The silence of African leaders in the face of atrocities in Uganda speaks volumes, writes Chinemerem Onuorah
The controversy, violence and human rights violations that were reportedly perpetrated by the incumbent President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni against main opposition parties is a microcosm of how some African leaders react to the slightest threat to their long reign in power. Mr Museveni has just been elected as President for the sixth term in controversial circumstances but his main opposition, 38-year-old Bobi Wine is still under house arrest on the orders of the President. The young legislator who dared to challenge the status quo is still licking his wounds as state security have barricaded him and his family from the outside world. This was preceded by total shutdown of the internet amidst massive reported election rigging.
The shocking aspect however is the silence of other African leaders to the happenings in Uganda during and shortly before the election. None of them spoke out about the violence, the intimidation, or the shutdown of the internet in the country. Their silence spoke louder than anything they could have said, however. It said that they were aware and in support of the oppression, and that they were all afraid of the political revolution which could possibly sweep through the continent.
Mr Museveni is not the only African leader culpable of sit-tight syndrome. The President of Djibouti, Omar Guelleh is reportedly planning to extend his tenure to a fifth term as president. In his rule so far, all private media are banned, and so only state media exist in the country; opposition party members are often harassed and arrested; and the government has taken several steps to limit citizens’ access to social media.
Similarly, Idriss Déby who has been the President of Chad since 1990 is going to run for a sixth term come April 2021. Report by African Centre says, “Déby is one of Africa’s least constrained presidents”, because he controls other branches of government in Chad, runs the security sector, and holds a tight grip on the media. It is reported that when an opposition party tried to hold a conference in October, 2020, the police surrounded the venue, and prevented the meeting from taking place.
When he runs for President again in March 2021, Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso would be Africa’s third longest-serving leader. For the people of Congo, 37 years of Nguesso in power has meant political suppression. Opposition parties exist, but only to fulfil constitutional righteousness, as members are always often bullied into stepping down. Private media exist, but they are placed under heavy regulations and risk fining and closure, should they break any regulations.
Cameroon is not left out, as their President Paul Biya is the longest-serving non-royal leader in the world, having been in power since 1982. At 87, he is still ruling the country, and does not seem to be ready to relinquish power.
The novel practice in some part of Africa lately is the constitutional removal of term limits for running for Presidential office. This is despite the fact that most of the conventional democracies in the world have a maximum of two tenure of four years apiece.
While Nigeria may not have entirely the same case, former President Olusegun Obasanjo unsuccessfully tried to review the constitution to enable him run for third term; many Nigerian lawmakers have been in office for as long as 18 years. This is as a result of lack of tenure restriction for lawmakers. This has hindered young emerging politicians from fulfilling the dreams of representing the people thereby restricted progress in constituencies.
If African leaders see the Presidency as an opportunity to serve the country, rather than to wield and abuse power, they would not have a problem with stepping down after their tenures. Do your best, then move out of the way for someone else to come in with novel ideas. A country should have leaders who love her enough to want her progress. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “a great democracy must be progressive or it will soon cease to be a great democracy”.
While many countries in Africa suffer from corruption, underdevelopment and general bad leadership, it is worse in countries whose presidents refuse to let go of power. None of these clingy leaders hold on to power in order to fully transform their country to become the best; the corruption in these countries are usually through the roofs. Zimbabwe, for example, ranked 160 out of 180 in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index of 2016, under Robert Mugabe who was in power for 30 years.
All hope is not lost, however. The best way for Africa to do away with leaders who cling to power would be for the youths to increase their interest and participation in politics. It is better to actively run and not win, than to not run at all. The more you attempt, the better your chances of winning. In Nigeria, the NotTooYoungToRun bill already made the job easier by lowering the age limits for running for office, and movements like ReadyToRun seek to help groom and support young, aspiring candidates. The hope is that by the next batch of elections, especially that of Nigeria that comes up in 2023, there would be many more youthful candidates. When the youths see themselves as the solution to this problem, only then would Africa be truly rid of clingy leaders.
Onuorah is a Communication Assistant at Yiaga Africa