This year’s International Day for Democracy fell at a time the African Continent is registering big steps in the democratic governance space. It comes at a time when the Republic of Kenya has had a much hailed democratic process that has seen the third peaceful transfer of Power since the end of the Moi dictatorship. The election has been termed by the Commonwealth Observer Mission as ‘generally peaceful and transparent.’
The Kenya elections are not isolated, before that, there was a successful transfer of leadership in Zambia, Malawi, and Somalia. However, the list of successful peaceful transitions is still narrow. Africa continues to grapple with a fundamental democratic question: ”The peaceful transfer of power.” Many leaders in Africa insist on being in power after their Mandate. This has made Africa have the highest number of longest-serving non-monarch leaders. Six out of the ten current longest-serving non-monarch leaders are from Africa. These leaders have been in power longer than the biggest percentage of the population they lead. I briefly mention them;
the President who holds the number one position in the world for being the longest serving non-monarch head of state is Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1979. The 80-year-old, like many dictators in Africa has compromised the rule of law by concentrating power to himself and appointing his family members. Obiang calls himself, El Jefe and has accepted to be called ‘the country’s god with all power over men and things.’ He has brutally cracked down on dissent by imprisoning and occasioning the death of his critics.
Nguema Obiang is in the league of Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for 40 years, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni for 36 years rule, Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki for 31 years, Rwanda’s Paul Kagama for 28 years, and Denis Sassou Nguesso who has been in power for a total of 38 years. These dictators have compromised institutions, they have occasioned heinous human rights abuses, and they have changed their constitutions to favour their life reign. Whereas all of them except Afwerki have a semblance of multi-party politics in their countries, their political parties are fused with the state making the countries they lead in effect one-party states.
In Uganda, for instance, the Constitution provides for a Multi-party system of governance and further guarantees the enjoyment of all civil and political rights regardless of one’s political association. The constitution has not been respected by the regime. The almost forty years of his regime have seen the imprisonment of Key political figures from the different political parties; Kizza Besigye of the FDC, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine of the NUP. Further, meetings of political parties other than the ruling party are always met with severe brutality from the military and the police force. The opposition parties are in effect not allowed space to compete favourably. The Kampala regime’s approach to political plurality is not different from Kagame’s. Expressing divergent views to those of the ruling RPF is a sure way of imprisonment in Rwanda. The Kigali regime has also imprisoned outspoken opposition figures such as Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, Diane Rwigara, and others under what has been called ‘politically motivated charges.’ In Cameroon, the same has happened to Kamto – Albert Dzongang, Christian Penda Ekoka, Alain Fogue, and Célestin Djamen, members of Paul Biya’s political opposition. The list is endless.
Another common denominator that characterizes the rule of the despots in Africa is the installation of their family members as ‘heir apparent.’ Shortly before his death, it had become clear that Idris Debby’s son, Mahamat Déby was the likely successor of his father’s thirty-year reign. The current Togolese President, Faure Gnassingbe that has ruled for 17 years took over from his father Gnassingbé Eyadéma who had ruled Togo for 38 years. In Zimbabwe, after thirty years in power, Robert Mugabe’s spouse Grace Mugabe was earmarked to take over the presidency. The plans faced a dead end when Mr Mugabe was forced to resign, a move instigated by his former deputy Munangagwa.
The trend of entrenching family rule is more alive today than ever. Frank Biya–Paul Biya’s son, Museveni’s–Muhoozi Keinerugaba, Ngeuma’s convicted son and deputy Teodorin Obiang: are among the growing number of children poised to succeed their fathers in the presidency.
Owing to the foregoing, it is evident that Africa’s autocratic regimes are not about to allow constitutionalism to flourish in their countries, it is pertinent that citizens engage in civic action that will break the tyranny. The international community should be more firm on the leaders who subjugate their people at the expense of longevity in leadership. Without resilient action from the democracy-seeking forces, it will not be surprising to see the reemergence of extremes to the extent of Bokassa, Amin, and Mobutu.
The current dictators in Africa have not let their guard down, why should we, the seekers of democracy let ours down!
Alex Martin Musiime
A young lawyer in Uganda