African sit-tight leaders jittery, as jackboot rule returns

Adebayo Obajemu

African dictators and long time autocrats have nothing but nightmares to celebrate, as more of their ranks have been overthrown. In the past five years there have been nine successful coups against these long distance running autocrats.

The latest of such military takeovers took place last week in Gabon, an oil- rich nation, in which majority of the population live below poverty, while a few elite bask in affluence.

The autocrat deposed by the military led by General Brice Nguema, is Ali Bongo, who succeeded his father Omar Bongo Ondimba in 2009 after his death. The elder Bongo came to power in 1967 and ruled for 42 years, and together with his son, the Bongo dynasty had presided over Gabon with an iron fist for 56 years, until the son was sent packing last week by Nguema, said to be his cousin.

Before Bongo’s ouster, there had been a coup in Niger recently, and in the last five years we have witnessed military takeovers in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, and Zimbabwe. The spiral of military rule has threatened the stability of sub Saharan Africa, already destabilized by insurgency, ISIS, Boko Haram, hunger, poor governance and poverty.

Countries with long standing leaders are already exhibiting signs of restlessness and fear. In Central Africa, especially in Congo Brazzaville, the iron fist rule of Sassou Nguesso, who seized power in 1979 has continued unabated. He left power briefly in the 90s only to return. Given the wind of military rule blowing, his days may be numbered. Nguesso, 79, has served as president of the Republic of the Congo since 1997.

He served a previous term as military president from 1979 to 1992. During his first period as president, he headed the Congolese Party of Labour (PCT) for 12 years. He introduced multiparty politics in 1990, but was stripped of executive powers by the 1991 National Conference, remaining in office as a ceremonial head of state. He stood as a candidate in the 1992 presidential election but placed third.

Nguesso was an opposition leader for five years before returning to power during the Second Republic of the Congo Civil War, in which his rebel forces ousted President Pascal Lissouba. Following a transitional period, he won the 2002 presidential election, which involved low opposition participation. He was re-elected in the 2009 presidential election.

The introduction of a new constitution, passed by referendum in 2015 amidst calls for boycott then a dismissal of results by opposition leaders, enabled Nguesso to stand for another term. He was re-elected in the 2016 presidential election with a majority in the first round.

Across in Rwanda, Paul Kagame has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2000. He previously served as a commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel armed force, which invaded Rwanda in 1990. The RPF was one of the parties of the conflict during the Rwandan Civil War and the armed force that ended the Rwandan genocide.

He was considered Rwanda’s de facto leader, when he served as Vice President and Minister of Defence under President Pasteur Bizimungu from 1994 to 2000 after which the vice-presidential post was abolished.

During his vice presidency, Kagame controlled the national army and was responsible for maintaining the government’s power, while other officials began rebuilding the country. Many RPF soldiers carried out retribution killings. Kagame said he did not support these killings but failed to stop them.

Hutu refugee camps formed in Zaire and other countries and the RPF attacked the camps in 1996, but insurgents continued to attack Rwanda. As part of the invasion, Kagame sponsored two rebel wars in Zaire. Rwandan-and Ugandan-backed rebels won the first war (1996–97), installing Laurent-Désiré Kabila as president in place of dictator Mobutu and returning Zaire to its former pre-Mobutu name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Bizimungu resigned in 2000, most likely having been forced to do so, following a falling out with the RPF. He was replaced by Kagame. Bizimungu was later imprisoned for corruption and inciting ethnic violence, charges that human rights groups described as politically motivated.

Kagame’s rule is considered authoritarian, and human rights groups accuse him of political repression. Overall, opinion on the regime by foreign observers is mixed, and as president, Kagame has prioritized national development, launching programmes, which have led to development on key indicators including healthcare, education and economic growth.

Following development in Gabon, last week, Kagame now jittery retired more than 12 generals and dozens of soldiers apparently to forestall a coup.

In Cameroon, the long time dictator, Paul Biya, who has served as President since 1982 following the death of Ahmadu Ahijo, the former president has presided over repression of his people, in his long rule, many opposition figures have disappeared, many in exile, and poverty is rampant. Previously, he had been vice president to Ahijo since 1974. Last week, the 96 -years old dictator made some changes to the army high command to ward off coup.

In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, the former rebel leader, has been in power since 1986 and has ruled the country with unprecedented repression, while majority of the people live in abject poverty. The ongoing spiral of return of jackboots may be a threat to his regime.

In Cote’ de voire, Alassane Quattara, a former banker with International Monetary Fund( IMF) and also former prime minister under former president and founding father, Felix Houpheout Boigny, was elected president in 2010. He won second reelection for a period of five years in 2015. In 2020, he manipulated the Constitution for a third term, clinging to power, while repressing the opposition. Many analysts believe that with the wind of military rule blowing across, he may not be long in power before the jackboots boys come knocking at his door.

Professor Usman Yusuf Alkali, an historian told Business Hallmark that ” the bell tolls for Africa’s long time dictator, Gabon was totally unexpected even when the Niger issue was yet to be resolved.”

In his own reaction, Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist said “what led to the return of military is what should be of concern. Poor governance, poverty, mismanagement of resources by politicians and corruption feed into the ambitions of military adventurers. Until African politicians do a soul searching, we will continue in this ruinous path.”

Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Professor of Political Science said “Now all attention is on Cameroon, where, once again, it is clear that 90-year old Paul Biya is too old, weak and sick to govern. Immediately after the Gabon coup, significant changes were made to the military command structure in the country.

“With the grand return of military takeovers in Africa, France might very well be engaged in cosmetic changes to its most beloved colonies that are rapidly falling out of its control. The shock of the coup in Niger was massive for France. Its lackey regime lost power in a country where the optics looked good with elections, power alternation, and the improved combat against violent extremism, but yet a coup to throw out France occurred. What does the future hold for President Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire, and the rest of them?

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