister in a shadowy coalition that was brokered by the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC), a loose socio-economic organization he currently chairs. It brings together about thirteen southern Africa states.

Mugabe, and Tsivangirai locked horns when the latter, bitterly criticized the president of misgoverning the country which was at one time a food basket for southern Africa.

Tsinvagirai was later to face stints in jail, prompting the SADC to intervene in Zimbabwe’s internal politics, an undertaking that led to the former trade unionist becoming a Prime Minister in a coalition government led by Mugabe.

It is important to note that the AU is by and large critical of the West, often complaining about the apparent interference of the developed world in regard to accountability and governance, mostly the promotion of democracy that among others lays emphasis on the periodical change of leadership.

An informed inquiry indicates that most outstanding members of SADC: South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia hold elections after every five years, and change the topmost leadership after every 10 years.

In that respect, among fellow SADC members, Botswana in the last two decades has had three peaceful leadership transitions from Quett Masire, Festus Mogae to Ian Khama; South Africa has had Nelson Mandela (RIP), Thabo Mbeki/Kgalema Motlanta and Jacob Zuma, Zambia has had Titus Jacob Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Sata/Guy Scott while neighbouring Namibia has transitioned from Sam Nujoma, Hifikepunye Pohamba and Hage Geingob.
But such progressive trends notwithstanding, as things stand today, the concept of change of topmost leadership seems alien in Africa as most ‘democratically’ elected leaders have sought to alter the Constitutions of their countries to extend their stay in power.

Yoweri Museveni

29 AND COUNTING: Yoweri Museveni of Uganda

In 2005, after intense lobbying by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM),  the Parliament of Uganda changed the Constitution in a move dubbed the ‘removal of term limits’ and this paved the way for the current leader Yoweri Museveni to extend his hold onto power.

He has since led the East African country for 10 years. Prior to the Constitutional amendment he had been in office for 19 years. Museveni’s grip onto power won’t be loosening soon as indications point to him contesting and ‘winning’ next year’s presidential poll.

Museveni captured power in 1986 after a grueling five-year war that led to the death of over 300.000 people and left the country’s central region a ravaged piece of land in what is now known as the Luwero Triangle.
For Uganda’s Southeastern neighbour Rwanda, President Paul Kagame is yet to unequivocally rule out running in 2017 when his second 7-year tenure in office lapses.

Paul Kagame

WILL HE OR WILL HE NOT? Paul Kagame of Rwanda not ruling another run for office

If Kagame chooses to run for another 7-year term, the Rwandan legislature will have to amend the current Constitution that stands in the president’s way. Kagame has been in office since 2000 (constitutionally since 2003).

In Burundi, the tiny central African nation that has been at war for almost all of its ‘independent’ life, President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former teacher-turned rebel is making attempts to change the Constitution to allow him remain in power beyond his constitutional two five-year terms.

Nkurunziza’s counterpart in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila’s attempts to alter the Constitution turned bloody after the country broke down in tumultuous riots to reject his move. The current constitution bars the president from seeking a third five-year term. Presidential poll is set for November next year.


Joseph Kabila

NOT ON OUR WATCH: President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), thousands of Congolese protested his move to mastermind the lifting term limits from the country’s Constitution

It is a universally accepted concept that change of leadership allows for the infusion of new ideas into governance. Against such a background, one can forgive Mugabe for not altering his country’s Constitution, but he cannot be forgiven for serving as an example of self-seeking politics, which in turn has led to slow socio-political development because the extended leadership normally has no new ideas to put across.

And this is where Mugabe, an avid and acerbic critic of the West whose country has suffered the effects of ten-year EU sanctions becomes a darling of his colleagues across the continent because he represents interests that tend towards impunity, something most presidents in Africa want to copy, pursue and practice.
Indeed Mugabe, whose election to the AU chair has been summarized as ‘an endorsement by the leaders of Africa’, does not mince his words when making reference to the criticism made by the West.

“What the West will say or do is not my business,” the man who came to power in 1980 after a fierce battle against colonialists was quoted telling journalists shortly after being crowned the AU chairman.

Little wonder then that that was the choice of the 50-plus African leaders who approve of Mugabe’s bravado but fear to openly come out in support of, for fear of possible repercussions