Africa’s Living Dictators and the Battle for Survival

Apart from the fight over natural resources defined in geopolitical terms, ethnic cleavages, colonial memories,

leadership appears to have taken center stage with regard to the continent’s poor performance in both political and economic sectors.

To say the least, it is normal that out of the world’s first twenty longest serving Presidents, Africa (a continent which is just half a century old) alone has ten. From the North to the South and the East to the West of the continent, there is always a president who has ruled for two and more decades and still harbors the intention of clinging to power.

This addiction to power is the most contributive factor to developmental problems in Africa and maybe the sole reason why the continent has remained backward in comparative

With the continent boasting of some of the world’s longest-serving dictators, the questions worth asking are: why do African leaders cling to power? What is the motivation for this attitude? How does this affect the economic and political development of the continent? Does this have an impact on how Africans respond to politics and above all what is it that makes African Presidents think of continuous ruling once they rise to power?

A casual survey of this phenomenon by Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban (2017) shows that “while in some African countries, democratic transitions are expected every now and then; in other places it has more to do with maintaining the status quo with some leaders who have ruled for over three decades motivated enough to carry on”

Beside Africa’s longest-serving president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea who has been in power since 1979 are Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe since 1980, Paul Biya of Cameroon since 1982, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo since 1979 with a five years break from 1992 to 1997, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda since 1986, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan since 1989, Idris Derby of Chad since 1990, Asias Afwerki of Eritrea since 1993, in that order.

Unfortunately few who happened to have been challenged by the people’s resolve under the guidance of the opposition to push for political reforms in their countries are Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Yahya Jammeh of Gambia who failed to change the constitutions to allow them run for additional terms after their mandates had expired in 2014 and 2017 respectively.

A closer look at the case of Cameroon reveals that before Biya became president, he served as Prime Minister under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. He took over after the resignation of Ahidjo in November 1982. One of the characteristics that run through the veins of the other dictators just like Biya is the appetite to continue ruling.

In 2014, Khanyo Olwethu Mjamba argued that Africans have come to love some of these dictators for their “bravery, commitment to their people and altruism. The national development and patriotism which characterizes their rule do wonders only for the countries they lead”, he added. While there is no denial that Mjamba’s assertion carries some weight, his argument can equally be discredited by facts of how these countries invest more on the military than the economy.

According to the CIA World Factbook last updated on 27 September 2017, the real growth of these countries staggers below 5% while military expenditure of some of the countries went up as far as 7.17% of GDP as at 2016. With Uganda topping the chat with a real growth rate of 4.7%, Cameroon comes second with 4.4%, Eritrea with 3.7%, Sudan with 3.1%, Republic of Congo with -2.7%, Zimbabwe with 0.5%, Chad with _6.4% Equatorial Guinea with -10%.

Congo spends 7.17% of GDP on the military, Chad 2.79%, Zimbabwe 2.3%, Cameroon 1.6% and Equatorial Guinea 0.18%. The statistics clearly indicate that whereas the real growth rate of these countries has been changing for the worst, the countries continue to invest heavily in the military with some go to the extent of borrowing for that purpose.

Therefore, it can be argued that the leaders of these countries have been more concerned about staying in power than revitalizing their economies as reflected in military expenditure. The high handed rule reminiscent of Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Mussolini’s Italy has transformed what could have been referred to as democracies in these countries into a system where power is only consolidated.

The start of the 21st century, however, has come with a new generation of young, vibrant, resolute Africans who have become politically conscious and are determined to do away with these octogenarian regimes. In various ways, the virus has been following them from Burkina Faso in 2014, Gambia early this year and Cameroon/Togo now. The question as to who is going to survive this unprecedented trend amongst the remaining African dictators is still unanswered.

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