Source: The Chronicle (Ghana)
The tragedy of Africa is that our leaders do not appear to know when to quit. Most of the anti-colonial leaders in Africa, who charted the course for independence, have signed up to the syndrome of Life-Presidents. And, though they begun as heroes of their various societies, their refusal to quit created so much tension in the body politic that their nations became polarised.
Most of them had to be forced to relinquish power by being removed by the military. By then they had virtually run their individual countries aground.
When Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah led the then Gold Coast to self-government, and declared that the independence of Ghana was meaningless, unless linked up with the total liberation of the African continent, it struck an accord with the people of this country and all nations on the continent then struggling under colonialism.
He was a hero, not only in his native Ghana, but the most adored leader on the whole continent. Things began to deteriorate when Nkrumah declared himself Life President after the constitution was changed in 1964, following a stage-managed referendum.
When the military stepped in, they had their own agenda, and instead of the liberation they promised, they drove the Ghanaian society further into the woods.
It was a syndrome that cut across the continent. From Libya, Egypt, and Sudan in the north, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Liberia, in the West, through Uganda in the East, the early charismatic leaders were replaced by military adventurers, whose main agenda was to plunder their individual states.
When the liberation war of Rhodesia ended in 1980 with the triumph of forces under Robert Mugabe, the leader became Prime Minister.
Born on February 21, 1924, Mugabe took his political tutorials in Ghana, where Dr. Nkrumah stood astride the political edifice like a colossus.
After taking a teacher training certificate at Achimota (1958-1960), Mugabe, a devout Catholic, taught at the St. Mary Secondary School, at Apowa, near Takoradi, then owned by the Catholic Mission. He met his first Wife, Sally Hayfron in the Western Regional capital, Takoradi, and tied the matrimonial knot.
Mr. Mugabe’s socialist orientation made him to drink deep from the fountain of socialist principles in vogue in Ghana, by attending the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute at Winneba.
Fully armed with anti-imperialist tools of the time, Mugabe went back to the then Southern Rhodesia to lead the war of liberation against racist Ian Smith, who was leading a unilateral declaration of independence from British rule. After seven years as Prime Minister, Mugabe became Head of State in 1987.
Mugabe embarked upon the controversial land reform programme, under which farms belonging to white settlers were seized and distributed to the majority black population. The programme was initially touted as the means of reversing inequitable land distribution in the nation. But, critics say the beneficiaries were mainly officials of the government and the ruling Zimbabwe African People’s Union. Unfortunately, the period has been marked by deterioration in the Zimbabwean economy.
A wide range of sanctions was imposed by the United States and the European Union. In 2008, when Mugabe went into the presidential elections, his power base at home was gradually slipping. Political observers believe the veteran politician lost at the polls. But, after a long time of wrangling with the opposition, Mugabe entered into a power-sharing arrangement with Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara of the Movement for Democratic Change – Tvsangirai (MDC-T) and Movement for Democratic Change – Mutambara (MDC-M) respectively.
Robert Guest, Africa editor of The Economist for seven years, argues that Magabe is to blame for the free-fall of the Zimbabwean economy. “In 1980, the average annual income in Zimbabwe was $980, and a Zimbabwean dollar was worth the American dollar. By 2003, the average income was less than $400, and the Zimbabwean economy was in a free-fall.
“Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly three decades, and has led it, in that time, from impressive successes to the most dramatic collapse of any country since Wekimar’s Germany. At 88, Mugabe has certainly passed his sell by date. There are unconfirmed reports that Mugabe is receiving treatment for prostrate cancer. In spite of the concern for his health and the economy, Robert Mugabe apparently, wants to die as President.
In an interview with state radio on his birthday, the President said he was as fit as a fiddle.
“I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once – I am as fit as a fiddle,” according to literature on the world-wide web.
In another interview with state television, the President of Zimbabwe said the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), would choose their own leader the moment he was no more. “Our members of the party will certainly select someone, once I say I am now retiring, but not yet, he is quoted to have said. I can still go some distance, can’t I?”
At the extreme end of West Africa, Abdoulaye Wade, born officially in 1926, is preparing to ignore the protests on the streets, and contest the Senegalese presidential elections. At 85, the former opposition leader, who has already served 12 years as Head of State of the Republic, is obviously having fond memories of the concept of President for Life.
Wade was born on May 29, 1926 – but some say, he might have been born several years earlier. After several years in opposition, during which he lost four elections, Abdoulaye Wade won the presidential election in 2000 on the second round ballot. He had taken the second place with 31 percent in the ballot on February 27. Incumbent Abdou Diouf could not win an outright majority in the first round. That gave the veteran opposition leader the opportunity to rally the support of other presidential candidates to grab the vote in the second round, with a majority of 54 percent.
Wade was inaugurated as President of Senegal in Dakar, on April 1, 2000. In 2007, he won the presidential race in the first round, with 55.9 percent.
The main opposition parties disputed Wade’s victory, and questioned his legitimacy. They boycotted the parliamentary election, and the re-established Senate vote, later in the year.
Wade responded in an interview with Le Soleil, Senegal’s leading newspaper, on May 19, 2008, that there was no longer any possibility of dialogue with the opposition.
“Let them do what they want, it does not bother me. So long as they respect law and order.”
At the African Union Summit in Accra, in 2007, Wade supported Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi’s proposal for the formation of a United States of Africa. “If we fail to unite, we will become weak and live isolated in countries that are divided.”
In July 2008, the National Assembly in Dakar approved a constitutional amendment increasing the length of the Presidential term to seven years. The amendment did not apply to Wade’s 2007 to 2012 term, but Minister of Justice Madicke Niang stressed on the occasion that Wade could potentially run for re-election in 2012, if he was still healthy. On September 17, 2009, Wade confirmed that he would run for a third term “if God gives me a longer life.”
At a rally on July 14, 2011, Wade told supporters thus: “I said that I can take it back” – explaining his decision to go back on his word of 2007, never to run for a third term.
On January 27, 2012, Abdoulaye Wade was officially approved by the Constitutional Court to run for the third time. Following this announcement, enraged youth took to the streets in protest.
Wade’s main accusation is that he has promoted hegemony. The widespread view in political circles in Dakar is that Wade’s son Karim, Minister of State for International Co-Operation, Urban and Regional Planning, Air Transport and Infrastructure, is being groomed to take over from his father.
In a continent where inheritance from father to son appears to be a political norm, there is the fear that Wade is paving the way for his son to take charge of one of Africa’s true democracies.