By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Not long after the news that the Zimbabwean military had put former president Robert Mugabe under house arrest, Uganda’s longtime leader, Yoweri Museveni, made changes to the leadership of his army. Coincidence? Not really. Even though there are reports of foreign support for the recent military takeover in Zimbabwe, it could not have been carried out without the support of the army chief General Constantino Chiwenga. Probably realising this, Mr Museveni decided he had better put someone “reliable” in the post. He did not stop there. Afterwards, he signalled he would be looking to raise the salaries of “soldiers, public servants, health workers and teachers…”. (See how soldiers come first.) The real question then becomes what the chances are that what happened in Zimbabwe may soon happen in Uganda, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, or Cameroon; where other longtime leaders and/or their children preside. In Togo, for instance, there are continued protests demanding President Faure Gnassingbe, who succeeded his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, resign or at least not seek another term when his current third 5-year stint expires. In Cameroon, the only major challenge to Paul Biya’s almost 35-year rule is probably something he would be able to resolve easily: Anglophones want better treatment and representation. So they are not so much challenging him as they are really just seeking a better life. And in Equatorial Guinea, where vice-president Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, another sit-tight leader, only just got prosecuted for corruption in France, there is little or no sign the ruling family would give up the reins of power anytime soon. In fact, in recent legislative and municipal elections, the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) won almost 100 percent of the vote. In Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ case, however, he had the good sense to quit while he was still ahead. Of course, his successor, Joao Lourenco, has moved swiftly to consolidate power, firing Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s powerful daughter, and replacing the police and intelligence chiefs; all barely two months into his presidency.
In determining who might be ousted amongst the remaining longtime rulers on the African continent, it would help to consider what triggered that which happened in Zimbabwe. Firstly, Mr Mugabe decided to put his wife in his place; a woman with no credentials other then she shared a bed with him. In an African context, there could not be a more infuriating development in what is still largely a patriarchal society. Incidentally, just some kilometres away, in neighbouring South Africa, embattled President Jacob Zuma desires that his ex-wife takes his place in the elective conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in December. In her case, at least, she is well-educated, has apartheid struggle credentials, and has served as minister and most recently as chair of the African Union (AU) commission; to mention a few. But for her surname, being that well-credentialled and experienced makes her fit for the job. And to have kept the name of her ex-husband suggests she is likely still fond of the wily Zulu man. Even so, Mr Zuma could probably still pull it off. But her rival for the top job, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, is leading in support at the party branches and would barring an act of God, likely become ANC president come December. Secondly, Mr Mugabe fired his major pillar of support hitherto, former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa (who is now set to become president). Thereafter, the powerful clique of army generals, war veterans and grandees in the ruling ZANU-PF party that hitherto enabled him decided they had had enough.
Sun must set
The remaining old men still lording over their people on the continent are not necessarily susceptible to Mr Mugabe’s folly. Mr Museveni perhaps shares his weakness, though. His fondness for his wife, Janet Museveni, who he appointed to the education ministry in June 2016, is well known: when a sharp-tongued female academic disparaged her, he made an example of her. Besides, he has appointed his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, whose sharp rise in the military he facilitated, as one of his special advisers. Time will tell. A potentially good thing to come out of the Mugabe debacle, though, is that these longtime and oft-insensitive African rulers might begin to be more empathetic and caring of their country men and women. Not that it would come from the bottom of their hearts. No matter. They will all soon die.