Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
By Isaac Esipisu
There are many reasons for being angry with Africa ’s strong men, whose autocratic ways have thrust some African countries back into the eye of the storm and threatened to undo the democratic gains in other parts of the continent of the past decades.
For those who made ultimate political capital from opposing strongman rule in their respective countries, it is a chilling commentary of African politics that several leaders now seek to cement their places and refusing to retire and watch the upcoming elections from the sidelines, or refusing to hand over power after losing presidential elections.
In 2012 one of the longest strong men of Africa, President Abdoulaye Wade’s country Senegal is holding its presidential elections together with other countries like Sierra Leon, Mali, Mauritania, Malagasy, and will be shortly followed by Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Yoweri Museveni and Paul Biya of Cameroon , who are among the longest-ruling leaders of the Africa , won their respective presidential elections and continue to have a stronghold on their respective countries, albeit with charges raised of serious election malpractice. Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Republic and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe will in one or two years face the electorate in an effort to further cement their authoritarian leadership.
By Isaac Esipisu
Several African leaders watching news of the death of Africa ’s longest serving leader are wondering who among them is next and how they will leave office.
Three of the ten longest serving leaders have fallen this year – Ben Ali of Tunisia ruled for 23 years, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ruled for 30 years and the longest, the Brother Leader of Libya ruled for 42 years – all gone in the last six months.
Britain’s defence secretary, Liam Fox, sounded a little scripted in Misrata at the weekend when I asked him whether NATO’s airstrikes in Muammar Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte were staying within its remit to protect civilians in Libya.
“NATO has been extraordinarily careful in target selection.”
“NATO has been very careful to minimize civilian casualties.”
“NATO has stayed within its mandate throughout.”
It’s a mantra that NATO, and the countries that have contributed to its Libyan adventure, have had to learn well. They’ve been accused of stretching the legality of the mission “to protect civilians by all necessary measures” before.
Of course Reuters has reporters on both sides of the front line, but from Tunis I have been keeping an eye on Libyan television too – partly because it has scrolling headlines in English about the latest crusader, colonial and al Qaeda atrocities which might carry some news but also, I have to admit, from a fascination with the procession of people voicing their support for the Brother Leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Since the end of international sanctions against Libya, leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam has symbolized hope in the West that a secretive, authoritarian oil and gas exporter can reform itself from within.
The sharp-suited, western-educated Islam has called for a new constitution, a freer press and an independent judiciary, music to the ears of the U.S. and of European governments all desperate to give a moral basis to their re-engagement with the oil-rich north African state.
Several hundred Africans have drowned off the coast of Libya in an attempt to escape to a better life in Europe.
The head of the United Nations refugee agency says the tragedy marks a grim start to what he calls the “smuggling season”, when the weather gets better and the perilous sea voyages pick up again after the winter.
The overthrow of Madagascar’s leader may have had nothing to do with events elsewhere in Africa, but after four violent changes of power within eight months the question is bound to arise as to whether the continent is returning to old ways.
Three years without coups between 2005 and last year had appeared to some, including foreign investors, to have indicated a fundamental change from the first turbulent decades after independence. This spate of violent overthrows could now be another reason for investors to tread more warily again, particularly as Africa feels the impact of the global financial crisis.
Despite the extremely tight security at this week’s African Union summit in Ethiopia, one brief lapse gave some journalists covering the meeting a very rare glimpse behind the scenes.
Reporters at the annual meeting in Addis Ababa are normally kept well away from the heads of state, except for the occasional carefully managed press conference, or a brief word thrown in our direction as they sweep past in the middle of a phalanx of sharp-elbowed, scowling bodyguards.
Libya’s often controversial leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has finally won the top seat at the African Union and promised to accelerate his drive for a United States of Africa, but it seems doubtful that even his presence in the rotating chairmanship will do anything to overcome the reluctance of many African nations to accelerate moves towards a federal government.
Gaddafi, a showman whose fiery, often rambling speeches, sometimes unconventional behaviour and colourful robes are always a scene stealer at international gatherings, has been pushing for a pan-regional govenrment for years. But like his previous, three-decade drive to to promote Arab unity, it has not aroused much enthusiasm in many quarters. All the AU’s 53 states have said they agree in principle but estimates for how long this will take vary from nine years to 35.
Italy settled its colonial era dispute with Libya at the weekend with $5 billion in compensation for wrongs done during colonial rule. The money will be invested in a major new highway as well as used for clearing mines and other projects. Both sides say that will allow them to make a new start.
Relations between Libya and Italy had been especially difficult and this was a very specific dispute, but Italian colonialism did not last all that long in Africa – even if there were episodes of particular nastiness while it did.