By Isaac Esipisu
Several African leaders watching news of the death of Africa ’s longest serving leader are wondering who among them is next and how they will leave office.
Three of the ten longest serving leaders have fallen this year – Ben Ali of Tunisia ruled for 23 years, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ruled for 30 years and the longest, the Brother Leader of Libya ruled for 42 years – all gone in the last six months.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (32), Jose Santos of Angola (32), Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (31), Paul Biya of Cameroon (29) and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (25), King Mswati III of Swaziland (24), Blaise Campore of Burkina Fasso (24) and still going strong, and must be wondering whose turn is next.
Teodoro and Jose Santos take the number one spot as the longest serving Presidents with 32 years of ruling Equatorial Guinea and Angola respectively and from what has happened in Africa this year and to Gaddafi this week, it is a post neither of them would be proud off right now.
Although the revolts have so far been limited to North Africa, increasingly there are protests against regimes in other African countries. Whether triggered by economic conditions—food and fuel prices, poor job opportunities or service delivery failures, the mass protests are becoming important and have forced policy changes. Slowly but surely, these revolutions are heading south and, unless Africa ’s long-serving leaders pave the way for inclusive governance and relinquish their power, they are increasingly likely to face the same fate as the North African ones.
Despite the reign of democratic governance in Africa , some leaders have clutched to political power for decades, using state instruments to prolong their regimes against constitution provisions.
Unfortunately, when the leaders manipulate and abuse their positions to stay in power, they still find support from Western governments even though democratic governance is supposed to be the core of their engagement with African nations. This is not only hypocritical but is also sends the wrong signal to Africans across the region.
However, the recent events in Egypt , Tunisia and Libya should show sub-Saharan African leaders that Western government support will not insulate autocratic regimes from the demands of their people. For the long-serving leaders in Africa , clinging to power is no longer wise. They would be well-advised to announce their intention to step down before they are forced out of leadership by their citizens. Likewise, treating leadership as a “right” or as family property is no longer a viable strategy. It will no longer be acceptable to the African people.
Voluntary exit from power is a great contribution to a country and goes a long way to avert the fate that has befallen leaders in North Africa. Rupiah Banda of Zambia is a good example of such a leader who gracefully accepted defeat this year.
Who among the seven will be deposed next and how will they go?