THE POLITICS OF SUCCESSION IN AFRICA
By Paul Ndiho
The number of authoritarian leaders in Africa has declined since 2010. However, not surprising, is there are still many African leaders that have been in power for more than 30 years.
Western-style democracy is being tested across Africa, especially in countries where some of the world’s longest-serving leaders continue to hold power. In some cases, plans to remove or circumvent presidential term limits by some leaders are alarming.
By September 2019, five African heads of state had been in power for more than three decades each:
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, age 77, has been president of Equatorial Guinea for 40 years. He is Arguably Africa’s longest-serving president.
Paul Biya, 86, has been President of Cameroon since November 1982, the second longest-serving leader on the continent, with nearly 37 years in office.
Yoweri Museveni, 75, the President of Uganda has been in power for 33 years. He was elected to a fifth term in February 2016.
Denis Sassou Nguesso, 75, has been President of the Republic of the Congo for a combined total of 34 years. He first served from 1979 to 1992 and then 1997 to present.
King Mswati III, age 51, is the King of eSwatini, a post he has held since April 1986, He has ruled over the kingdom for 33 years. The Kingdom of eSwatiniis is the continent’s last absolute monarch.
Other Leaders who have been in power for a long time include; Idriss Deby, 67, he has been the President of Chad for 28 years. He won a disputed fifth term in April 2016.
Isaias Afwerki, age 73, the Eritrean leader has been in charge since independence in April 1993.
Paul Kagame, age 61, has been the President of Rwanda since 2000. In 2017 Kagame won with nearly 100% of the vote, securing a third term in office.
Other previous record-holders included Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian emperor, who holds the African record for the longest time in power. After reigning for 44 years, he was ousted in 1974.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, ruled for nearly 42 years — he was killed in 2011, after a protest movement turned into an armed conflict.
Gabon’s Omar Bongo died on June 2009 after more than 41 years in power.
Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos stepped down in September 2017, having led his oil-rich country for 38 years.
Gnassingbe Eyadema also ruled the west African country of Togo for 38 years from 1967 until his death in 2005. His son Faure Gnassingbe succeeded him.
Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe’s “father of independence” was forced out in November 2017 after 37 years at the helm, he died on September 6th.
Not all of Africa is dealing with a lack of democratic transitions. There have been several peaceful power transitions. In January, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as the Democratic Republic of Congo president, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power after multiple bitterly-disputed elections.
Liberian president George Weah and the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, both were elected through an open and transparent process.
Other countries are building stronger governance and leadership institutions.
Ethiopia is building stronger institutions. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a series of reforms since taking office in April 2018.
It’s a new dawn in Sudan. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is chairman of Sudan’s newly-formed sovereign council in Khartoum following the ouster and three-decade rule of former president Omar al-Bashir. Bashir tightly ruled Sudan for 30 years.
Elsewhere, tens of millions of Africans have used the ballot box to deepen the quality of democratic governance and bring about political transitions.
President Macky Sall of Senegal easily won re-election. Senegal has had peaceful transitions of power since attaining independence from France in 1960.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari easily won re-election securing a second four-year term.
South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as president for his first term and Malawian President Peter Mutharika was sworn in for a second term after a contentious election marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.
In 2012, the African Union ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance. But critics say the continental body has failed to take similar action against long-time leaders who have exploited ambiguities in the law to extend their time in office.