"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why African leaders should learn to let go

The political chapter opening up in Nigeria should interest every African leader. It also deserves the attention of those who have exited power. It is the signal that the African political situation is changing fast. It could also be the compass pointing out the fact that the era of ruling by proxy, long after exiting power, is fading.

The new President of Africa’s most populous nation, whose citizens constitute a fifth of the black race, is fighting tooth and nail to wriggle himself out of the shadow of his predecessor successor, Mr Olusegun Obasanjo.

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua owes the seat to Obasanjo who kicked out, and even almost jailed his Vice President, to clear the way for him. He strode to Aso Rock as Obasanjo’s chosen successor.

But in the recent weeks his actions have stirred the political arena. Last week he ordered the suspension of a multi-million dollar contract dished out by his predecessor for the setting up of 774 medical clinics across the West African state.

His spokesman said the contract was being put on hold because of the ‘illegality’ that it was financed through illegitimate deductions from civic authorities. It was as if the Government could not legitimise the ‘process’, Yar’Adua was clearly sending the message he was Mr President.

Earlier he reversed the controversial sale of two refineries to a business consortium linked to Obasanjo. Watching on the sidelines with glee are six former Nigerian Presidents. The paradox has fascinated many Nigerians. Given the experience of the last election, Kenyans too are familiar with Obasanjo’s move.

Obasanjo joins the league of African leaders who manipulated the electoral process, after failing to knock off the constitutional ceiling to their tenure, to ensure their puppet won. His name stands out among those who instead of building good legacy, strove to ‘succeed’ themselves by picking chosen successors, from the family, class or coterie of friends. They never had the intention of letting the will of the sovereign majority win. They never planned for peaceful and uneventful retirement.

The fear of course is the fact that the incumbent Presidents have so many skeletons in their closets and they live in the fear that much as they sweep them away, a few of them might be unearthed once out of office. For Obasanjo, the bigger shame is how he defiantly and corruptly disposed of state property as the sun set on his regime.

But Obasanjo is not the only one mesmerised by the urge to hold onto power outside office through tutelage and patronage. Failing to alter the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in 2001, former Zambian President Fredrick Chiluba opted for the lesser evil. He picked Mr Levy Mwanawasa, a lawyer, as his successor. Mwanawasa won and went ahead to parade Chiluba and his friends in court.

In Malawi, President Bakili Muluzi picked UN economist Mr Bingu wa Mutharika as his successor in 2004. He lived to regret, for he lost control over him when he won.

In Libya and Egypt the aging incumbents are grooming their sons to take over, probably convinced you cannot trust anyone outside the bloodline.

When Africa’s longest serving President, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo died, the mantle quickly went to his son. Across the border Yoweri Museveni is working hard to be Uganda’s President for life despite having promised in 2001 he was contesting the last term. Officially his term ends in 2011.

The club of African leaders inebriated by power is big but the continent is changing fast. The era of monastic and imperialistic tendencies is crumbling.

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