African Presidents who make a mockery of Democracy

  • They have changed constitutions to facilitate long stay in power

  • They no longer represent the aspiration of their citizens

  • They adopt repressive measures against dissent or opponents

  • They all have unsavoury human rights records

  • They preside over voting replete with post election violence

One wonders if dictatorship in Africa has anything to do with John Emerich’s coinage that ‘’Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’’.

 In western democracies, leaders elected to serve the constituents always respect their terms of office. But in Africa, the story is different, yet it is still called democracy.

aWhen will they GO? League of African dictators. From left: Obiang Nguema of EQ; Dos Santos of Angola; Paul Biya of Cameroon and  a tiring Mugabe (dozing off in a recent visit to Japan) These leaders have shared a total of 141 years between them as leaders of their respective countries.

Only a couple of days ago, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda set another all-time-low African record after he was sworn in for the seventh times as leader of Uganda.

Yoweri’s intriguing story defies belief. When he seized power, he was applauded by the west and somehow transformed Uganda economically and politically.

After an amazing twenty seven years in power, Museveni is no longer in the good books both in his country and abroad following his attempts to entrench himself in power and his clampdown on opposition and gay rights in Uganda.

Yoweri Museveni
Yoweri Museveni who has just been  sworn in for the 7th times as president of Uganda. He must now be regretting why he wrote the book titled What is Africa’s Problem? wherein he accuses African leaders of staying too long in power. He has been Ugandan president since 1986.

A few years after he seized power, president Museveni published a book called What is Africa’s Problem? 

 In it Museveni wrote: The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power.”

Today, he is no different from the “sit tight” African leaders he criticized in his book.

President Museveni has since changed Ugandan constitution and “won” every single election he stood in.

Dos Santos
Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. Age 74 ( 37 years in power) Though he has indicated that he will step down in the next presidential election, Eduardo Dos Santos is the runner up as second longest serving African leader with 37 years at the helm. According the U.S. Agency for International Development, Angola is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer. Despite these economic potentials Angolans remain in abject poverty as economic gains does not trickle down to the masses.

By so doing, Museveni has not only violated democratic principles that he outlined in his book, but he also live up to what is expected from dictators – stay as long as you want.

There were even media speculations in Uganda that Museveni was secretly grooming his son, Muhoozi Kainerubaga to take over. His reaction to the accusation was to clamp down on media organs in is country.

Rightly so, Ugandans do not want a similar transfer of power that happened in Togo, Gabon and DR Congo to happen in their country, but Museveni might have other ideas as all African dictators do.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo heads the enviable list of the longest serving Presidents in the world. In 1979, Obiang Nguema became the president of the tiny, oil-rich West African nation, Equatorial Guinea after overthrowing his uncle Marcias in a bloody palace coup. Though Equatorial Guinea has one of the world’s highest per capita incomes, it ranks quite poorly on the U.N. Human Development Index with the majority of the population lacking basic necessities like clean drinking water

Like his Ugandan comrade-in-arms, Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, too has been in power since 1980.

At 90, Mugabe is not only one of the longest serving presidents in Africa, but is also considered by political pundits as the shining example of dictatorship in Africa. He has vowed that he would not step down any time soon.

The story is the same with President Paul Biya of Cameroon. Prior to his ascension to power, the constitution stipulated that a president can only rule for a two –five year terms.

After doing so by rigging two successive presidential elections, according to the US- based National Democratic Institute, Mr Biya followed that up by modifying the constitution and extended the five years presidential term limit to seven to allow him stand as many times as he sees fit.

As history has it, elected African who over stay their welcome usually either die in power, are toppled through a coup d’état or gloom their sons to take over from them when they feel it is time for them to relinquish power.

Glaring examples include the late Omar Bongo of Gabon who was succeeded by his son Ali Bongo; Faure Gnassingbe took over from his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema who died in power in Togo.


Denis Sassou Nguesso : Age 73 (34 years in power) If he hadn’t lost control of the Congo for five years in 1992, Sassou Nguesso would be at the very top of this list. He first seized power of the country in a February 1979 coup, but lost the country’s first multi-party elections in 1992. After a 1997 civil war, however, he was back in control and was re-elected in 2004 for another seven-year term. Last year, Sassou Nguesso organized a referendum to change the constitution that allowed him to stand again for the third time and perpetuate himself in power.He eventually won the election to extend his rule

Following external pressure for Faure to resign, he quickly organized elections in which he was a candidate and won the elections. Observers saw it as a way to legitimize the illegal transfer of power from father to son.

Following his death in 2009 after an uninterrupted 42 years in power in Gabon, Ali Bongo, son of Omar Bongo took over from him. Like Faure, he too organized elections he easily won.

Another African leader who succeeded his father in Democratic Republic of Congo is Joseph Kabila Kabange who took over as President from his father, Laurent-Desiré Kabila, ten days after he was assassinated in 2001.

Joseph Kabila was later elected president in 2006 and again won the 2011 presidential elections.

Post Election violence

As the November presidential election approaches, political opponents and activists say everything is in place for President Joseph Kabila to extend his stay in power, thus violating the constitution and potentially precipitating the tiny central African country into chaos.

Even in some African countries where elections are held, post election violence is never far away.

Paul Biya. Age 83 ( 33 years in power) President Paul Biya who became Cameroon’s leader on November 6, 1982 following the resignation of the first president Amadou Ahidjo, is considered by pundits as the most entrenched leader. In 2008,Paul Biya, through a parliament largely dominated by his cronies, adopted controversial amendment of the constitution to allow him run for the third term in the 2011 presidential elections that won amidst fraud and rigging. Biya uses the army to ruthlessly suppress any internal dissent. He is expected to run again during the 2018 elections.

The fatal post elections violence that the world witnessed in Kenya had resonance with what happened in the aftermath of presidential elections in the Ivory Coast.

Clearly defeated in what international monitors described as fair elections, incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo contested the elections and refused to give up power.

Isolated democratic successes

 What followed was total mayhem that would have been avoided if he accepted the verdict of the ballot box. Mr Gbagbo is today on trial for crimes against humanity.

Amidst this tumultuous path to democracy in the African continent, a few countries have seen peaceful transition from one president to another.

Ghana stands out as a country that has shown true democratic principles. In some countries, the unexpected death of a sitting president would have set off a chaotic scramble for power, with constitutional guidelines brushed aside.

Faced with this predicament, Ghanaians stood tall and went the opposite direction. President John Atta Mills who died unexpectedly was calmly replaced by the vice president John Mahama.

Senegal is also another nation which held successful presidential elections void of any wrangling and post election bloodshed. The smooth transfer of power in Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and Zambia represent victory for democracy in Africa which is some kind of hope for the future of democracy in Africa.

Ange Ngu Thomas

Author: Ange Ngu Thomas

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