Why Some African Presidents Want To Rule for Life

Fredrick Ngugi March 22, 2017
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (l) with his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni (r). Chimp Reports

Since the dawn of time, Africa has had its fair share of teething troubles, some of which have left enduring scars on the continent and its people. From colonialism to poverty, disease, hunger and never-ending civil wars, Africa has indeed come a long way.

But even as Africans endeavor to disentangle themselves from this past, they have had to contend with the question of power hungry presidents who are willing to destroy everything just to prolong their mandate.


Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, attends the 12th African Union Summit Feb. 2, 2009, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released

For example, some presidents, such as 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, believe that God has appointed them to lead and it is only Him that can remove them from power.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for more than 36 years, has vowed to rule for life.

What’s worse is the fact that the new generation of young African leaders — who were once seen as the “breath of fresh air” that the continent has craved for so long — appear to have been infected by this archaic disease of a narcissistic and domineering style of leadership.

Pierre Nkurunziza

Pierre Nkurunziza. Photo credit: Top News

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza is an example of a head of state who blatantly defied the Constitution by running for a third term in office, leading to a deadly civil war that has left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced from their homes.

President Kabila

President Kabila looks on during signature ceremonies. Photo credit: New Zimbabwe

Another perfect example is President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo who remains in office even though his mandate as president ended in December. His continued stay in power has led to nationwide protests, where dozens of people have died.

Other dysfunctional leaders include President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Idriss Deby of Chad, and more.

Power Corrupts

In 2015, former U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a scathing attack on African leaders who have overstayed their mandate, telling them that “nobody should be president for life.”

But even with Mr. Obama’s intervention, some African presidents have resorted to changing constitutions by scrapping presidential term limits.

Their Birthright

So, why are these leaders so insistent on clinging on to power despite their many years of futile reign?

The truth is many of these African leaders are addicted to power and believe it is their right to rule. This is largely because many of them — either directly or indirectly — participated in the liberation of their countries from colonialism. So they see it as their birthright.

Unfortunately, many Africans, especially the older generations, still see these leaders as heroes and God’s chosen monarchs who should rule forever. And in order to cement this belief, these leaders continue to tout the idea of “Whites versus Africans.”

It is therefore not surprising to find some African presidents appointing their own sons and daughters to important government positions in readiness for their succession.

And since most of these African presidents have often overstepped their mandate and ended up committing serious crimes against their own citizens, they are afraid of handing power over to new administrations because they fear being held accountable for their past misdeeds.

Consequently, they would rather die in office than go to jail or witness their multi-billion-dollar dynasties, which they have built off the backs of their poor populations, go down the drain.

Others have surrounded themselves with opportunists and sycophants who are ready to do anything to please their masters.

It is also fair to say that the majority of African government structures lack checks and balances, giving presidents absolute power to do as they like. Consequently, these leaders have created legal loopholes that allow them to act with impunity, sometimes even killing their own people with no one to hold them accountable.

It will take more than economic sanctions and hardline statements by the international community to persuade these African leaders to relinquish power.

Ultimately, Africans must also rise up and demand accountability and restraint from their leaders.

Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: March 22, 2017


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