Six African leaders met in Cairo, Egypt at the behest of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and current African Union President to discuss the political situation in Sudan, and a sideshow in Libya, where fighting over the control of Tripoli has erupted.
The emergency AU Troika Summit on Sudan and Libya held on Tuesday April 23, 2019, received Chadian President Idriss Deby, Rwanda’s head of state Paul Kagame, Congo’s Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa as well as Dijbouti’s leader, Ismail Omar Guelleh.
Protesters in Sudan have for the last four months taken to the streets demanding regime change. The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), who emerged as leaders of the campaign against tyrant Omar al Bashir, have rejected the military transition council’s proposal for a suspension of the Sudan’s constitution and a two-year transition period headed by the military. The SPA however, prefers the military to be included in a transition council as members along civilians with elections to be held after the transitional period.
Well, as the leaders and officials wring their hands in Cairo, struggling to find a solution for the standoff, in a colossal waste of time and energy, far away in the peripheries of Makgadikgadi Pans sits Seretse Khama Ian Khama. And he can with confidence say “I told you so”. The April 11, 2019 ouster of Omar al Bashir by Sudan’s Defence Minister Ahmed Awad ibn Auf is yet another event in world history to vindicate the General.
In June 2015 Botswana, already seen as a pariah in many fronts, risked further isolation by calling on the African Union (AU) to assist the international community in seeking justice for victims of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region. This followed a North Gauteng Court ordering al Bashir’s arrest when attending an AU summit in South Africa. The then SADC Chair and President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe stunned the international community with claims that Jacob Zuma had given the AU assurances that al Bashir would not be arrested.
Botswana and Malawi have consistently opposed a campaign by African despots to abandon The Hague based ICC. As signatories to the Rome Statute which created the ICC, a Khama led Botswana lent support to the strong civic activity in South Africa in an attempt to force the arrest of al Bashir. Bemoaning the AU’s soft approach and inability to haul al Bashir before the Court Khama said, ‘We, therefore, find it disappointing that President Al-Bashir avoided arrest when he cut short his visit and fled, in fear of arrest, to his country’.
Almost four years later, six leaders are locked in talks, discussing what could have been averted four years ago – or worst still a lot earlier when the ICC first issued a warrant of arrest for al Bashir in 2009 and later in 2010. But herein lies the problem – Khama’s honest utterances are deemed as ‘uncharacteristic behaviour inconsistent and taboo in African etiquette and diplomacy’. What good African leaders ought to be doing is embracing aspirations and the will of Africans.
In somewhat of an indictment of the toothless AU, one ought to look at the Troika attendees. Their records of governance pretty much spell the outcome for Sudan and Libya. In April 2010 President Guelleh threw Djibouti down the slippery slope of authoritarianism by hiding behind the people’s voice to demand a revision of presidential term limits. Abdourahman Boreh, a long-time friend of Guelleh and financial backer opposed the bid to unlimited terms limits. Within months Boreh was forced to flee the country on charges of terrosrism and corruption. Guelleh has successfully ratcheted pressure on rivals and in 2016 earned a fourth presidential term.
Chad’s President Idriss Deby, another master of nimble political footwork has been in power for more than a quarter of a century. Deby seized power in a coup in 1990. In a continuation of butchering democratic rights, Deby promised constitutional reform and term limits if he won a fifth term.
Vladimir Putin stepped down after two presidential terms in 2008. He named his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, to lead the United Russia. Putin became Prime Minister while his handpicked successor was President. However, Putin remained Russia’s most powerful leader with powers beyond the President on Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. The United Russia Party ‘nominated’ Putin in 2011 to run for president in the March 2012 elections. In March 2018 Putin won a fourth term.
China recently abolished term limits allowing President Xi Jinping the possibility of becoming president for life. Russia and China play an influential role on the African continent and events in these superpowers don’t bode well for the future.
Paul Kagame critics saw him as the only African president with the potential to attempt the Putin-Medvedev circus. Kagame has personalized state apparatus for personal aggrandizement. He has entrenched himself in a reign of terror and excessive fear among Rwandans and personalized the army and the country’s security organs. Kagame and his family have successfully taken over all significant formerly government owned business enterprises. Kagame has excessive private control over the country’s financial system and wealth. In August 2017, Kagame won by a landslide, granting him a third term and extending his 17 year rule. Rwanda’s electoral commission said Kagame had won over 98% of the vote. Kagame was not supposed to run in the 2017 elections but the consultations of August 2015 saw only 10 people amongst millions opposed to the constitutional amendment lifting term limits and see Kagame rule till 2034. Observers say Kagame’s regime is buttressed with intimidation.
The most credible of the congregants has to be South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. Africa successfully democratised in some states and ended one-partyism and personal rule in others. The AU through its various charters advocates for multi-party democracy, constitutionalism and that democratic norms and standards be institutionalised. It certainly seems that these constitutional gains are being eroded by heads of state seeking to prolong their stay in power. There also appears to be little concerted attempt by bodies such as the AU to stop the erosion of hard-fought for democratic rights.
The AU’s silence is because of its leadership. The AU’s Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which was ratified in 2012, rejects unconstitutional changes of government. But it doesn’t say anything specifically about abolishing term limits.
In earnest, many holding the leadership positions of AU and regional bodies are the same men who have amended or abandoned term limits, or come from countries that have done so. The Troika won’t be tackling Sudan’s problem. Look at the report card of the leaders. Botswana, which has been vocal on human rights violations including in Zimbabwe should be at the forefront of the Troika. When Khama boldly proposed arresting al Bashir in 2015, he risked political isolation from his peers based in his belief that this is how the AU ought to act towards the children of Africa. It wasn’t the tragedies of al Bashir that compelled him to act. Today he is vindicated – just as he was about Robert Mugabe and Shepherd Bushiri.
Leadership should still be the best motivation.