Since Abraham Lincoln became the role model for President Barack Obama, I wonder which African politician President Obama could have picked as a role model if he had run as a candidate in any African country. Currently there are about 53 presidents and prime ministers whose countries form the Africa Union. It should therefore not be difficult to find role models among such a large contingent of leaders.
A google search for possible role model candidates led to Mobutu Sese Seku, Sani Abacha, Iddi Amin Dada, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Samuel Doe of Liberia, Charles Taylor, Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa of Central Africa, Ibrahim Babangida, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Lansana Conte of Guinea, Museveni- Uganda, Milton Obote of Uganda, Bakili Muluzi, Laurent Kabila, Kwame Nkrumah, Jerry John Rawlings, Blaise Campore, Arap Moi, Hosni Mubarak, Omar Al Bashir, Gaddafi, Omar Bongo, Obiang Nguema, Sassou Nguesso, Eduardo dos Santos, Francois Bozize of Central Africa, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, Iddriss Deby of Chad, Valentine Strasser of Sierra Leone, Mwai Kibaki, Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.
After a careful examination and analysis of their record President Obama may find it difficult to settle for any of the above. The reason is that almost all of them have been accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars belonging to their poor countries. Again all of them have demonstrated poor leadership, political immaturity, are insensitive to the plight of the people and have shown no understanding of issues affecting the people including fighting poverty.
Additionally, nearly all of them established one party dictatorship; killed, imprisoned or exiled their opponents; aggressively destroyed press freedom, freedom of speech and association; banned their opponents from contesting elections; kept their people in perpetual poverty while living opulence and extravagant lifestyles.
Furthermore, virtually all of them were or are dictators who have committed human rights abuses against their countrymen including murder, torture and force imprisonment.
Besides, almost all of them were or are military or rebel leaders who illegally ceased power through the barrel of the gun and subjected their people to inhuman treatment including torture, extrajudicial killings and murder. Those who came to power through the ballot box have become anti-democrats and the International Criminal Court is seeking to put a number of them on trial for human right abuses and war crimes.
Moreover, a good number of them have spent decades in power and are unwilling to relinquish it despite their huge failures seen in the form of poverty, diseases, homelessness and wars. Example Omar Bongo of Gabon has ruled for 42 years, Gaddafi of Libya 39 years; Dos Santos and Sassou Nguesso 30 years each; Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Robert Mugabe 28 years each, Hosni Mubarak 27 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon 26 years, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda 23 years, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan 20 years, Iddriss Derby of Chad 18 years, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia 14 years.
What is more, despite years in office none has been able to build a successful economy for their people. Despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and grants from the IMF, the World Bank, USA, Japan, China and European nations; and also receiving trillions of dollars in revenue from oil, gas, gold, diamond, timber, copper, coltan not a single one of them was able or has been able to put their economies on the level equal to that of the Asia Tigers or even the smallest economy in the European Union. Out of the 53 countries making the Africa Union only one was invited to take part in the G20 Summit that ended in April 2009. Their failure to eradicate poverty has prompted questions as to whether Africans can ever build a prosperous society devoid of abject poverty, blatant official corruption, mismanagement and tyrannical rule.
The Who is Who of Africa’s corruption ranking feature Mobutu at the top. He is followed closely by Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Omar Bongo, Eyadema, Hosni Mubarak, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Eduardo Dos Santos, Obiang Nguema, Lansana Conte, Arap Moi, Gaddafi, Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria, Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso, Museveni of Uganda, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Iddriss Deby of Chad, Bakili Muluzi -Malawi, Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Jacob Zuma of South Africa. There are many whose corruption status has not yet been determined. Among them are Joseph Kabila, Paul Kagame, Robert Mugabe, Kenneth Kaunda, Francois Bozize, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia and a host of others.
Corruption, malfeasance, tyranny, mismanagement, nepotism, cronyism, human rights abuse, incompetence and media censorship run through almost all the countries in Africa.
Ghana became the first territory south of the Sahara to gain independence in 1957. In 1966 the army ousted Nkrumah who had ushered in a one party state and was on his way to become a dictator. Nkrumah introduced the Prevention Detention Act in which his political opponents were arrested, tortured and imprisoned without trial. Others were murdered and those who had the chance to flee sought asylum in foreign countries. One coup in 1979 and a second one in 1981 brought Jerry Rawlings to power who spared no effort to annihilate his perceived opponents. He ruled till 1992 when he changed his military uniform into civilian and ruled for another 8 years. Jerry Rawlings, the longest ruling tyrant in Ghana killed all the former heads of state by firing squad leaving only Dr. Limann who lived a miserable life till his death. His administration was largely corrupt and marred by nepotism. He is discredited for sowing the seed of tribal animosities in the country especially between the Akans and the Ewes. In 2000 after 19 years in power and under pressure from the West and the people, Rawlings unwillingly handed over power to an opposition government when his party the National Democratic Congress lost the elections to the New Patriotic Party. The Fourth Republican Constitution drawn up by his regime has a lot of clauses that make him unanswerable to the abuses committed during his regime.
Since independence in 1960 Gabon had known only two leaders. Leone Mba who was elected president in 1961 and ruled till his death in 1967 and was succeeded by Omar Bongo who has since ruled the oil rich but socially and economically impoverished nation for 42 years. He is widely seen as one of the wealthiest and most corrupt rulers in the world. Bongo was a subject of French police investigation that uncovered that he owned at least 33 luxury properties. In February 2009 his nine bank accounts were frozen by a French court. He was implicated in the trial of former Elf Aquitaine executives for accepting bribes to the tune of $40m annually in exchange for oil concessions. A US Senate report of 1997 accused him of spending $100m annually mainly from his Gabon coffers. A US Senate inquiry in 1999 revealed that the giant Citibank held private accounts for Bongo who transferred US$100 million, into it. French News Papers including Le Monde have uncovered about 59 properties owned by him and his family including one bought in 2007 at the cost of 18.8 million Euros. He was sued by Transparency International for stealing Gabon’s resources.
Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s leader at independence in 1963 and ruled till 1978. As usual Kenyatta’s Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) was made the only official political party which controlled Kenya for four decades. Kenyatta was replaced by Daniel Arap Moi who also ruled till 2002. Moi’s 24 year reign was a dictatorship marred by official corruption and nepotism. He was accused in a report by Kroll International of having banked £1b in foreign banks. He and his family are known to own several properties in Britain and Australia among others. He avoided prosecution for corruption in 2003. Mwai Kibaki who succeeded Moi in 2002 faced a re-election battle which was marred by violence. He has been accused of sheltering Moi and his cronies and not doing enough to fight corruption which cost Kenya at least $1b a year.
Since independence in 1958 Guinea has known only two leaders Sekou Toure who ruled from independence till his death in 1984 and Lansana Conte who seized power in a coup in the year Sekou Toure died. Conte ruled from1984 till his death in 2008. He is seen as one thee most corrupt leaders ever to have ruled an African state. He has been accused of pocketing 70% of all revenues coming from the sale of bauxite in Guinea. A dictator for a quarter of a century he can only be remembered for bringing poverty, misery, deprivation and cronyism to Guinea. After his death army officers led by Capt. Moussa Camara have also seized power and there is little sign that the poverty stricken country will ever taste democracy.
The presidency of Equatorial Guinea has been dominated by two men from the same family since independence from Spain in 1968. Mr Obiang Nguema the current president overthrew his uncle, President Francisco Nguema, in 1979, had him tried and executed. Since taking power Obiang Nguema has presided over a corrupt government. He has curtailed rights and freedoms of his people; allows no opposing views and has dealt mercilessly with the media. Human rights abuses in his fiefdom are widespread and head of the opposition is in exile. Many of the 600,000 inhabitants of his country live in poverty despite billions of dollars of revenue from oil. He and five other corrupt leaders were sued by Transparency International over allegations of corruption and embezzlement.
In Uganda after independence in 1962 and short period of democratic governance the country became a hot bed for coups and counter coups that saw Milton Obote toppled twice; Iddi Amin becoming life president; invasion by Tanzania and a civil war that brought Colonel Yoweri Museveni into power in 1986. Museveni has since ruled till today, he has been in power for 23 years. Like many of his contemporaries his government is very popular in promoting corruption, nepotism and cronyism. Museveni’s government is nothing more than an oligarchy. In Uganda Museveni is the president; his wife Janet Keinembabazi Kataha Museveni is the First Lady, MP and a Minister; his son Major Muhoozi Kainerugaba is an army commander of his elite group and a possible successor of Museveni. Museveni’s younger brother, Caleb Akandwanaho, is senior presidential advisor on defence. His daughter Natasha Karugire is private secretary to the president. He has vehemently resisted all calls to introduce democratic reforms in Uganda.
In South Africa after the brutal regime of the apartheid government came to an end, Nelson Mandela took over and successfully handed power to Mbeki after just one term in office. However, Mbeki was forced out office in September 2008 after a bitter power struggle with Zuma. Mbeki refused to embark on campaign to curb the menace of HIV/AIDS which killed several people under his watch. Crimes of all categories have increased and it seems the nation is slowly joining the rest of the continent as a poor developing country. Jacob Zuma who is likely to become President is embroiled in corruption allegations and a rape case against him was dismissed by the court. His reputation has been badly damaged by the rape and corruption charges brought against him.
In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda ruled from 1964 the year of independence till 1991 a total of 27 years. He embarked on one party rule that barred opposition parties from actively engaging in politics. Despite being a major copper producer, Zambia under Kaunda’s watch slipped from being a potential economic power house into one of the poorest countries in the world. He was accused of corruption by Chiluba’s government and spent a few time in jail. His major contribution was to the independence struggles of South Africa and Zimbabwe but he is most remembered for failing to use the huge mineral wealth to better the lot of Zambians. His successor Fredrick Chiluba is battling corruption allegations and parliament has voted to remove his immunity. A High Court in Britain ruled in 2007 that Chiluba and four of his aides conspired to rob Zambia $46m. The elections that brought Rupiah Banda, the current president into power were decried by the opposition as not free and fair.
In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere ruled as the sole leader of the country from independence in 1962 till his retirement in 1985. Under his leadership all political parties were outlawed except the Party of the Revolution which happened to be his party. His social and economic programmes (ujamaa) were a total failure he is however credited for deposing Iddi Amin. Since he left office the country has chalked a lot of successes in the field of democracy and governance and the economy is showing signs of growth. Ex-President Benjamin Mkapa who became president in 1995 successfully transferred power to Jakaya Kikwete in 2005 after 10 years as head of government.
Burkina Faso formerly Upper Volta got her independence from France in 1960. Six years later the army as it has always been were in power. A series of coups in the 1980s saw Thomas Sankara taking over power in 1983 but he too was ousted in 1987 by Blaise Campore who was a close. Campore has since ruled the country as his personal fiefdom he has been in power for 22 years. He is one of the Corrupt Five who were sued by Transparency International for having amassed wealth at the expense his poor people majority of whom live on a dollar a day in this semi-arid country.
In Tunisia, Ben Ali has changed the constitution of the country in order to run for third term in office.
In Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has won a third term after using the rubber stamp parliament to change the constitution of the state. He has been battling fundamentalists who were denied election victory in the 1990s.
In Togo, after the assassination of the country’s first elected president in 1963, Gnassingbe Eyadema took power in a bloodless coup in 1967 and ruled till his death in February, 2005 after 38 years as head of state. His son Faure Gnassingbe was quickly installed as president by the army but international outcry resulted in an election in April 2005 which the army said Faure won 66%.
In Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Chad the norm has been corruption, mismanagement, election violence, torture, dictatorship, murder, imprisonment of political opponents and the use of security forces against the people. In Africa and the rest of the world the names Mobutu Sese Seku, Sani Abacha, Omar Bongo, Denis Nguesso and Dos Santos are synonymous to blatant corruption, nepotism, cronyism, murder, incompetence and mismanagement. The word Kleptocracy was first coined to describe the nature of Mobutu’s government which was nothing but a government of thieves.
However despite the negativities there are some few shining examples. Botswana, Africa’s most successful economy is also the continent’s only true democratic country where multi-party democracy has been in place since independence in 1966. It is the least corrupt country in Africa and has a good human rights record. It is the only country in the continent where the leaders have used revenue from the natural resources mostly diamond to benefit the people. It is the world's largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation. The current president Seretse Khama Ian Khama came to power in 2008.
Gaining her independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has joined the community of democratic nations after Sam Nujoma handed over power to his chosen nominee Hifikepunye Pohamba, after three terms as president. Like Botswana the leadership of Namibia are using revenue from diamond to improve the wellbeing of the people. In Benin an independent candidate won the presidency and in Liberia Johnson Sirleaf, a woman has become president the first in history of the continent.
Nelson Mandela is the only ex-president to have willingly stepped down as president after just one term in office. He is a Nobel Peace Laureate, a statesman, a freedom fighter and a hero not only in South Africa but also around the world. He has a monument erected in his honour by the government of Britain. Another respected personality in Africa is Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu who is also a Nobel Peace Laureate, a Statesman, peace activist and powerful anti apartheid campaigner.
The last of the possible role models is Kofi Annan, a former UN Secretary General who has recently being playing a leading role as a peace mediator and a critique of political corruption and anti-democratic governance in Africa. Since Tutu and Annan are not politicians and therefore out of the political equation, Obama will have no choice but to scream with the question, “Where are Africa’s political role models?”
By Lord Aikins Adusei
Political Activist and Anti-Corruption Campaigner