Africa waves some leaders goodbye but is the democratic deficit any narrower?


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At a time when Africa has seen a few long-standing leaders exit, the issue of change in power is occupying minds of citizens as well as those in leadership positions.

In spite of their varied repertoire of tactics to remain in power, no one is immune to the wave of change in leadership that has led many African presidents to lose their coveted top job.

Whether through elections, succession battles, coups or end of terms in office it has become a question of when and how they will exit. That’s if one is not too concerned with what comes afterwards.

Though it is too early to tell whether meaningful changes can be expected, cases such as Zimbabwe suggest that its citizens can envisage more of the same.

Nevertheless, a review of developments in 2017 shows that it was a fruitful year for those advocating change.

Examples include the Gambia where Adama Barrow came in as a promising new leader. Angola’s Joao Manuel Lourenço rose to power and immediately replaced some top public servants, raising hopes that he might champion good governance, although there hasn’t been an overhaul of the system.

In any case, the arrival of a ‘new’ leader in power always brings optimism for change and constitutes an opportunity for new beginnings.

In the Gambia Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jammeh decided to hang onto power following his electoral defeat to Adama Barrow.

A nuisance to his Senegalese neighbour and an embarrassment to his peers in the subregional body, he was eventually pushed out by the Economic Community of West African States, ending his 22-year rule. He has since been in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

After nearly four decades in power Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos did not seek reelection. But his ruling Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) retained power after winning the August presidential election. Dos Santos was succeeded by Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenço, his former Minister of Defense.

Zimbabwe provided the finale to an eventful year when, in a battle for succession, Robert Mugabe was forced out by a faction of his ZANU-PF with the help the Zimbabwean Defense Forces.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, his long-time ally, and vice-president, took over the country. Mnangagwa has announced that elections this year will be ‘free and fair’. He is expected to retain power and his ZANU-PF to keep control of the national assembly.

Rwanda, Kenya and Liberia all presented tales of different presidential fortunes.

After the December 2015 constitutional amendment allowing Paul Kagame to run for a third term and potentially remain in power until 2034, he was, without a surprise, reelected in august 2017 with almost 99 % of the votes.

Kagame, touted by many as the providential leader who has stabilised and redressed a country emerging from genocide, is also criticised for muzzling all forms of opposition and restricting civil liberties.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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