How presidential transitions will shape Africa’s destiny

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By Karoli Ssemogerere

Africa in 2021 is very different from Africa in 1970, when the choice of change across the continent seemed to be limited to one-party state or military rule.

In 1981, only five countries were multiparty democracies at least on paper; Botswana, Senegal, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. By 1985, Uganda and Nigeria had quickly disappeared from the list.

General Muhammad Buhari took power in 1983 and Milton Obote on the eve of the 1985 elections lost power to his army commander Tito Okello. In 1988 ZANU and ZAPU of Zimbabwe merged after Robert Mugabe became Executive President of Zimbabwe.

Decades of mismanagement, mismanagement of the economy, the aftermath of the oil shocks of the 1970s quickly melted into the second wave of Katama Mkangi.

After decades of complacency, civil society, foreign pressures and economic realities have forced the African strongman to simply fall back and accept the change.

Figures like Kenneth Kaunda have been swept aside in competitive elections, while other strong men like Daniel arap Moi have vigorously retained power although he ultimately left.

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Some major figures like Mobutu Sseseko, a CIA creation of the 1960s, simply faded away and others lost power in internal putsch, protracted wars, or simply ran out of gas.

In 2021, some of these formats are resurrected. Former South African President Jacob Zuma denounced the confirmation of his contempt conviction as the start of a “constitutional dictatorship”.

Mr. Zuma joined a select group of former leaders Laurent Gbabgo (Côte d’Ivoire) and Gen Taylor (Liberia) whose presidencies ended in intercontinental prisons due to crimes committed at home.

Then the putschists are faced with adversity. Chad, Mali and Guinea have all deposed presidents. The smartest left when their constitutional mandate expired. Eduardo do Santos in Angola passed power in 2019. This is exactly what Joseph Kabila did and while he may not have handed over power to the winner of the election, the DRC is starting to wake up .

Some unlucky ones ran and lost in the election, Nigerian Goodluck Jonathan stepped down in 2015 at the age of 58. Malawian Peter Mutharika’s victory was canceled in 2019. Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory was also canceled in 2017, but his former nemesis Raila Odinga ran out of gas. Zambian Edgar Lungu recently lost the keys to the state house.

2021 also has post-liberation survivors, one-party states, and military coups. In Togo, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who took power in a coup in 1968, has been replaced by his son.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, who overthrew the Libyan king in 1969, lost three of his sons in the bloody mess that predicted his departure favored by Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Still, two sons made it out alive and could inform another takeover attempt. In Cameroon, Paul Biya has been stationary since 1983 even though he still barely knows his way around the capital.

Theodore Nguema and his son are president and vice-president of Equatorial Guinea after overthrowing his cousin, another Nguema in 1979.

Never mind that his country of 1.2 million inhabitants flooded with oil is also greatly impoverished. Our President Museveni in power since 1986 sometimes says something about the transition but nothing is clearly on the table to pave the way for another generation of leaders.

Indeed his memory was particularly hard for those who wanted to replace him (Amama Mbabazi in 2016) learned it before returning to the fold and Rebecca Kadaga. Both are serving their retirement, one in constitutional retirement and the other as Minister of East African Affairs.

Africa will remain imperfect on this subject. Limited term presidents like Kenyatta trying to anoint their successors. The open-ended presidents will hold the seat for as long as they can remind us that revolutionaries never die, Mugabe died in 2019, but he was not in office at that time.

The plotters with fresh energy are active, just last week there were actions in Burundi and Sudan. Africa’s long history on this subject has yet to be told with certainty.


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