President Mugabe is in the spotlight again for his frailty and for clinging to power. He continues to endanger his country by preventing the development of viable institutions for an orderly succession. He is, however, not alone in this behavior but is rather perhaps given more attention because he does not kowtow to Westerners (at least not since early 2000 when according to ex South African President Thabo Mbeki, Tony Blair allegedly plotted for his overthrow.)
Indeed, big man rule is more like the norm now in Africa, which is contributing to failing states, when inevitably these rulers die or are violently overthrown as was the case with Mobutu (President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1965-97)) and Gadhafi (the deposed leader of Libya who was brutally murdered after 40 years of rule). To be sure, this is not a uniquely African issue but it is more dire in Africa because of poverty, weak to non-existing state institutions and the precarious ethnic imbalances.
Africa desperately needs something like the 22nd amendment of the U.S Constitution limiting presidents to two four-year terms or some variation and a mechanism for enforcing it. In 2015 the presidents of Burundi, Benin, the DRC, and Rwanda have either personally or through their supporters expressed intentions to dispense with or circumvent term limits; and Gambia has erased it from its constitution. There are also questions whether President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone will honor the two term limit. President Kabila of the DRC is currently under a credible challenge by a popular politician, Moise Katumbi, from the Katanga province. Not surprisingly, President Kabila is responding by accusing Katumbi of hiring American mercenaries without work permits as his bodyguards. One has to ask why this became an issue after Katumbi declared his intention of electoral challenge and not before?
In 2014, Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaoré's continued desire to stay in power was met by popular protests forcing him to flee the country. Compaore assumed power in 1987 after allegedly assassinating his childhood friend, the idealistic and popular President Thomas Sankara. Compaore is unlikely to face justice anytime soon because he has already secured citizenship in Ivory Coast. It seems dictators watch out for each other's back.
Power without accountability is similar to drug addiction. It causes intoxication, hubris and corruption. No doubt, power similarly affects the human brain. Mugabe's transformation from a one time popular leader fighting the racist Ian Smith regime to his degeneration is more than likely due to prolonged power without limits and in his advanced age as well as the influence of his 2nd wife, Grace Mugabe, who is almost half his age. Mugabe became an object of ridicule by the Western media, when he began to nationalize land from the disproportionately wealthy white farmers and his followers began to persecute the whites who resisted. Zimbabwe like Kenya, South Africa and Algeria was a settler colony. "In 1980, [Zimbabwe then Southern Rhodesia] was home to about 120,000 whites and more than 7 million blacks, but whites owned about half of the arable land. Blacks worked the farms as low-paid laborers."
There was little publicity and accountability when in the early 80s Mugabe liquidated thousands of black Zimbabweans in Matabeleland from the Ndebele ethnic group. This neglect changed when he began to persecute the land owning whites. At 92 years of age, Mr. Mugabe's continued rule only serves a few of his cronies and the insatiable, corrupt Mrs. Grace Mugabe, who is aggressively blocking his retirement to prevent the way Habib Bourgiba was removed in Tunisia, when it became apparent that he was mentally incompetent. Mugabe's erratic behavior echoes that of the Tunisian as when Bourgiba "in October 1987...had appointed a new chief delegate to the United Nations, but had soon forgotten that appointment and named another man to the post."
The venerable South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu describes Mugabe as a cartoon like character and "a caricature of all the things people think black African leaders do." It is no coincidence that one of Mugabe's friends is Mengistu Halemariam, whom he harbors in Zimbabwe with his entourage. Mengistu was the former Ethiopian dictator/butcher who eliminated hundreds of thousands of the finest of Ethiopians and Eritreans in the 70s and 80s. He has been living in Zimbabwe in a lavish mansion enjoying his loots since his overthrow in 1991. Mengistu and his family are reportedly Zimbabwean citizens. Many of his henchmen and accomplices have reportedly established lucrative businesses in Zimbabwe using money stolen from Ethiopia. Mengistu himself is nearing 80 and must be nervously praying that nothing happens to Mugabe.
In Africa, the late Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere, who led Tanzania from 1960-85 was not a saint but after 25 years gave up power willingly. Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique chose not to run for a third term. Mandela was the other who chose to serve only one term but his ANC movement is now tarnished by Jacob Zuma who is accused of corruption, lavish $23 million spending to upgrade his private home from government coffers and a history of rape charges.
The former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea is one of sub-Saharan Africa's top oil and natural gas producers and with its small population has the highest per capita gross domestic product in Africa on a par with Italy. The 2015 UN human development index, ranked the country 138 out of 188. The Obiang family exemplify the word kleptocracy and have ruled the country since independence in 1968. The current president overthrew his uncle in a coup in 1979 and is the longest reigning dictator alive in Africa.
Democracy is in reverse in most of Africa and elections are invariably rigged with some exceptions. There are some uplifting developments like in Nigeria which was able to pull off a relatively clean election. The incumbent ex. President Goodluck Jonathan lost and accepted the will of the voters paving the way for the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr. Kenyatta, Mr. Kagame, Mr. Museveni and the TPLF in Ethiopia are regimes especially enabled by their Western patrons under the pretext of economic growth to continue support which they use to prolong their rule and institutionalize autocratic rule. They enjoy impunity. Mr. Kenyatta was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for inciting ethnic violence following the disputed 2007 elections, in order to secure victory for then-President Mwai Kibaki. ICC dropped the charges after it experienced obstruction, witness bribing and intimidation from President Kenyatta's government.
Rwanda has approved changes to the constitution that cleared the way for Kagame to stay in power until 2034. A similar move by Burundi's president Mr. Nkurunziza is threatening to bring the specter of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Kagame's extra judicial elimination of opponents and the TPLF's repression against the Oromo and other ethnic groups and civil society continue without consequences.
In Uganda, Mr. Museveni, who has ruled the nation since January 1986 claims to have won the latest election by 61 percent and opposition candidate Dr Kizza Besigye who was Museveni's personal physician is crying foul claiming a rigged election. Uganda's constitution originally permitted only two presidential terms but Museveni amended the constitution so he could run for another election in 2006.
On May 24th, 2015 the TPLF/EPRDF (TPLF stands for Tigrean People's Liberation Front and EPRDF is the Ethiopian People's Democratic Front) "coalition" in Ethiopia declared winning the elections by 100% denying even a single seat to the opposition in the 547 seat parliament. The TPLF is nothing more than an ethnic dictatorship in Ethiopia . During Obama's visit to Addis Ababa Ethiopia, in July 2015, he referred to the Ethiopian government (read TPLF) as "democratically elected." The late Ethiopian leader, Meles Zenawi was a darling of the West whose excesses were readily overlooked.
In comparison, in neighboring Eritrea, Mr. Isaias Afeworki who is reviled by the West rules with an iron fist and does not even entertain holding make believe elections. Lately,though, there are indications that the Eritrean regime is finding reengagement with the West via backdoor through the refugee "crisis" and the regional war in Yemen. The European Union is trying to contain Eritrean refugees by pretending Eritreans are leaving Eritrea for economic reasons. And the Gulf States are courting Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea for use in the tragic mess they have created in Yemen.
Generally, convenient strong men who do the Western bidding are shielded from facing justice giving them little incentive for stepping down. Good governance is sorely lacking in most of Africa. Africans, like all people, yearn for and deserve democracy, but the dictators in Africa are enabled by corrupt, educated political and economic elites through a symbiotic relationship giving them access to bribes, fungible foreign aid, business opportunities and extra-legal privileges. In return, the elites give back support in whichever way the dictators demand. The author of the Wretched of the Earth, Franz Fanon saw the political bankruptcy of the post-colonial ruling elite as early as the late 50s. According to Fanon's observations, this elite cannot fulfill its historic role of transforming itself leading the African people towards emancipation.
Some people say that Africa was better off in colonial times implying that colonialism had already left Africa. It never did. Colonialism or neocolonialism just became more efficient extracting resources by remote control through the multinational corporations and lopsided terms of trade and land grab in collaboration with corrupt African elites.
Politicians like presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speak as if there is a level playing field and that somehow free trade can elevate Africa. In her own words: " Africa's arguments for the redress of economic imbalances left by colonialism were beginning to wear a little thin -- at least in Washington." "For goodness sakes, this is the 21st century. We've got to get over what happened 50, 100, 200 years ago and let's make money for everybody. That's the best way to try to create some new energy and some new growth in Africa."
As far as Africa is concerned, the American elections dominated by the two party system do little to address the structural gulf that exists between Africa/the global South and the industrialized world. What happened 50, 100, 200 and even 500 years ago has unfortunately impacted African development enormously by creating a lasting structural damage. Moreover, Africa continues to be a pawn that major powers like the Western countries and within the last twenty five years China manipulate and exploit. The role of outsiders is- more than or at least as -important as local elites in propping up dictatorships in Africa and stunting sustainability. The example of Equatorial Guinea illustrates this point irrefutably. The Obiang family would have been unable to sustain their corruption without the complicity of international "business" and in particular the oil companies.