Succession Drama in Africa…When president dies or to step down
Just to mention a few…You might actually be better off as an outsider if you are in a larger economy.
AFRICA is increasingly becoming a stomping ground for relatively youthful presidents, from Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta to the leaders of Burundi and DR Congo, but some trends usually associated with the Big Man club have continued to hold.
One of them is the official secrecy surrounding presidential illnesses. A clutch of countries from Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Algeria to Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Malawi have recently experienced this, leading to rife public speculation.
Zambia is the latest arena, with President Michael Sata was not been seen in public for over two months. Sata, usually a voluble man (he was once nicknamed “King Cobra” for his quick temper), dropped out of sight on June 19, when he was pictured on state television meeting visiting Chinese vice president Li Yuanchao.
News agency AFP notes that he had since then missed key events such as the US-Africa leaders’ summit in Washington, last year’s Southern African Development Community high-level meeting, and rather tellingly, the opening of a bridge in Chiawa to the east.
The bridge no-show would be as good a sign as any that there is something amiss -African leaders rarely skip the opening of “development” projects, especially those named after them.
Zambian media had then reported a big power struggle to succeed the 77-year-old leader, with his deputy Guy Scott, who is of Scottish descent, ineligible to take over as both his parents were not born in Zambia. He died later and Scott succeeded him for three months and later the president was appointed who is also ill currently.
‘Blue-eyed’ boys and girls
The southern African country has previous – and interesting experience of this-president Levy Mwanawasa was on July 1, 2008 evacuated from an African Union summit in Cairo, Egypt to a Paris hospital after he was taken ill.
He died seven weeks later, but the intervening period served up heavy speculation despite regularly optimistic government updates. Sata, then in the opposition, called for a team of doctors to travel to ascertain Mwanawasa’s health.
The secrecy around a president’s health in Africa is almost always on the instigation of the inner circle and is largely meant to manage succession jockeying and safeguard interests. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has had a difficult time keeping hopefuls in check in what has at times threatened to degenerate into all-out war, and has lately seen First Lady Grace Marufu enter active politics in what is seen as a way of influencing the succession.
For years, the feeling has been that you are better placed to succeed the main man if you were the regime’s blue-eyed boy, or were in the ruling family.
Successions in Gabon and Togo have largely followed this script. Ali Ben Bongo, the son of Gabon’s late 42 year long-serving leader Omar Bongo was never really in any danger of being run out of the succession, and went on to win an early election in 2009, in what was seen as classic patronage politics at work.
In Togo, Faure Gnassingbé Eyadema was named by the army to succeed his late father Gnassingbé Eyadéma in 2005, despite the constitution providing for the Speaker of Parliament to take over, with the military arguing that the latter was out of the country.
A day after, parliament changed the constitution to regularize Mr. Faure’s completion of his father’s term. He then won elections called in 2005 after international protest.
In Mozambique former Defence minister Filipe Nyusi will run as the ruling Frelimo’s candidate in October elections, with incumbent Armando Guebuza’s constitutional time limit set to expire.
Nyusi triumphed in an internal party debate that had pitted Guebuza loyalists against supporters of former Prime Minister Luisa Diogo.
Often a bumpy ride
In Zambia and Malawi the deputy presidents eventually took over, but it is never that straight forward despite being set in law, as the smooth Ghana succession of 2009 would appear to suggest.
In the days after the death of Malawi’s Bingu Wa Mutharika, his body was secretly flown to South Africa as his brother Peter Mutharika, who was foreign minister, allegedly maneuvered to prevent Joyce Banda from being sworn in.
Banda did manage to take over, but the younger Mutharika is now president, having trounced her in an election in May.
In Zambia a camp allied to Guy Scott was seen as having the upper hand, while Namibia’s current president Hifikepunye Pohamba, who was seen as the chosen successor of liberation hero Sam Nujoma, shook off the challenges of strong candidates.
These kind of succession battles are nothing new, but it is not always that being in the inner circle gives you an outright advantage—“outsiders” also manage to beat the odds. This is especially seen more in Africa’s larger economies.
Nigeria’s Good luck Jonathan was a relative unknown when he succeeded Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in office in 2010. Jonathan as the vice president took over in acting capacity, but was seen as warming the seat until a northerner took over, under a kind of “gentleman’s agreement” between the Muslim-majority north and the mainly-Christian south in Nigeria.
But Jonathan, a southerner, went on to run in an election later that year, angering many northerners. He won that one and now ruining for his second term with one time military leader General Muhammad Buhari come March 28 this year.
Ethiopian and Kenyan cases
Relative outsider Hailemariam Desalegn was eventually confirmed as Meles’ Zenawi’s successor, after the Ethiopian prime minister died in 2012. A delay in confirming Hailemariam was attributed to succession intrigues linked to the widowed First Lady.
Azeb Mesfin, who fought alongside her husband in the bush, had been whispered about as having the inside lane to take over.
In his first stab at the Kenyan presidency, Kenyatta, anointed by former president Daniel Arap Moi, resoundingly lost to Mwai Kibaki in 2002.
In Senegal West Africa president Abdulai Wade wanted to stay on in the 2012 elections but he failed to secure the support of the electorates. When he smelled the rat he quickly brought in his son but that was also turned down by the people. Finally the current president Makki Sall emerged the victorious in the election.
In Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbabo lost the elections to Alhassan Ouatara he refused to step down until he was removed by force by the people. He is now in court at ICC in The Hague for crimes committed in that power struggle and his wife has already been sentenced for 20 years imprisonment.
Recently in Burkina Faso former president Blaze Comoare after 27 years in had his way in influencing the parliament for him to be granted with another term of office come the next elections later this year. It resulted in huge demonstration in Ouagadougou against him until he was forced out of power.
Now in Sierra Leone; there is a similar power struggle between President Ernest Bai Koroma and his vice president chief Alhaji Sam Sumana. Week before last Friday,6th March 2015 the ruling APC Party expelled the VP from the party and was later asked to resign from his position as vice president which he refused and that was followed by sending military personnel to his residence unknowing to him and his where about is unknown.
The list is just too long when it comes to leadership succession in Africa.
Analysts note that the odds are that you are more likely to shoo in your preferred successor in smaller countries -economically speaking-than in those where interests are wider and more vested.
Author Tim Kelsall in his book Business, Politics and the State in Africa captures the link between economic growth and the “succession trap” in African governments, bringing to the surface the role that liberation struggle parties play.
But as the smaller economies record high growth rates the ability of leaders to influence successions will also reduce, other scholars argue. The net effect is that to keep this power, leaders will search for more economic growth to stave off threats to their own rule, resulting in a win-win situation for their citizens.
Lessons to learn
The sudden death of John Kennedy, Ron Brown and the 12 CEOs created an unexpected and momentary leadership vacuum but not a crisis. But suppose the US Government, Commerce Department and the twelve affected companies had no succession strategies? Of course, the Americans are notorious for long-term thinking and planning and have well established and tested leadership succession strategies. No wonder they frowned upon Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who upon hearing of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and seemingly oblivious of existing chain of succession, blurted: “I’m in charge!” Lesson: Leaders do not control their fate and could disappear accidentally or unceremoniously; it is important, therefore, for institutions to have in place well defined and publicly known systems for succession. Citizens have the duty to protect the system jealously against potential usurpers.
Margaret Thatcher succeeded in putting John Major at the 10 Downing Street, and she did so without breaching British succession rules and suffering much public backlash. Lesson: There is nothing wrong for a leader in a democracy to groom a successor insofar as the rules and conventions are respected. Many leaders and societies have faced bitter disappointment as they watched an ineffective successor reversing progress due to different values, and halting momentum toward progress and morale due to poor leadership skills. However, it is important for the selection or grooming process to be transparent and in accordance with laid-down rules and supported by all stakeholders.
By Shk A.Y. Kallay
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