By Eric Elezuo
“The mere fact that people see another face is good enough; it demystifies power. Mugabe was a great man, an intellectual, but he stayed for too long. No matter how good you are, if you stay for too long, you spoil it. A good dancer must know when to leave the stage.” – Prof. Patrick Lumumba
Like a bolt out of the blue, a highly motivated Arab Spring overtook the Northern African countries in 2010, sweeping away Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Libya’s Moummar Ghadaffi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in one fell swoop.
The Arab Spring was an exercise in frustration initiated by 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi from the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia.
Bouazizi was the breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings, but he didn’t have a permit to sell his goods. When the police asked Bouazizi to hand over his wooden cart, he refused and a policewoman allegedly slapped him.
Angered after being publicly humiliated, Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire.
His act of desperation resonated immediately with others in the town, and the entire North Africa was engulfed, removing some sit tight leaders of the continent.
In West Africa recently, Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh was forced to leave after he had refused to step down following his defeat in the December 2016 election. He went into exile after last minute diplomatic push and threat of military invasion by ECOWAS troops. He was in office for 22 years.
The case of Zimbabawe came readily to mind when despotic African sit-tight leaders are mentioned, but during the week, the people took their destiny in their own hands, forcing the much dreaded Robert Mugabe to resign after the military took hold of the presidential palace, and placed him under house arrest. He had been in office for 37 years, since 1980 at the country’s independence. Most citizens of people of Zimbabwe have not known any other leader.
Mugabe’s exit after much pressure was necessitated by sporadic protest from Zimbabweans, who called for his resignation, rejection from his party, ZANU-PF, the parliament’s threat of an impeachment as well as the army occupation of the palace.
Finally, Mugabe succumbed to the pressure and bowed out on November 21, 2017, after holding the country to ransom for an unprecedented 37 years.
Everything being equal, African nations that have had to harbor despotic sit-tight leaders may see an opening towards dethroning them in legitimate fashion as it happened in Zimbabwe.
Over the past decade, democratic principles have taken a stand in the African continent, however, it has only favoured the overstayed incumbents, who either forced or manipulate oppositions to boycott elections or go as far manipulating the elections itself.
Consequently, about 30 African countries have witnessed a direct or indirect presidential election that resulted in change or retention of leaders. According to records, Fifty six heads of state relinquished power, while nine died in office and 13 stepped down after a coup or uprising.
Through elections, leaders of some countries have remained the same over the past 10 years. They include Angola, Burundi, Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo, Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan, Togo and Uganda. And many of them have not changed leadership in the last ten years.
Among leaders who may need to face one uprising or another towards relinquishing power, and paving the way for a fresh mind are the following:
JOSE EDUARDO DOS SANTOS, (Angola) 75 – he has been President of Angola since 1979, when the country’s first post-independence president, Agostinho Neto, died.
After a peace deal signed in 1991, Dos Santos beat Unita leader Jonas Savimbi in the first round of Angola’s first contested presidential election in 1992, but Savimbi rejected the result and resumed guerrilla war.
While some have praised the septuagenarian for leading the country to recovery after the end of its 27-year civil war in 2002, others accuse him of authoritarianism, overstay in office and failing to distribute the proceeds from the oil boom more widely.
TEODORO OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO (Equatorial Guinea) 75 – he has ruled the small oil-rich nation for almost 38 years, after seizing power from his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema in 1979. He has been accused of persistent corruption and electoral fraud.
Obiang was re-elected in 2009 with 95% of the vote in presidential elections. Officials reported similar results in the December 2002 elections.
His son, Teodoro ‘Teodorin’ Nguema Obiang, is also the country’s second vice president.
PAUL BIYA (Cameroon) 84 – he has been in power since 1982 after President Ahmadou Ahidjo’s resignation. He ended up forcing the former leader into exile after accusing him of a coup plot.
In October 2011, he won a new seven-year term 2011 election, in a vote that observers said was marred by irregularities.
Biya reportedly earns 359m Central African CFA francs (£397,019), according to International Business Times UK, quoting Africa Review. His annual income is about 229 times more than the average salary of a Cameroonian
YOWERI MUSEVENI, (Uganda) 73 – became Uganda’s president in 1986 after participating in the rebellions that toppled Ugandan leaders Idi Amin and Milton Obote.
He has served five presidential terms, and claims Uganda is one of the most democratic countries in the world. In 2005, the constitution was changed to allow him to extend his time in office.
Museveni was re-elected in 2016 in an election overshadowed by arrests of politicians and allegations of rigging.
In June 2016, he named his wife and first lady, Janet Kataaha Museveni, Minister of Education and Sports.
IDRISS DEBY, (Chad) 65 – he has survived several coups to oust him after taking office in 1990 in a coup.
In April 2016, he won a fifth term, securing 62% of the vote in an election opposition parties said lacked credibility.
The rejection of his government has been demonstrated when in April 2006, rebels attacked the capital, and again in February 2008, when they were beaten back by government forces backed by French warplanes and troops.
OMAR AL-BASHIR (Sudan) 73 – he became Sudan’s seventh president after a 1989 coup during a 21-year civil war between north and south.
Despite an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, he has made diplomatic visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
ISAIAS AFEWERKI (Eritrea) 71 – has occupied Eritrean presidency, since the country’s independence in 1993, and no elections have been held ever since.
He led Eritreans through most of the 30-year war with Ethiopia that culminated in independence. But the country has never held an election. Presidential poll, planned for 1997, never materialised.
Eritrea is a one-party state, with the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice the only party allowed to operate.
Afewerki has been criticised for failing to implement democratic reforms. His government has clamped down on critics and private press even as poverty and repression are the order of the day.
DENIS SASSOU NGUESSO (Republic of Congo) 74 – In 2016, he won another election to extend his 32 years in power. Nguesso has been accused of rampant corruption and nepotism and of stifling democracy.
It is believed that renewed fighting by rebels scuttled efforts to return to democracy in 1998.
ABDELAZIZ BOUTEFLIKA (Algeria) 80 – is the fifth President of Algeria. He has been elected four times 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 where he received 81.5 percent of the vote in an election boycotted by opposition leaders.
A stroke patient since 2013, he has managed to strongly hold onto power, having survived the Arab Spring uprisings in his neighbourhood.
ISMAÏL OMAR GUELLEH (Djibouti) 70 – he has been in office since 1999, secured a fourth five-year term after a landslide victory in the April 2016 election criticised by opposition parties and rights groups.
Guellah also won the 2011 election with 80 percent of the vote after the country’s parliament amended the constitution to allow him to extend his rule.
PAUL KAGAME (Rwanda) 60 – he became the sixth president in 2000 when his predecessor, Pasteur Bizimungu, resigned.
He is reputed as spearheading the launch of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel movement, which ended the 1994 genocide.
The country’s constitution was amended in the 2015 referendum to allow Kagame to run for a third term of seven years at the end of his current tenure in 2017.
The newly amended constitution reduced a presidential term from seven to five years but that will come into effect when Kagame’s third term tenure of seven years comes to an end.
This enables him to run for another two terms of 5-years each under the amended constitution, making it possible for the 60-year-old leader to rule until 2034.
JOSEPH KABILA (DR Congo) 46, took office in 2001 ten days after the assassination of his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila.
He reached the end of his constitutional two-term limit in 2016, but has refusal to step down. Critics say Kabila deliberately delayed elections in order to remain in power. The protests that erupted as a result were quelled by security forces, which over 40 persons.
PIERRE NKURUNZIZA (Burundi) 53 – became the first president to be chosen in democratic elections since the start of Burundi’s civil war in 1994.
His election by parliamentarians in 2005 was one of the final steps in a peace process intended to end years of fighting between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-controlled army.
His re-election to a controversial third term in 2015 followed a disputed elections boycotted by the opposition.
Burundi’s constitution limits presidents to a maximum of two terms in office. But the constitutional court ruled in favour of his argument that his first term does not count, as he was elected by parliament and not by the entire electorate, and was thus eligible to stand again.
Africa awaits what will happen when in three years, his tenure finally comes to an end.
FAURE GNASSINGBE (Togo) 51 – he took over in 2005 after the death of his father Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled for 38 years family has ruled the small West African country for half a century.
The 2005 elections, which brought Mr. Gnassingbe to power, were overshadowed by fraud allegations and violent protests which left at least 400 people dead.
Faure was re-elected for a third term in the April 2015 elections, and it is believed that his will terminate in 2020.