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Are presidents' sons 'taking over' Africa?

Staff Writer
"It is strange-but true, for truth is always strange; stranger than fiction", so wrote the 18th century English poet and scholar, Lord Byron in the poem, Don Juan.

Don Juan, in its literal context, means a man who succeeds a [pretty] woman, including going to bed with her irrespective of his [man's] looks.

Which is why it is no longer strange but true that some ex-African presidents' sons are already presidents .And some sitting African presidents' sons are warming up to succeed their fathers; irrespective of neither their leadership qualities nor their respective citizens' wishes - completely, in some cases, disregarding and disrespecting  the principle of  universal adult suffrage.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's Major General Joseph Kabila set the 21st Century precedent. It was on January 16, 2001 when Laurent Desire Kabila, Joseph's father, was assassinated by his bodyguard. The military leadership there then only saw it 'wise' to replace Kabila Snr with his son who, to date, is the president of that war-plagued, poverty-stricken yet natural resources-rich and Africa's second largest country; only after Sudan. The then 29-year-old Gen Joseph Kabila was inaugurated president and commander of the armed forces on January 26, 2001.

Indeed, strange but true: Faure Gnassingbe is the presiding president of the Republic of Togo. Faure happens to be the immediate successor to his father who died president on February 5, 2005, having ruled that West African country - with the full support of the army - since 1967. Faure started by forming a transitional government. With many opposition supporters seeing his rule as an extension of his father's - Gnassingbe Eyadema - nearly four decades of state power domination, Faure's highly disputed victory in the April 24, 2005 elections, international news agencies reported at the time,  sparked violent protests by the opposition who claimed the vote was rigged and firm repression by the security forces.

The final results gave Faure well over 60 percent of the valid votes cast against 38 percent for Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, then main opposition candidate and Gulchrist Olympio's deputy. Olympio, who was barred from contesting for having been in exile since 1992, is the leader of the Main Union of Forces for Change.

Enter down Southern Africa and Botswana's Lieutenant General Ian Khama is the president. The eldest son to his father and diamond-rich Botswana's founding father, the late Sir Seretse Khama, Lt General Ian Khama ascended to the presidency on April 1, 2008. Sir Seretse Khama was the country's first president having championed demands for self-rule from the British protectorate. The British finally granted Botswana independence on September 30, 1966. With a pride in democracy and stability, Botswana has had since independence only four presidents in Sir Seretse Khama, Sir Ketumile Masire, Festus Mogae and now Lt Gen Ian Khama. Lt Gen Khama, last week, rejected calls for a third term when his 10-year tenure expires in 2018. Batswana go to the polls next year.

The incumbent 'father-to-son' power plays aside, more worrying and perhaps most controversial are the impending ones: Up-Northern Africa is one of the Magreb countries - Libya. With oil discovered in 1959, the former Italian colony granted independence in 1951 is, indeed, a 'wealthy monarchy.' This independence was reversed in 1969 when the then 27-year-old Colonel Muammar Gaddafi overthrew King Idris 1. Retaining absolute powers to the present, Col Gaddafi is the Arab world's longest-serving leader who, not surprisingly though, is said to be bent on grooming one of his sons to succeed him 'once defeated by disease or death' in his perpetual leadership of The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which, in practice, he rules unopposed.

Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi is poised to succeed his father. And with such a track record of absolutism in the 21st Century, Gaddafi wants the fast-tracking of the United States of Africa. Given Col Gaddafi's accelerated ambition for the United States of Africa, one may agree with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who told PhD graduands at Cape Coast University in Ghana, while lecturing on AU-SADC Africa and awarding PhDs, July 5, 2007: "You cannot unify the continent by decree. You can pass a resolution to unify a continent," he went on. "For example, we do not have an ideal textbook definition of a democratic system." This was in an apparent reaction to Col Gaddafi who had   criticised the African Union of being weak and reluctant to unify at the AU Summit in Ghana that same week.

Libya notwithstanding, another northern African country to handover State House from father-to-son is Egypt. Egyptians have never experienced a democratic transfer of presidential power. As Hosni Mubarak, 80, is in his 28th year of an uninterrupted presidency, many Egyptians have 'surrendered their universal adult suffrage' to Mubarak's family and ruling party, military officers and security officials to decide on his successor - and this successor is no less a person than the president's son, Gamal Mubarak. "In Egypt, we didn't choose (Anwar) Sadat, we didn't choose Mubarak, and we are not choosing the next one," 52-year-old salesman, Zakaria Nahla, in Cairo, told the Washington Post of October 11 last year. President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal Mubarak, sits at the high table of his father's National Democratic Party; which Mubarak Snr has dominated for close to 30 years now. The banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood is the largest opposition which is toothless with hands tied. A constitutional amendment banning religious political groups helped shut out the opposition from the June 2007 elections for parliament's upper house. Egypt's military has picked the country's rulers for more than half a century with Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat Anwar and Hosni Mubarak all coming from the officer corps.

However, conversations in Cairo yield a nearly unanimous assessment that the hereditary model won't work for Egypt. In contrast, Middle East political analysts argue, to Syria where hereditary presidential power transmission has already taken place, Egypt is too 'modern' a society.

Yoram Meital, a leading Israeli scholar of modern Egyptian history, in the Middle East Quarterly of spring 2001, argues that the enormous strides into modernisation under two decades of Hosni's rule "is in fact his well-earned historic legacy".

"The inherent connection between a vibrant economy and democratisation", writes the scholar, "is widely heralded today among Egyptian officials...Only continued political stability safeguards this legacy." Meital goes on: "Wishing to leave his imprint as the one who succeeded in bringing about the stabilisation of the political arena, Mubarak might hope that his potential successor will arise out of this more open political climate where worthy candidates can compete for positions of power."

To cite democratisation and 'open political climate', a disenfranchised Egyptian automatically dispels Meitel's scholarly submission, when quoted thus: "We take it as a given that it will be Gamal," 46-year-old Sayida Amin told the Washington Post, October 11, 2007. "People don't know who he [Gamal Mubarak] is. We

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only know he's the president's son, and he's imposed on us."

In East Africa, a tragedy is brewing. Unlike Nelson Mandela who sat at the peak of political Kilimanjaro, Mandela and Gen George Washington of the United States did not allow disease, death or defeat to set the terminus of their tenure in office. Uganda's president General Yoweri Museveni in July 2005 raped, scrapped and eventually deleted the constitutional clause that limited presidential tenure to two five-year terms so as to allow him stay in power as long as he wishes (and the West is quiet?). That constitutional amendment ushered him to the presidency in February 2006 but says he is still available to the electorate in February 2011. But more constipating now is his recent comments, at the graduation of his son, "sons of revolutionaries completing the tasks of their fathers." Gen Museveni's only official eldest son, Lt Col Muhoozi Kainerugaba, in June, added to his resume a diploma in military strategies having joined the Kansas-based army college of Fort Leavenworth, the US Army Command and General Staff College, in July 2007.

Before his Leavenworth graduation, Maj Muhoozi was the commander of the elite Presidential Guard Brigade in charge of his father's security. He enrolled into the army in 2001 after a cadet course at Britain's Sandhurst Military Academy and the rank of major was bestowed upon him by 'another revolutionary', Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi. That was January 2001 when Gaddafi had joined his friend Gen Museveni in commemorating Museveni's 15th anniversary of his military takeover of power on January 26, 1986. At the same occasion, Col Gaddafi advised Museveni that "revolutionaries" - apparently Museveni and himself - "do not hand over power voluntarily." Following his June graduation and the subsequent promotion to the commissioned officer rank of Lt Col, Muhoozi has been appointed and reassigned  by his father to command the 'Special Forces' in charge of guarding the oil fields recently discovered and ready for exploration in Uganda. So with these galloping rates of promotions, it is doubtless the 34-year-old Lt Col is being groomed for higher altitudes, including the presidency, once, when and until probably 'death does; his father apart with leadership', which is a mandate yet Museveni takes it for a career or job!  

Some people 'look but they don't see...are educated but never learned', so goes a saying. In Kenya, East and Central Africa's economic hub, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding president as at independence in 1963, Jomo Kenyatta, is being 'handpicked' by the incumbent president and 'tragedian' Mwai Kibaki, as a possible successor against the political grains of most Kenyans. Kibaki cannot see and cannot even now learn from the fact that his predecessor Daniel arap Moi fronted the same Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002 to vie for the country's top office, only to be disappointed. Then Moi's - and now Kibaki's - heir apparent, Uhuru  is on most Kenyans' lips but leading the 'anti-political anointment' campaign list is Kibaki-Uhuru allay-turned 'rebel' Martha Karua, the sitting Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. In what has been widely reported by the Kenyan media as the Kibaki succession battle, come 2012 when Kenyans return to the ballots, and Karua openly expressing interest in being the country's first citizen, she said, early August , to The Standard newspaper: "The practice of political anointment by outgoing leaders is undemocratic, outdated and unacceptable."

Earlier in June, in an interview with the same daily, Karua assured her audience: "I am not waiting to be handpicked or pushed by anyone... It is the people who will push me." And the lawyer-turned politician went on to ask; "Does Uhuru have a post reserved for him?"
Political heredity aside, Kibaki, who is perched onto a questionable presidency,  and Uhuru; are from the same tribal community, tribalism of which was at the peak of the blame list of the chaos that followed the flawed December 27, 2007 election results.
Kibaki is reputed to have caused a civilian coup for he is believed to have 'stolen' the elections from the opposition Orange Democratic Movement's Raila Odinga, now made prime minister.

In South Western Africa, or Namibia, a political commentator, Max Hamata, in the community weekly, Informante, August 7, wrote: "It is slightly absurd for a party with socialist roots such as SWAPO [the ruling South West African People's Organisation] to propose turning Namibia into a monarchy by installing Uutoni Nujoma as a successor to the throne after his father". Uutoni Nujoma is former president Sam Nujoma's first-born son.

The Namibian on August 4 reported SWAPO inner circles saying that Sam Nujoma, the country's founding father, would like to see Trade Minister Hage Geingob take over from the incumbent president Hifikepunye Pohamba, to be succeeded by Nujoma's eldest son, Uutoni Nujoma, currently deputy Justice Minister. Nujoma Snr, who anointed Pohamba into the presidency on March 21, 2005 when he [Nujoma] retired, apparently 'now feels he made a poor choice of Pohamba', as, according to The Namibian, "indications are that the former president is opposed to Pohamba serving a second term". Nujoma only passed the SWAPO presidency to Pohamba in November last year.

The rise of Uutoni Nujoma in party ranks, reports The New African, January 2008 edition, is seen as the 'compensation' and tradeoff for his father's retirement. "Now", reports the London-based Pan African monthly, "his first-born will be allowed to carry on the Nujoma family name inside the party". The Magazine writes further; "As a 'relatively' young man [in his early 50s], Uutoni must know what is being planned for him. Maybe he will be the president in 2020".

But not everyone in Africa is and/or was persuaded by African presidents' [ex- and current] seemingly casual dismissal of the succession issue.

A leading Egyptian figure since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser, in a two-part interview with the prominent state-owned, intellectual weekly, Ruz al-Yusuf, Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal noted the prevailing uncertainty. Regarding a credible procedure for the orderly transfer of power, Haykal expressed grave apprehensions for the future stability and continuity of Egypt---emerging African 'monarchies' no exception.

"If the symbol embodying statehood had been done away with," he says, "under such circumstances and without a fixed mechanism of transition in place, then we would have found ourselves before such uncertainties that could conceivably lead to the very dissolution of the state." "Such a situation", Middle East Quarterly, of spring 2001 further quotes the first among doubters, warning, "entails more than just the disappearance of a president".

Analysts, however, console: as human beings live by hope and survive by trust; Africans can hopefully not expect the militarisation of the continent, and trustfully no return to centuries-old monarchical leadership.



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