Africa’s New Pattern of Leadership Succession: the Case of Zimbabwe, South Africa and DRC

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

A new pattern of leadership succession is gradually emerging in the political governance of Africa, and therefore, further strengthening the peculiarities of democracy in Africa. Democracy in Africa is sometimes operated differently. For instance, if election is rigged in any developed country, it is always scientifically done. The United States has provided several examples. The most recent example is the ongoing investigations into the involvement of Russia in the election of Mr. Donald Trump. Rigging is digitised and decent. But in Nigeria, rigging does not follow any scientific or electronic methodology. It only responds to the law of the jungle: ballot box snatching, kidnapping of election officers, hijacking of ballot boxes, thuggery, etc.

Another peculiarity of democracy in Africa is sit-tight politics within the framework of democratic governance. An incumbent president hardly lose election, no matter the number of times elections are organised. And true, African leaders love power and hardly show any readiness to quit unless they are compelled for reasons of force majeure. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is a case in point. Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe from the time of its independence in 1980 until he was compelled to step down in 2017.

In this regard, it is useful to differentiate between two categories of sit-tight leaders in Africa: non-elected monarchical leaders and elected political leaders. Swaziland’s king, Mswati the III, has spent 29 years on the throne uninterruptedly. He cannot be succeeded unless he dies. While tradition and culture of inheritance can explain sit-tightism at the level of monarchs, the same cannot be tenable at the level of elected people and particularly in light of periodic elections that are well regulated.

Elected leaders also make efforts to review the constitution in order to prolong their stay in power. This is another major peculiarity of democracy in Africa. In this regard, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Republic of Congo (Congo Leopoldville) has stayed in power for about 30 years. José Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola has been in power for more than 33 years. President Paul Biya of Cameroon has spent not less than 31 years in power. Yet, all these leaders are yet to do their best for their countries. When will they be able to do their best for their countries? If Theodoro Obiang Nguema Mbassogo has also done more than 33 years in power and is still looking for how best to serve his country, Equatorial Guinea, then the need to seek a special understanding of the new pattern of leadership succession in Africa cannot but be a desideratum.

Political leadership succession in Africa is a resultant of many factors: election, death, coup d’état, manu militari persuasion, persuasive diplomacy which is largely predicated on negotiated mutual gains as it was the case in the exit of Charles Ghankay Taylor in Liberia and President Jammeh in The Gambia, etc. In both cases, the two leaders did nnot want to leave power. In The Gambia, the president lost election and initially accepted defeat. Later, on discovering that there were some electoral miscalculations in some voting centres, he reneged.

In the Côte d’Ivoire, there was a political lull in which neither Charles Taylor nor the opposition elements could not win the war nor the peace. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), particularly with the mediation efforts of Nigeria, Charles Taylor accepted to come to Nigeria on political asylum. He was given a befitting residence in Calabar. This paved the way for reconciliation and peacemaking in Liberia, and eventually to democratic governance in the country.
While the pressure to compel a regime change in Liberia and The Gambia came from outside of the two countries, it was more of the internal dynamics in the cases of Zimbabwe and South Africa.


Resignation of Robert Mugabe

The very case of Zimbabwe is of particular interest for two reasons. First, President Mugabe’s resignation letter is quite short: it contains only three short paragraphs. The observation of protocol was restricted to the Speaker of the Parliament, Honourable Jacob Mudenda.

In the words of President Mugabe, in terms of Section 96(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, ‘I formally tender my resignation as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe with immediate effect.’ As clearly provided in Section 96(1) referred to, ‘the President may resign his or her office by written notice to the Speaker, who must be given public notice of the resignation as soon as it is possible to do so, and, in any event within twenty-four hour.’ President Mugabe had earlier verbally informed the Speaker of his intention to resign. Verbal indication of intended resignation was not enough. It has to be in written form for it to be valid.

Section 96(2) has the same provision, but only applies to the Vice President who is required to submit his or her own resignation letter to Mr. President and not to the Speaker as required in the case of the President.

What is noteworthy about the Zimbabwean Constitution is that, it says ‘the president ‘may resign.’ This means that President Mugabe had the option of not resigning in spite of whatever pressure he might have been faced with. However, the situational reality on the ground was that he was compelled, and he had to resign and the resignation was ‘with immediate effect.’ The pressure came from the military which actually put President Mugabe under House Arrest.

The mere fact of putting an elected president, Robert Mugabe, under House Arrest necessarily breaches what can now be described as a peremptory norm of the African Union, which is that, under no circumstance shall there be a regime change by non-democratic means. Removal of President Mugabe from power is a coup d’état per excellence and by other means but it is condoned and now being celebrated.

For another reason, President Mugabe’s resignation was quite significant. President Mugabe agreed to resign, and true enough, he did resign, but in the same letter of resignation he also neutralised his resignation by restating his presidential title. Put differently, he reclaimed the title by signing his letter of resignation again in the capacity of President of Zimbabwe. The moment he declared, not only his intention to resign but actually formally resigned, he can no longer answer the title of a President, especially that his resignation took immediate effect. He should have therefore included the word, ‘former,’ at the end of his letter of resignation. If, procedurally, his resignation was still subject to the approval of another authority, the self-description as President of Zimbabwe could be tenable. In sum, by signing his letter of resignation, after clearly stating that he had formally resigned the office of the President and that the resignation took immediate effect, the resignation was de facto and not stricto sensu, de jure

In any case, this is the emergence of a new approach to change of government in Africa, which consists of pressuring the incumbent president to the extent of compelling him or her to resign from power, and failure to do so often leads to the passing of vote of no confidence and impeachment. In this regard, no elected president wants to be pushed out shamefully. The ruling party also does not want to be ashamed. Therefore, it always finds compromises and measures for soft landing for unwanted leaders. This was the case with President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and, most recently, with President Jacob G. Zuma in South Africa.

These two cases are important to the extent that they send special signals to other countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo Kinshasa) where the opposition elements are also agitating for the resignation of President Joseph Kabila who took over the reins of power, following the assassination of his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

Additionally, South African and Zimbabwean examples also have lessons for Nigeria from which to learn. Even though Nigeria’s case is not about sit-tight leaders, the message from Zimbabwe and South Africa is essentially about how to deal with the intransigence of leaders. It is the intransigence of the individual leaders, to begin with, that often lead to the hardening of position of the people and the eventual mounting of pressure on their leaders to resign.

In Nigeria, for example, it is the wind of quest for restructuring that is currently blowing from the South to the North and from the East to the West, but President Muhammadu Buhari is giving the impression that there is no big deal with the quest, that he is another Rock of Gibraltar that cannot be shaken, and that he cannot listen to the wishes of the people. This is why it is useful at this juncture to investigate further the foregoing empirical cases to determine the likely prospects of the new leadership pattern and lessons for other African countries.


Resignation of Jacob Zuma

Unlike President Mugabe’s letter of resignation, which was short, that of President Jacob Zuma was long. But like Mugabe who tried to pave the way for his wife to succeed him as President of Zimbabwe, but to no avail, Zuma would have also preferred his ex-wife to succeed him if he had the opportunity. But again, the opportunity was not there. The opportunity he had was that of expression of gratitude to all those who enabled his nomination and election as president, especially the ruling party, African National Congress (ANC). He also had the opportunity to loge complaints about his recall by the ANC, as well as to reaffirm his loyalty and commitment to the ANC in spite of his grievances.
Without doubt, his letter of resignation was more interesting than that of Robert Mugabe. First, Zuma put the media as the priority of priorities in his order of acknowledgements. He first mentioned the media before all others. Thereafter, he showered praises to his party, which he admitted made him and cannot take the bad end of the stick with the party. As he explained it, he would continue to serve the National Democratic Revolution as outlined by the ANC.

Secondly, President Zuma noted that ‘we (South Africans) tend to place the political party above the Supreme Law of the country.’ The implication of this, interpretatively, is that politics in South Africa surely has one of its pillars built on sacred cows or untouchables, or simply put, political lawlessness. This is not peculiar to South Africa alone, In Nigeria, the ruling party is the god that everyone worships. The cardinal objective is to make the god enable the election or re-election of the worshipers in the next round of elections. Emphasis is never put on how to protect the common patrimony or the national interest in all its ramifications. Emphasis is always on the party.

And perhaps more significantly, President Zuma expressed his concerns and anger about his recall. He is looking forward to know his real offences or what really informed his replacement. This concern of Zuma is unfortunate because President Zuma is on record to have been tried for various offences, though discharged and acquitted in some of them. there are not less than 900 allegations preferred against him. These allegations directly and indirectly impact on the ANC positively and negatively.

What should be noted about the grievances of Zuma concerning his recall is that he drew attention to one observation: that ‘the oppressors of yesteryears are happy to celebrate as we lynch one another.’ This observation is thought-provoking. Is it not true that Africans do lynch one another? Is South Africa not one of the terra cognita of the lynching? Is Zuma not directly telling the world that he too is being lynched by his compatriots to the joy and admiration of the oppressors of yesteryears? Whatever is the case, President Zuma did not want to quit the State House. He requested for some months to put things right before leaving but it was rejected. In fact, he initially refused to resign, but when faced with the threats of passage of vote of no confidence, and eventually impeachment, he bowed to the superior power of the people.

He claimed to be a president with charm. True, but what has charm got to do with allegations of corruption and indecency? While President Zuma was facing various allegations of incivility back home in South Africa, a Governor Okorocha in Nigeria, opted to honour him with a very costly statue in his state. Governor Okorocha did not see anything wrong with the accusations levied against Zuma back home.
The import of this is that political governance in Africa is not done on the basis of decent values. In Nigeria, and in many other parts of Africa, thieves are celebrated. The more public funds one embezzles, the more and greater the chieftaincy titles given to them.

In fact, if on the basis of my experience as a former Director General and Chief Executive of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council of the institute could descend so low to the level of aiding and abetting staff to protest against lawfulness of acts, especially in terms of professorial appointments, and if, in fact, the Council could keep quiet on cases of official falsification of promotion examinations, as well as protect various serious acts of misconduct, and the Buhari government comfortably rejoices in it, there is no way Africa can be stable or progress in the future. The reason is simple: the calibre of the membership of the Council. Big names. Big professors. Big Ambassadors. And yet, the best the Council could do is to fabricate indefensible lies under the pretext of due process that is undue. If this could happen in Nigeria, the truly heartthrob of Africa, then what does the future hold for the whole of Africa?


Lessons and Prospects

One main lesson to be learnt from compelling leaders to leave presidential office is that the arrogance of power often exhibited by elected leaders is necessarily limited by the impatience of the people. No matter how strong a leader is, and no matter for how long such a leader remains in power, no law can prevent the people from reacting against unwanted policies. And true enough, the law exists to control the impatience of people, but people respect law when it is seen to be also respected by the law enforcement agents and their principals.

A corrupt government cannot expect to have respect or succeed in any anti-corruption war. This is the issue at stake in Nigeria and in many parts of Africa. Governments do precisely what they do not want the people to do. This is why Africa is currently ridden with several development problems. This trend is much likely to be a characteristic of the near future because President Buhari has not only failed Nigeria, but ipso facto, the whole of Africa. In Africa, leaders always cover up social and criminal atrocities. President Mugabe was eased out illegally but everyone kept quiet about the manner of the removal. President Mugabe was removed for some reasons but his successor overlooked the reasons.

In South Africa, what the ANC has done was simply to provide a soft-landing for Jacob Zuma. There is nothing to suggest that he will face new charges or brought to book. Thus, Africa’s future cannot be bright in development terms. Africans pray much and want God to bless the fruits of their labour, but most unfortunately, they never ask themselves what the nature of their labour is all about: is the fruit more about wickedness or goodness?

Let us all set eyes on the Democratic Republic of Congo, which may soon also play host to manu militari pressures that can compel President Joseph Kabila to also resign or forced out of power. As shown above, the new style of regime change is about non-use of physical force but threats-driven. When people are pushed to the wall by leaders, action and reaction can no longer be equal and opposite as theorised in physics.

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