Photo: People demonstrating their support for Ugandan President and the removal of the presidential age limit, in September (Associated Press, via Washington Post)

Published on 01/12/2017

As the world is watching developments in Zimbabwe, attention has also turned to other longtime rulers on the African continent. Martina Schwikowski for Deutsche Welle thought about the question which has now been raised “Will Africa’s autocrats stay in power?”, while Rodney Muhumuza’s article for the Associated Press titled “After Mugabe, Africa’s other longtime leaders feel a chill.”

The latter could have already been shown by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986. Seemingly startled “by the sight of Zimbabwe’s military takeover that ended the rule of the 93-year-old Mugabe” (Muhumuza), he initiated promotions and a raise of salary for Uganda’s military and officials. “As in Zimbabwe, the military is seen as the most powerful institution in Uganda” wrote Muhumuza further, and quoted a Ugandan academic at the University of Toronto saying that Museveni is aware of the support of the army he needs to stay in power. The 73-year-old Ugandan President is currently hoping for the passing of a bill which lawmakers are working on to remove the age limit of 75 set by the constitution to be able to stay in power.

Other examples of African leaders who have been in power for more than three decades can be found in Cameroon with Paul Biya, Equatorial Guinea with Teodoro Obiang and in Republic of Congo with Denis Sassou Nguesso. Especially Cameroon could be “a powder keg that may very well explode” especially if more were to join the current main opposition party, although unlike Mugabe, Biya “has a firm hold on the military”, said a political scientist at the University of Yaounde, wrote Schwikowski.

Muhumuza expressed that like the large demonstrations in Zimbabwe urging for Mugabe to step down, “leaders across Africa risk being swept from power with support from a popular uprising, especially one angry over economic stagnation or decline.” Meanwhile, Schwikowski wrote in her article: “No Arab Spring for Africa”, warning not to “generaliz[e] the coup in Zimbabwe or drawing premature conclusions” after talking to Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a senior research consultant at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.  As our in-depth analysis With Mugabe down, the real struggle for New Zimbabwe has just begun! showed, we certainly agree with the latter point of not drawing conclusions too early. And another statement by Louw-Vaudran, saying that “’nothing happened’”, after a coup in Burkina Faso in 2014, which led former President Blaise Compaore to flee after 27 years in power, also underlines an important aspect: having a change in leadership and power does not necessarily mean positive change for the people. This has certainly been a lesson in Egypt in 2011, as already mentioned in our aforementioned analysis: “Eventually, the bad guy was kicked out, only to pave the way for another strongman in the making and people started being suppressed again as soon as they left the streets.”

According to Schwikowski’s article, Louw-Vaudran also suggested not to make too many comparisons, referring to diverging underlying situations in different countries such as Equatorial Guinea or the Republic of the Congo. However, even though the analyst is right about considering each and every case individually, we think it is still valuable to learn from good and bad examples elsewhere. Talking about the countries taken as an example in both articles in more general terms, this could mean to not only think about ‘removing the bad guy’, pushing for a change in personnel, but more importantly, to think about how to trigger meaningful, positive and sustainable transitions for lasting change. Hopefully, political opposition, civil society and other actors involved will keep this in mind when thinking about their ‘Vision of Tomorrow’, strategies and tactics.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s newly installed President Emmerson Mnangagwa presented his cabinet on Thursday. Where many had hoped and pushed for an inclusive transformative body of some kind towards the next general elections, the cabinent was received with disappointment, as largely the same people that caused the Zimbabwean crisis have been recycled. The announcement caused many to argue that Mnangagwa’s main concern seems to have been “rewarding those who brought him to power and Zanu-PF unity.”

Read more about other examples and the fate of longstanding rulers in African states here and here.