The Cycle Begins

Photo: Getty/AFP (2008)

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe in 2008. Photo: Getty/AFP

”Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,…Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

So Samuel … said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. ……And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

And the Lord granted their wish (Samuel 1:8)

The News of Rwanda at the end of last month reported that, ‘while the US president Barack Obama thinks that no one should be in office for life, Rwandans have said that they still want President Paul Kagame; saying that no one should tell them what they want. Rwandans affirm, they have already made up their minds and their choice-falling on the current President Paul Kagame.’ And recently, the Rwandan Members of Parliament began consultations to lift presidential term limits, removing the last final barrier for a life-presidency.

This is an all too familiar cycle with African life presidents. Usually, this starts as a successful guerrilla war against a [very] repressive, a very brutal regime. The new guerrilla leader ushers in peace, security, and rising prosperity for the genuinely grateful citizenry. They love him. The adore him. The West loves him. He is performing socio-economic miracles that no one had even dreamed possible. It was the same with our Museveni, here in Uganda.

Make no mistake, thirty-five (35) years down the road, Rwandans will be castigating Kagame that it was ‘all his fault’. They will lead everyone to believe (themselves included) that Kagame machinated and tricked them into a life-presidency from the very beginning when they did not know it. It is a tired old rhyme, blaming a single individual, for fulfilling the giddy wishes of the national citizenry at the time.

The lifting of Uganda’s presidential term limits as reported (July, 2005); ”The Uganda Parliament on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly for lifting presidential term limits of the 1995 Constitution, paving the way for President Yoweri Museveni’s campaign to seek re-election in next year’s general elections. The parliament voted by a 220 to 53 margin with two abstentions to give final approval to a constitutional amendment scrapping the two-term limit for the country’s highest office, parliament spokesman Bernard Aceru told the press…”

Just like Rwanda now, we are culpable. We are all in on it. At least the Parliamentary representatives, 220 of them. There was no corresponding reportage of any Ugandan constituency recalling and castigating their elected representatives for having ushered in a life-presidency. We cannot say at this hour, ‘he tricked us into it.’ Museveni did not.

Both Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola have cleared 35 years; Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe (34 years), Paul Biya – Cameroon (32 years); Yoweri Museveni – Uganda (28 years); Omar al-Bashir – Sudan (25 years); Idriss Déby – Chad (23 years); Isaias Afwerki – Eritrea (23 years); Yahya Jammeh – The Gambia (20 years); Denis Sassou Nguesso – Republic of Congo (17 years).

It’s a pattern. We cannot say that these individuals have some sort of super-human powers that can keep millions of their national citizens at bay who genuinely want them out of power. They don’t, at least most of them don’t and so they stay. Yes, as individuals they are in on it, but then so are most citizens. We all know that a single human individual cannot hold reign over 35 million people who do not want him, against their will. This is not humanly possible. It simply easier to say it is ‘his fault’ Just to say this. It is not hard at all. In fact, it is much easier to say this than to think, ‘we created him, our life-long president. We told him so ourselves and he believed it.’ These heady inducements have a way of taking seed in a vulnerable human mind, that is seeking affirmation, seeking power. They will take root and a life of their own. Even when the farmers who planted the seed decide they no longer have use for the plant.

I honestly cannot imagine a more popular African leader than Museveni at the peak of his national and global acclaim during the 1990’s from the West to the East to the North to the South. (excepting Mandela that is) The West now only tolerates him as a ‘necessary’ leader for stability of regional geopolitics in the Great Lakes region. The main one being that Uganda is the major troop contributor to AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia holding Al-Shabaab at bay, Museveni supported the Rwandese Patriotic Front ending the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, he led the negotiations of the Arusha Agreement ending Burundi’s civil war then and also recently with opposition groups that sought to unseat Nkurunziza. And supported South Sudanese struggle for independence from the North. Nationally, yes, he is still quite popular despite the rising tide of dissent against him both from within Uganda and without.

When Africans decide they want their self-created dictator to go, even the most brutal and violent, they will go. Think Idi Amin (Uganda), think Charles Taylor (Liberia). Charles Taylor ruled for a measly 6 years. Idi Amin ruled for a paltry 8 years, (that’s almost equal to one Rwandan presidential term of 7 years). We couldn’t wait to get rid of him, we couldn’t use his army but our East African neighbour, Tanzania under Nyerere provided theirs and marched onto Kampala and overthrew him. Ugandans did not regard the Tanzanian army as invaders on sovereign territory. They were welcomed and celebrated. Where there is a will, there’s surely a way!!!

Personally, I think it was the ritualistic cannibalistic acts that tipped the balance for both Amin and Taylor. They were doing abnormal, dictatorly things like human rights abuses, ethnic persecution, political repression, corruption, the works. It was that one thing: cannibalism. And our bile rose, and we couldn’t take it anymore.

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