Masses send Africa’s strongmen packing


By Stephen Kafeero

One of President Museveni’s most memorable quotes captures best the mindset of these leaders who came to power starting in the 70s to the early 90s.
“The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power,” he said in 1986.

In less than 10 days, between April 2 and April 11, two of this breed of leaders, Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) and Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Algeria) fell following mass protests by citizens who, among other things, are calling for a change that will foster democratic governance in their respective countries.

Mr Bashir, according to the army which has since seized power, is in custody while the ailing Mr Boutefilika resigned after pressure from the masses.

Others in that generation include President Museveni (1986), Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo(August 3, 1979), Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos(1979 to 2017), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe(1980 to 1987), Hosni Mubarak(1981 to 2011), Paul Biya (November 6, 1982 to date), Republic of the Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso(combined 35 years), Chad’s Idriss Déby(since December 2, 1990), Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki( since 24 May 1993), Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh (1994 to 2017) and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987 to 2011).

On the list Presidents Museveni, Teodoro Obiang, Paul Biya, Sassou Nguesso, Idriss Déby and Isaias Afwerki hold on to power to date. For how long?

All the leaders on the list came to power with popular support of the masses or gained the same in the early years of their leadership. All have kept a democratic façade mainly to appease the Western democracies who push the model sometimes in exchange for the much needed aid and other favours.

It also keeps some of the masses at bay, periodically thinking that they are participating in choosing their leaders. In most, if not all the cases, they are announced winners of elections with very wide margins.

The rise
Majority came to power through armed struggle or military coups. In exceptional cases, such as Bouteflika’s, they were elected but not without the role of guns.

To come to power, President Museveni waged an armed struggle for more than five years in the bush, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang came to power through a coup that ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, José Eduardo dos Santos assumed power post-independence following the death of the country’s first president, Agostinho Neto, Robert Mugabe came to power following the country’s independence struggle, Hosini Mubarak assumed presidency after the assassination of president Anwar Sadat.

Paul Biya, who the BBC has described as Cameroon’s ‘absentee president, succeeded President Ahmadou Ahidjo following his surprise resignation. Denis Sassou Nguesso was first elected in 1979 and ruled the Republic of the Congo to 1991 and briefly lost power for five years. He has held on to it since bouncing back at the helm in 1997.

Idriss Deby came to power in a coup in 1991 and has remained at the helm despite several attempts to oust him by similar means. Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki has ruled the country since leading a successful struggle in 1993. Until his ouster following a popular revolt in 2017, Yahya Jammeh had ruled the country since 1994. He had proclaimed he would rule Gambia for “one billion years”, but lost the elections and was eventually forced out of power.

Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed presidency on November 7 November 1987 in a coup d’état that ousted President Habib Bourguiba. He was subsequently re-elected with enormous majorities, each time exceeding 90 per cent of the vote. He was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia following protests against his rule.

Only Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader is an exception having come to power in 1969. He, however, ruled and in some cases mentored this group of leaders. Mr Gaddafi was assassinated in 2011 following an uprising by Libyans and a subsequent evasion of the country by Western powers.

Dynasties hang on
In Togo, the Gnassingbé dynasty holds on to power albeit with challenge. He ruled his country from 1967 until his death in 2005. He was succeeded by his son Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé Eyadéma who has ruled to date.

In 2008, protests rocked the country calling for him to step down after more than 13 years in power. He has hung on. They accuse the government of tinkering with the constitution so that President Faure Gnassingbé can remain in power until 2030. The government denies this, insisting that it will introduce a two-term presidential limit ahead of elections in 2020.

In January, an attempted coup nearly ended the Bongo dynasty that has ruled Gabon for more than half a century. His father Omar Bongo ruled for nearly 42 years until his death in 2009. He succeeded his father on the throne following a disputed election.

A group of soldiers, in January, announced that they had seized control of the government. But the attempt to take power was short-lived as forces loyal to Mr Bongo overpowered the renegade soldiers.

The leaders of Uganda and Equatorial Guinea, both in power for more than three decades, are rumoured to be positioning their children to take power after them. Such allegations have been dismissed in Uganda. Mr Obiang’s son Teodorin Obiang is his father’s deputy while Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba is the senior presidential adviser for Special Operations.

The Kabila dynasty in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently lost power following the controversial announcement of Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo as the winner of the country’s election last year.

Laurent Kabila ruled the country from 1997 until his assassination in 2001. His son Joseph Kabila succeeded him and ruled the country until his recent departure.
The Kabila dynasty is not completely out of power with Joseph Kabila reportedly wielding a lot of power. It is also alleged that he fixed the victory of his successor after a number of concessions.

The family reportedly owns a huge business empire, with a stake in banks, farms, airline operators, a road builder, hotels, a pharmaceutical supplier, travel agencies, boutiques and nightclubs, according to Bloomberg news agency.

Despite attempts at mass action, citizens of some countries are yet to see the departure of their long serving rulers.
In Uganda, major protests dubbed Walk to Work against the rising cost of living among other things rocked the country in 2011 but were eventually quashed by the state machinery. Similar attempts have been ended in their infancy.

Civil unrest in Togo was last year marked with deadly protests that left many dead. The country’s leadership eventually banned the protests including those by a coalition of 14 opposition parties.

Since 2016, Cameron has been rocked by protests from people and groups that demand change and an end to the reign of the 86-year-old Biya with hundreds of protestors arrested and detained in violent crackdowns.

The country has also seen unrest from its Anglophone regions in the North-West and South-West over accusation of maginalisation by the Francophone dominated regime.

As people rise up and chase the long serving rulers away, the military and other entrenched groups are seizing the opportunity. The post mass revolts have not borne much fruits in terms of the demands of the protestors being met in most of these countries.

In Egypt, the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi reigned briefly after Hosini Mubarak before the army returned and ousted him. He is in prison while the army has reigned since. Libya is yet to see peace, almost a decade after Gadddafi’s execution.

In Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe successor continues with the violent crackdown on dissent after seizing power and claiming victory in a controversial election. The country is also yet to recover from an economic crisis characterised by hyperinflation, among other things.

“The Kabila dynasty in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently lost power following the controversial announcement of Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo as the winner of the country’s election last year. Laurent Kabila ruled the country from 1997 until his assassination in 2001. His son Joseph Kabila succeeded him and ruled the country until his recent departure.

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