Monday, December 12, 2005

Africa's sit-tight leaders

Guardian (Nigeria)
December 6, 2005

With a few notable exceptions, there is and has been reluctance among Africa's leaders to relinquish power. Whether they ascended through a military coup or a civilian election, no sooner do they get there than they begin plotting and scheming to stay in power indefinitely. This phenomenon which can be described as the foremost weakness of the leaders of the third world has shown them to be vain, greedy, immature and inconsiderate.

Only last week, an election was held in Gabon - the tiny oil rich West African country of one and a half million people. Omar Albert-Bernard Bongo, 69, who has been in power for an incredible 38 years, and who in 2003 changed the constitution of his country to allow him contest as many times as he pleases, has again been re-elected for another seven-year term. He is the longest serving head of state in Africa. Clearly, this sort of leadership, benevolent or not, is unhealthy for any nation. Gabon is said to enjoy the highest per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa at $6000 per annum, yet about 50 per cent of her people live in poverty. Albert Bongo is a dictator who prides himself that there has been no political upheaval in his country.

This stability is owed in part to the ardent support of France. But experience has shown that this sort of stability is often artificial as it masks a groundswell of opposition and poverty. Stability was trumpeted as one of the virtues of President Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d'Ivoire. Today that country is in a state of war with its northern half operating an almost separate government.

The attitude of African leaders have become a major threat to the rule of law and good governance. Many an African leader have become an obstacle to progress and development in their individual countries as they consistently refuse to play politics in a fair and even handed manner. They are often tyrannical and intolerant of opposing views. This matter is so serious that the African Union (AU) should devote a session to the consideration of the political aberration that is occurring all over Africa. Some examples will suffice.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni who assumed power in 1986, is planning and plotting to go for a third term, contrary to his country's constitution. He has recently arrested a major opposition leader and possible successor for treason and has handed him, against public opinion and the Commonwealth, to a military tribunal. In Burkina Faso Blaise Campaore who seized power in a military coup and became president since 1987 now wants to remain in power indefinitely. He is allowed to serve unlimited terms.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak has been in power since 1981, Muammar Gadaffi of Libya since 1969. President Mugabe at 81 is still running Zimbabwe since 1980. In Cameroun, Paul Biya has been in power since 1982. Not long ago in Nigeria, we had the case of General Ibrahim Babangida who not satisfied with the unilateral extension of his term to eight years, planned to retain power for even longer. He annulled a free and fair election won by Chief Moshood Abiola. But when he found that it was impossible for him to supplant Abiola, he announced to the world that he was 'stepping aside' in order for a so-called civilian interim government appointed by him to take over.

General Sani Abacha was soon to set aside the interim government of Ernest Shonekan after only six months. He had a plan of his own. He announced at the inauguration of the National Constitutional Conference on June 27, 1994 that "We in the present government in Nigeria, are committed to ensuring that there is speedy and unimpeded transition to a civil democratic rule in which we shall not be participants...we are aware that it is neither in our personal interest nor that of the nation to perpetuate ourselves in power".

But when the time came for him to hand over, he made an about-face and decided instead to be the sole presidential candidate for all five registered political parties. This action was in fact an assault on good governance and the democratic process. Unfortunately for him, he died before he could realise his dreams. Another military man, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, succeeded him and handed power to the civilian administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former military man.

President Obasanjo who swore to uphold the constitution of Nigeria is now embroiled in a ferocious debate on whether he is planning, contrary to the constitution, to go for a third term. Although almost to a man, Nigerians, mindful of the past, are irrevocably committed to the defeat of a third term bid for any elected official including the President, echoes of stealth manoeuvres by the men in power refuse to go away.

The president's party is in control of the majority of legislators in a majority of the states in the country, so that it is not inconceivable that it can use its overwhelming parliamentary superiority to foist a third-term president on Nigeria. In fairness to President Obasanjo, he has been silent on the issue but he must know that his silence is unwholesome as it has only succeeded in fuelling speculations that he may well be an ardent supporter or sponsor of the third term scheme.

Altogether African leaders are a bad example for their people and the world. It is not therefore surprising that given the chronic insensitivity to the use of power in Africa displayed by many African leaders, the world's worst examples of almost everything can be found in Africa.

There is therefore a crying need for the evolution of a new style of leadership in Africa; a style that encourages mentoring and succession. In the more advanced democracies there is always a succession plan, so that in whatever situation they find themselves, there are always those already groomed to take over. By contrast, succession in Africa is often a gambler's throw so that in most of the continent, including Nigeria, it is not known where the next leader is coming from. There is therefore a need for a re-orientation in Africa. African leaders must learn that a country belongs to its entire people and not just to politicians. Those who succeed others must allow others to succeed them.


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