Where are Africa’s Political Role Models?

Published on 20th April 2009

Since Abraham Lincoln became the role model for President Barack Obama, I wonder which African politician President Obama could have picked as a role model if he had run as a candidate in any African country. Currently there are about 53 presidents and prime ministers whose countries form the Africa Union. It should therefore not be difficult to find role models among such a large contingent of leaders.

Mandela with Mbeki and Zuma           Photo:Courtesy

After a careful analysis of the record of Africa’s past and current Presidents, Obama may find it difficult to settle for any of the above as almost all of them have allegedly embezzled funds meant for their poor countries, demonstrated poor leadership and insensitivity to the electorate.


Additionally, nearly all of them established one party dictatorship; killed, silenced their opponents; destroyed vital freedoms and kept their people in perpetual poverty while living extravagant lifestyles. Besides, most of them were or are military or rebel leaders who illegally seized power. Most of them have spent decades in power and are unwilling to relinquish it despite being unable to build a successful economy for their people.


Despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and grants from the IMF, the World Bank, USA, Japan, China and trillions of dollars in revenue from oil and other minerals resources, none  has been able to put their economies on the level  of the Asian Tigers’ or even the smallest economy in the European Union.


The Who is Who of Africa’s corruption ranking features the late Mobutu; Sani Abacha, Omar Bongo, Hosni Mubarak, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Eduardo Dos Santos, Obiang Nguema, Lansana Conte, Arap Moi, Gaddafi, Ibrahim Babangida, Blaise Campore, Yoweri Museveni,  Paul Biya, Jerry Rawlings, Charles Taylor, Iddriss Deby, Bakili Muluzi, Frederick Chiluba and Meles Zenawi among others. There are many whose corruption status has not yet been determined such as Joseph Kabila, Paul Kagame, Robert Mugabe, Kenneth Kaunda, Francois Bozize and Yahya Jammeh.


Ghana became the first territory south of the Sahara to gain independence in 1957. In 1966, the army ousted Nkrumah who had ushered in a one party state and was on his way to become a dictator. Nkrumah introduced the Prevention Detention Act in which his political opponents were arrested, tortured and imprisoned without trial. One coup in 1979 and a second one in 1981 brought Jerry Rawlings to power. Jerry spared no effort to annihilate his perceived opponents. In 1992, he changed his military uniform into civilian and ruled for another 8 years. Jerry Rawlings, the longest ruling tyrant in Ghana killed all the former heads of state, leaving only Dr. Limann who lived a miserable life till his death. He sowed the seed of tribal animosities between the Akans and the Ewes and unwillingly handed over power to the opposition when his National Democratic Congress party lost the elections to the New Patriotic Party


Gabon’s Omar Bongo has ruled the oil rich but impoverished nation for 42 years. He is one of the wealthiest and most corrupt rulers in the world. He was implicated in the trial of the disgraced former Elf Aquitaine executives for accepting bribes to the tune of $40m annually in exchange for oil concessions and was sued by Transparency International for stealing Gabon’s resources.


Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki faced a re-election battle and has been accused of not doing enough to fight corruption which cost Kenya at least $1b a year. Guinea’s Lansana Conte was accused of pocketing 70% of all revenues that came from the sale of bauxite in Guinea. After his death, army officers led by Capt. Moussa Camara have also seized power and there is little sign that the poverty stricken country will ever taste democracy.


Equatorial Guinea’s Francisco Obiang Nguema has presided over a corrupt and despotic regime, curtailed rights and freedoms of his people; silenced opposing views and dealt mercilessly with the media. Many of his country's 600,000 inhabitants live in poverty despite billions of dollars of revenue from oil. He was sued by Transparency International over allegations of corruption and embezzlement.


Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 23 years. His government is very popular in promoting nepotism. Museveni is president; his wife Janet First Lady, MP and a Minister; his son Major Muhoozi Kainerugaba an army commander of his elite group and possible successor. Museveni’s younger brother, Caleb Akandwanaho, is senior presidential advisor on defence. His daughter Natasha Karugire is private secretary to the president. He has resisted calls to introduce democratic reforms in Uganda.


In Zambia, a High Court in Britain ruled in 2007 that Frederick Chiluba, Kenneth Kaunda’s successor, conspired to rob Zambia of $46m. The elections that brought Rupiah Banda, the current president into power were decried by the opposition as unfree and unfair. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma who is likely to become President, is embroiled in corruption allegations and although a rape case against him was dismissed by the court, his reputation has been badly damaged. Blaise Campore has ruled Burkina Faso as his personal fiefdom for the 22 years he has been in power. Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika won his third term after using the rubber stamp parliament to change the constitution of the state.


However, Africa has some few shining examples. Botswana, Africa’s most successful economy is also the continent’s only true democratic country where multi-party democracy has been in place since independence in 1966. It is the least corrupt country in Africa and has a good human rights record. It is the only country in the continent where the leaders have used revenue from the natural resources mostly diamond to benefit the people. It is the world's largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation. The current president Seretse Khama Ian Khama came to power in 2008.


Namibia has joined the community of democratic nations after Sam Nujoma handed over power to his chosen nominee Hifikepunye Pohamba, after three terms as president. Like Botswana, Namibia’s leadership are using revenue from diamond to improve the wellbeing of the people. In Benin, an independent candidate won the presidency while in Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf, became the first woman president in Africa’s history.


Nelson Mandela is the only ex-president to have willingly stepped down as president after just one term in office. He is a Nobel Peace Laureate, a statesman, a freedom fighter and a hero not only in South Africa but also around the world. Another respected personality in Africa is Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu who is also a Nobel Peace Laureate, a Statesman, peace activist and powerful anti apartheid campaigner.


The last of the possible role models is Kofi Annan, a former UN Secretary General who has recently being playing a leading role as a peace mediator and a critique of political corruption and anti-democratic governance in Africa. Since Tutu and Annan are not politicians and therefore are out of the political equation, Obama will have no choice but to scream with the question, “Where are Africa’s political role models?”


By Lord Aikins Adusei


Political Activist and Anti-Corruption Campaigner

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