LEADERSHIP of African countries has always been fluid, but I’ve noticed a lot of movement just lately. As I started to collect these for you, further resignations elsewhere in the world are surprising us…this list changed in the few days since I originally started on this post.
Angola’s president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, will step down in 2017 after having ruled for 37 years during which time he exerted total authority. His designated successor will be Joao Lourenco. There are no direct elections in Angola. The head of the ruling party becomes president. Relinquishing power is so unusual in an African country that everyone was stunned.
The Gambia is a small English-speaking enclave in Senegal, a much bigger French-speaking nation which surrounds it on two sides. It does not normally attract anybody’s attention. Now its president Yahya Jammeh is making news too. After having ruled for 22 years, he was defeated in the December 2016 elections by Adama Barrow. He conceded defeat and agreed to hand over power. Well, say you, that is normal isn’t it? Not in Africa, it isn’t. To understand how unusual these two occurrences are, one has only to remember the regular-as-clockwork protests, chaos, riots which normally accompany many African countries’ elections.
Late breaking: Jammeh recanted his acceptance, does not accept defeat and said he would call for new elections.
BURUNDI, RWANDA, ZIMBABWE
Some African rulers have managed to stay in power for more than 35 years. In Burundi Pierre Nkurrunziza sparked a revolt and mass protests that killed more than 240 people while clinging to power. Paul Kagame of Rwanda was trying to do away with Presidential term limits as did Yoweri Musaveri in Uganda. Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, 92 ,is clinging to his seat with such determination that not even a tornado could dislodge him. All these rulers know that their position gives them power, prestige, influence and a means to milk their respective countries for personal enrichment. Out of power you are nobody.
In Ghana opposition leader Akofo Addo won the 2016 election and outgoing president John Mahama congratulated him and said: I respect the will of the Ghanean people.
IVORY COAST, GABON
The French Government under Francois Hollande has had to intervene several times in the affairs of its ex-colonies when violent disturbances followed elections. In the Ivory Coast in 2011 the outgoing president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to hand over power to his elected successor. In Gabon, in 2016 the French succeeded in forcing Ali Bongo to agree to the results of another contested election.
The final surprise comes from President Hollande himself. In December he announced that he would not be running for a second term. This is the first time during the Fifth Republic (which started after the war with General de Gaulle) that an incumbent President has chosen to forego his second term. Having come to power on a leftist platform of labor reform, he quickly angered everyone by pushing for harsh reforms that would deprive Frenchmen of their entitlements. Massive street protests followed. Somehow he managed to anger both the left and the right. After Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor who was known for his flamboyant style, Hollande dubbed himself Mr. Normal.
He did have some successes in Africa and he did pass legislation that promoted marriage for all, but to many Frenchmen these were marginal issues. The main issue was the state of the economy and that was not good. Taxes and joblessness rose. Unemployment is currently at 10%. Napoleon had said that an army marches on its stomach; voters too march on their stomachs. What matters to them are bread and butter issues and they felt they were worse off under Hollande. In addition, terrorist attacks had killed more than 230 people in the last two years and people were angered by immigration and Islamic jihadism.
Add to that Hollande’s bland persona and messy private life involving his ex-wife Segolene Royal, his lady friend, journalist Valerie Treveiler, and his other lady friend, actress Julie Gayet, and it all combined to drag down his popularity. His approval rate plummeted to 4%. (Some even say 1%.)
Realizing that he was headed for certain defeat if he ran again and not wanting to drag down his party with him, he removed himself from the race. He had finally made a popular choice. In sum one might say: Nothing in his presidency became him like his leaving of it.
Since the above was written, two more Prime Ministers have, suddenly, called it quits.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned on December 4th after voters rejected his suggested Constitutional Changes.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key shocked his country when he announced he would step down on December 12th. A popular three-term Prime Minister, he was considered a shoo-in for a fourth term. He said he was resigning to spend more time with his family.