2 May 2008

Africa's Leadership Crisis the Case of Zimbabwe


Windhoek — THE crisis in Zimbabwe goes on without abatement.

As we go to press, the presidential results of the now one-month-old election in Zimbabwe remain unknown.

This is fundamentally a manifestation of the persistence and intractable problem of a leadership succession crisis in Africa, a crisis that has been besetting Africa since the advent of the main wave of independence at the beginning of the 1960s.

Soon after the achievement of independence, the process began to unfold whereby political parties in Africa became mere fiefdoms of their party bosses.

And the broad masses of followers, whose political enthusiasm and energy had been aroused during the struggle for independence, found themselves held hostage to the patronage of the party bosses.

Also, in the absence of internal party democracy, parties began to largely fulfil the role of being instruments of the political ambitions of their leaders, whose preoccupation was now to stay indefinitely in power.

The constitutional provisions that restricted the office of presidents or prime ministers to a specific number of terms (mostly two) had to be subverted so that leaders could prolong their staying in power.

The avenue to democratic and peaceful leadership succession became blocked by the then emerging civilian autocracy and military dictatorship, which ascended to power through coups.

Political instability eventually became the order of the day.

To remove the entrenched autocratic dictators and military rulers became a formidable task, holding back socio-economic development and progress in Africa.

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has been one of the civilian autocrats who has been in power for 28 years, tolerating no rivalry to his power.

His political desire to stay in the presidential office remains insatiable and unconstrained by conscience. Hence, the repeated flare-up of that crisis.

As African leaders devote their attentions and efforts to clinging to power, our continent continues to endure the burden of underdevelopment, widespread poverty, high levels of illiteracy, widening income gap between the haves and have-nots, etc.

The end of the Cold War, namely, the ceasing of the once sharp ideological division between the East and West, at the beginning of the 1990s appeared to herald an era of democratisation on the continent.

The phenomenon of military coups d'etat, an undemocratic way of bringing about leadership succession in Africa, seemed to be on the decline, as various forms of multiparty political systems were being introduced around the continent.

But the introduction of multi-partyism did not prevent the leadership succession from developing into an acute crisis on the continent.

With military coups being widely discredited, gaining and clinging to power now took the form of civilian dictatorship, that is, self-entrenched autocratic rule via different forms of intimidation, election rigging and many other forms of undemocratic cheatings.

These dishonest methods of leadership succession often led to violent conflicts. African autocrats did not hesitate to tamper with their national constitutions to prolong their stay in power.

Among the recent cases of succession-driven crises in Africa are those of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Togo, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Thousands of lives have been lost due to the destructive nature of these conflicts.

Another aspect of the leadership succession crises in Africa is that of African heads of state stepping down from the presidential office but manoeuvring to desperately cling onto a certain measure of power by remaining leaders of their political parties.

The most recent examples are those of Namibia and Malawi.

In the case of Namibia, the constitution had to be amended to accommodate a third term for the former president, Sam Nujoma, only.

In Malawi, Nigeria and Zambia, similar attempts were made to amend the constitutions, but these were thwarted by a coalition of forces made up of opposition political parties, civil society organisations, and even sections within the ruling parties.

The ambitions of Bakili Muluzi, Olusegun Obasanjo and Frederick Chiluba, in their attempts to amend the constitutions of their respective countries in order to extend their terms of office, were shameful because all these men came to power masquerading as born-again democrats.

In Zimbabwe and Uganda, opposition parties and civil society organisations failed to stop the incumbent presidents Robert Mugabe and Yoweri Museveni from amending their constitutions in order to extend their terms of office.

Hence these two autocrats succeeded to extend their stay in power.

And this why the crisis of leadership succession is continuing to brew in those two countries.

The succession issue engendered a constitutional crisis in Ivory Coast resulting in a military coup, electoral fraud, civil unrest and subsequent division of the country into the south and the north.

In Togo, a succession crisis ensued in 2005 following the death of that country's former military strongman, Gnassingbe Eyadema, and the military installation of his son, Faure Gnassingbe.

Because of the ongoing crisis of leadership succession, Africa has just witnessed carnage in Kenya.

Now we are seeing the inexorable deepening of a similar crisis in Zimbabwe.

In all these instances, countries did not only lose lives and property, but the process of democratisation has also been rolled back.

Development and socio-economic progress took the back burner to the self-serving, blind and egotistical ambitions of some of these leaders.

As a consequence, Africa lost decades of opportunity to overcome poverty and its current global marginalisation.

This happened as Asia and other developing regions were making quantum leaps in their economic growth and development.

In the light of these crises, African leaders must adopt a paradigm shift regarding their style of governance in the continent.

They must resolutely strive to oppose those who seek to cling to power through electoral rigging and attempts to change constitutions to suit their greed for political control and self-enrichment.

Africa must adhere to constitutional governments, respect for human rights, and respect for the rule of law, inclusiveness and freedom of expression and association.

This is what ideologically distinguishes the position of the Rally for Democracy and Progress from that of those who advocate the reactionary and archaic notions of "guided democracy" and no regime change.

Africans must shame and reject the autocratic style of leadership in order realise a bright and just future for our continent.

This is our unfailing duty and historic responsibility.

Hidipo Hamutenya is a former MP and the leader of the RDP.

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