Victors in African liberation war most reluctant to give up power

By: MAGESHA NGWIRI

When Robert Gabriel Mugabe became executive president of Zimbabwe in December 1987, I had already clocked two years as a journalist.

Now I am a retired scribe, but the man is still president.

And this not counting the fact that he had been the country’s first prime minister for at least seven years before that, which means he has been in power for 35 years.

Yet the man wants to rule Zimbabwe for a little longer — he is already 91 — which will surely make him the oldest ruler in the world.

When Yoweri Kaguta Museveni abandoned the bush for the presidential mansion in Uganda in January 1986, most Ugandans and the international community had great faith in him.

Here is a man who helped topple the murderous Idi Amin and also got rid of Milton Obote whose second stab at the presidency was very violent.

REFUSED TO CEDE POWER

But since then, Museveni has refused to cede power and has ensured that no opposition leader can successfully challenge him.

Now he wants to continue in power for yet another term, and to do that he has engineered a change in the constitution, removing term limits and used extremely strong-arm tactics that have left his potential opponents writhing.

The frequent arrests and intimidation of opponents is a good pointer to his thinking — that no one can run Uganda as well as he does.

In short, even if he doesn’t say it in so many words, he would prefer to be president-for-life.

President Paul Kagame has been an inspiration to many, not just in Rwanda, but also in the larger East Africa and most of the international community for his role in ending the genocide that claimed the lives of nearly a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu in 1994.

Since that notable achievement, Kagame has also scored significant victories on the economic front, turned Rwanda into one giant IT hub, and largely united his country.

However, the insistence of his supporters for him to cling on power may eventually be his undoing.

To be fair, not all these leaders are egomaniacs who believe they are God’s gifts to their countries.

In fact, it may not be true that they are unpopular merely due to longevity.

Quite possibly, both Museveni and Kagame would win handily even if they were to display less intolerance to real or imagined opposition.

SURROUNDED BY PRAISE-SINGERS

What is worrying is that when leaders hang on to power for too long, their thinking processes atrophy and they end up surrounding themselves with praise-singers who will never tell them the truth.

And therein lies the tragedy of Africa.

Could there be a connection between victors in liberation wars waged in the bush and their reluctance to give up power?

I don’t intend to waste space on leaders like Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, for he has made his bed and will shortly lie on it, or on folks like Joseph Kabila of DRC who pretends to rule the country, a task that has proved impossible from time immemorial.

What prompted this tirade was US President Barack Obama’s homily to African leaders: “No one should be president for life,” he told them, “When a leader tries to change the rules of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife as we have seen in Burundi.”

What else can one say to that?

If there were any doubts that Kenya was a truly wealthy country, then the mind-boggling figures released by the Auditor-General two weeks ago as having been misused, misappropriated or simply stolen by county executives, should lay those doubts to rest.

STOLEN WEALTH

Unfortunately, most of the stolen wealth is concentrated in a few pockets.

And then, this week, there were reports that government ministries somehow contrived to spend more than Sh66 billion without accounting for the money.

We are, indeed a potential economic power-house, but only potential.

That is why some commentators take it with a grain of salt when told that Kenya is on the verge of economic take-off.

How on earth is this going to happen when some people have perfected the art of stealing from the public purse with such abandon?

Quite to the contrary, as the number of Kenyans at the bottom of the food chain keeps rising while those perched at the top keep scooping all the cream, this country will remain a basket-case for eons to come.