Yesterday my friend Vincent told me that Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down as Egypt’s leader, after many, many years of non-democratic rule. As we pondered this momentous change (Mubarak has been the head of state in Egypt for as long as I have been alive), we started thinking about other African leaders who maybe are past their expiration date. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe was the first name that came to mind. We also considered Yahya Jammeh in the Gambia, Idriss Deby in Chad, Paul Biya in Cameroon, and of course our old friend Col. Gaddafi in Libya. Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who was accused by the ICC with crimes against humanity and genocide, probably bought himself a few more years by allowing for a vote on secession and assuming the debt of the new Southern Sudanese nation. In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni is playing a delicate game of balancing one-party politics and international financial institutions preaching institutional reform. Morocco is still under the rule of a monarchy, although the current rule of His Majesty Muhammad VI does not even begin to approach the ironhanded rule of his father, Hassan II. There are even signs of a fledgling quasi-democratic state in Morocco.
Even in states with stable governments that hold elections, such as Abdoulaye Wade’s Senegal, there remain questions on just how democratic they are. However, it is interesting to look at the map of Africa and see the names that are no longer there. Omar Bongo of Gabon died in 2009, Lansana Conté of Guinea in 2008. Julius Nyere (“Mwalimu”) is gone, along with his grand plans for a socialized powerhouse in Tanzania. Bokassa, the outsized self-styled “Emperor” of Central African Republic, is long gone, although he is certainly among the most savagely colorful dictators the continent has ever known. In Angola, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was assassinated in 2002, effectively ending a Cold War chapter of civil war between the UNITA rebels and the MPLA government in Luanda.
The old leopard himself, Mobutu Sese Seko, was deposed in 1997 and died ignominiously in exile some months later. Mobutu came to power in 1961, backed by American, French, and Belgian allies seeking to prevent the huge territory from becoming a base of Soviet influence in Central Africa. Mobutu declared himself to be the “King of Zaire”, using state resources and foreign assistance to finance a lavish lifestyle. He also famously told his underpaid military to “live off the land”; in other words, use their guns to take what they wanted from the civilian population. It seems that this sentiment lives on in the Congolese military of today. When Mobutu abdicated his “throne”, his Western allies had turned their backs on him, since the Cold War had ended and they were embarrassed to be associated with this “dinosaur”. Here was the man who spent millions on plush residences throughout Zaire and Europe, who practically swam in pink champagne every day, and who had welcomed genocidaires into his country and played a tug-of-war with the world over the fate of refugees in his territory after the Rwandan genocide.
Some observers are curious if Joseph Kabila will end up as “Mobutu-Lite”. Kabila fils is no dinosaur; he says what the international community wants to hear, at least paying lip service to the ideas of democracy, development, and progress. He has promised the cinq chantiers, five areas of development and security that his government will work towards. Here in Uvira, the reaction to seeing a bulldozer stuck in the mud or a truck tipped over because of crumbling asphalt is usually a sneer followed by a reference to the cinq chantiers. What will Joseph Kabila Kabange’s legacy be?
Changes are happening all around us here in Africa, and these are just a few musings between myself and some friends. Supposedly, Bouteflicka’s Algeria is showing signs of being next in line for reform and/or revolution. I wonder what will happen next.
Posted By WALTER JAMES
Posted Feb 13th, 2011