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Lesson African Dictators May Not Learn From Mugabe’s Fall



OMONU NELSON-YAX writes that the grace to grass fall of Robert Mugabe after 37 years hold on power in Zimbabwe is a warning bell the rest of the tribe of African sit-tight rulers may still not be prepared to heed.

On November 22, the curtain fell on the 37 year iron-fisted rule of Robert Mugabe in the Southern African land-locked country of Zimbabwe. What has continued to engage analysts since the incident is not just the fact that Mugabe finally fell from grace to grass, but why the liberation struggle hero hung unto power until he had to be humbled out by the military, which he had under his belt all these years as it patron and commander-in-chief. Mugabe’s fate is nothing dramatically different from that of other African dictators that have gone before him.

The late Libyan strong man, Muammar Gaddafi hung unto power even in the face of a present danger to his very life and he ended up paying dearly with his life for it. If Africa was a place people learn from history, Gaddafi’s fall would have made other dictators embrace the learning curve, but alas, many who where there when he faced his ordeal still hold on to power without bordering that their own day may come unceremoniously. Not even the latest fate of Mugabe seem enough red flag to the clan African rogue and sit-tight leaders.

Paul Biya

Cameroon’s Paul Biya sticks out like a sore thumb. Like the ousted Zimbabwean leader, Biya has ruled over his country for about 37 years. The former bureaucrat came to power when he succeeded President Ahmadou Ahidjo after the latter shockingly resigned in 1982. Within a few years, Biya consolidated his power through a thrumped up attempted coup which he latched on to get rid of his opponents. Upon his ascension to power, Biya immediately began laying the foundations for a one-party system but international pressure forced him to return to a multi-party system in the 90s. And even with the multi-party syestem, Biya has remained in power by winning all elections that run through 1992, 1997, 2004 and 2011. Each presidential term lasts four years and there are no age limit. Biya came close to losing in 1992 with just 40 per cent of the votes. All elections he had won since then have been marred by rigging, election violence and fraud.

He has been accused of oppressing the English-speaking people of Southern Cameroon and recently, his administration cut off internet access in that part of the country, a move many see as the unjust persecution of a minority.

Faure Gnassingbe

Tension has been building steadily in Nigeria’s neighboring country of Togo, and tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to protest the reign of the ruling Gnassingbe dynasty. The protesters are calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since the death of his father, the notirious Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled Togo for 38 years. Like his counterparts in other countries, Gnassingbe is not planning to part with power as his people want, at least not for now.

Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo

The story in Equitorial Guinea is no different. In the West-central African country, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo has ruled  for 36 years and was even re-elected again in the 2016 presidential elections in the country with a whopping 93.7 per cent of the votes cast. Mbasogo has stayed in power by silencing opposition and running a one-party state.

The 75-year-old came to power in 1979 when he ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema in a military coup. Since then, Mbasogo has overseen the country’s emergence as a major oil exporter but this has come with a side dish of suppression. Opposition is hardly tolerated in Equatorial Guinea. A 2013 article in Der Spiegel quoted the president as asking a rhetorical question: “What right does the opposition have to criticise the actions of a government?” His government is similar to the once upon a time Ugandan government under errant Idi Amin. Like the Ugandan who encouraged a cult of personality that granted him various creative titles, Mbasogo is doing the same ruling Equatorial Guinea as a one party state run by his singular Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, DPGE.

Jose Eduardo dos Santos

Some would say dos Santos has been the single most beneficiary of the long-drawn Angola’s civil war. Dos Santos has ruled Angola since 1979 when he was elected as president following the death of the country’s first leader, Agostinho Neto. Dos Santos is alleged to have amassed billions of dollars in personal wealth for himself and his family.

When he began to experience a failing health, dos Santos, in August, ceremonially transferred power to his defense minister Joao Lourenço in an election poll watchers described as a ‘sham.’  Following the victory of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola ,MPLA in the general election held in August this year, Lourenço took over as president in September. But dos Santos remained president of the MPLA, and clearly expected Lourenço to look after his interests and that of his family, which have become enormously wealthy.

Dennis Sassou-Nguesso 

The Congo’s strongman has ruled the large Central African nation for 32 years. Nguesso first ruled from 1979 to 1992, when he was head of the Congolese Party of Labor under a one-party system. Nguesso’s time is complicated. After holding power as a civilian ruler, his rebel forces helped him retake power in a bloody civil war in 1997.

He introduced a multi-party system after international pressure and lost elections in 1992. However, he was not done with power and in 1997, his rebel ousted the sitting president and after a transitional period, he was elected president again, in 2002. The country’s constitution prescribes a maximum three terms of five years each, but it contains terms that allow Nguesso stay in power for as long as he can continue to win elections where there is very little opposition.

Nguesso and his family have gained a reputation for lavish living and outlandish shopping spree.

Yoweri Museveni

Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda for 31 years. With five presidential terms in office, Museveni’s rule is tarnished by violations of freedom of speech, human rights, allegations of nepotism, and even mindless murders of Ugandan citizens. In the face of all the sad narratives that trail his rule, President Museveni bizzarrely claims Uganda is one of the most democratic countries in the world and that he is leading his people out of poverty and to a better future.

At 73, he’s three years away from the constitutional age limit to serve as president. But there is worrisome moves in the country that he is trying to orchestrate the parliament to tinker with the age ceiling so that he can continue to cling onto power.

In an interview with Al Jazeera he was quoted to have redefined democracy. To him “Democracy means you elect the people you like. We had elections about one year ago and my party won 62 per cent of the votes. That does not show that the people of Uganda are fed up with our party because they have voted for us five times. Uganda is one of the most democratic countries in the world. In terms of free speech, we have something like 250 private radios, which say whatever they want. We have so many television stations, private. I don’t know how many you have here in Qatar, private ones?  Maybe you can tell me. I only see Al Jazeera. But for us, we have so many. The empowerment of women – many women compared to other countries – in leadership.”

Paul Kagame 

Twenty-three years after the Hutu majority government committed vast genocide against about one million Tutsis in 100 days, incumbent Paul Kagame won 99 per cent of the votes in Rwanda’s April 4, 2017 presidential elections-an outcome that surprised no one. Two years later, the government proposed an amendment on term limits and had it rubber-stamped in a referendum that was widely criticised by human rights organisations. The move has however, paved the way for Kagame to stay in office until 2034 if he so desires. And not surprising, the prospect of such a long mandate riles democracy watchers. Meanwhile, a few commentstors point to Kagame’s successful post-genocide reconstructions, good economic growth rates, and good level of gender parity in government and businesses as reasons why it might be worth it for all Rwandans to give up their politica rights in return for governance outcomes that most other African nations are yet to see.

The highly divided reaction to Kagame’s victory thus raises the question as to the kind of trade-offs people should be willing to make when it comes to stability as against unfettered democracy in Africa.

Pierre Nkurunziza

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza ruling party has succeeded in placing the country on violent dictatorship. Worried rights groups have had to slam the international community for inaction against Nkuruziza. A ‘purge’ of ethnic Tutsis from the army, a crackdown on opposition and media and a bid to change the constitution to allow unlimited presidential terms are signs of an “increasingly violent dictatorial regime,” rights group’s report said.

The small Central African state was plunged into political crisis in April 2015 when Nkuruziza announced his intention to run for a third term which he ensured he won. At least 500 people were killed in ensuing violence, according to the UN – although rights groups put the figure at over 1,000 – while more than 400 000 have fled the country since the crisis began.