Out Mugabe, or almost, now who's the next?

The coup in Zimbabwe is a watch for other African 'Presidents for Life', such as Biya in Cameroon, or dynastic heirs such as Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their survival, in addition to the military and the people, also depends on foreign powers. And China weighs more and more

Zimbabweans protest in Harare against the government of President Robert Mugabe. Photo Credits: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
Zimbabweans protest in Harare against the government of President Robert Mugabe. Photo Credits: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

While from Zimbabwe there are repeated reports indicating that Mugabe's outbreak may be slower than expected, some analysts believe that what happened last Tuesday at Harare should be a warning to many African despots, who after decades stubbornly remain to power.

Nonetheless, what is happening about this time in the former North Rhodesia has already happened in other African nations. First of all Mali, which in March 2012, on the wave of Arab anti-authoritarian revolts, was the protagonist of a military coup that suspended the Constitution and led to the dismissal of President Amadou Toumani Tourè, who for almost ten years ruled the country Sahelian.

The same thing was at the end of October 2014, Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré, who was eliminated from the political scene by a popular uprising supported by the army. While attempting to change the Constitution to run for President again after 27 years of uninterrupted power.

Lastly, on January 21, the president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, ceded to the international pressures and above all to the threat of the military of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). Jammeh left the Gambia's leadership to elected president Adama Barrow, having ruled the country with iron fist for 22 years.

However, it should be noted that the military handshake in Zimbabwe is the direct consequence of a settlement of accounts within the ruling party, the ZANU-PF, and among the autocratic elites. Therefore, as in the case of Burkina Faso, this is not a popular government-led revolt, as evidenced by the fact that the main anti-governmental body, the Movement for Democratic Change, has not tried to mobilize Zimbabwe civil society.

In power for more than three decades

After recalling the precedents, it is also possible to question who'swill be the next African despot that could follow the destiny of the four predecessors. Forecasting is not the simplest because there are many African leaders who, like Mugabe, refuse to step aside after decades of government.

Among these are three presidents who, like Mugabe, have been in power for more than thirty years: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya in Cameroon, and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda. It should also be remembered that last August, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down after thirty-eight years in office. Then there are presidents elected for dynastic affirmation, such as Faure Essozimna Gnassingbéin Togo and Ali Bongo Ondimba in Gabon.

Not to forget, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, who in April 2015 saw the end of his power, decided to amend the Constitution promulgated in 2005, which would not allow him to recruit for a third term. Result: it was re-elected by dragging the country into a political crisis since the beginning of which, as certified by a study conducted by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), more than 1,200 people were killed, between 400 and 900 victims of forced disappearance, several hundred or even thousands of people tortured, and over 10,000 people arbitrarily detained. More than 400,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.

Special mention for Kabila

A special mention among African heads of state affected by what the Council on Foreign Relations defines as "Africa's 'Leaders for Life' Syndrome" deserves the current and illegitimate President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila Kabange. Following the killing of his father Laurent-Désiré (in office from 1997 to 2001), Kabila won the elections in 2006 and 2011. Following the Constitution, he did not allowing him to stand for a third term, he would have to leave that chair in December 2016.

However, Kabila is continuing to rule by pointing to security reasons due to internal rebellions in the region of Gran Kasai, triggered by his refusal to leave. In addition to exposing the threat of terrorism and the risks of aggravation of the economic crisis, Kabila has previously stated that it wants to change the Constitution and then reject any form of negotiation.

Ultimately, it will remain in office at least until January 2019, after which, in defiance of the San Silvestro Agreement, calling for the convening of new elections by the end of this year, on 8 November, it has decided that it will not go vote before 23December 2018. Local elections, however, were set for September 2019, guaranteeing its political bloc to remain de facto in power for at least another two years.

Who will be the next?

Understanding which among all these eternal presidents will be the next to be eliminated from the African political scene is not easy, although it is apparent that Kabila is sitting on a TNT Charge that can explode at any moment while the pressures on Gnassingbé make more increasingly intense and the dissatisfaction of the Togolese population continues to growth.

It would also be a question of whether Africa really is the people to choose the presidents freely. This is not always the case, especially in those countries that do not have effective political opposition and are therefore vulnerable to constitutional coup. It is also difficult to explain how Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who has been ruling the country since 1994, has been able to get another seven-year mandate last August, with support of almost 99% of voters!

In the election of the head of state in some African countries, foreign powers also exert certain interference. And not just the old colonial powers, France and the UK in the head. The latest demonstration has taken place these days, when the news that China had played a leading role in Mugabe's defenestrationhas spread.

And it is undeniable that the United States has at times prioritized security interests over concerns about prolonged rule, choosing to support long-serving leaders of partners, such as Cameroon, Chad, and Uganda. 

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