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They no longer represent the aspiration of their citizens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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.