As next week’s African Union summit approaches, peace-making efforts in Africa dominated the headlines last week, amid disturbing reports of rulers who have served multiple terms still striving to entrench themselves in power.
According to some media reports, the signing of a South Sudan peace agreement by representatives of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel delegates loyal to ousted vice- president Riek Machar in Addis Ababa last Thursday was allegedly done under massive duress from regional leaders.
Some observers believe the regional leaders wanted kudos for dealing with the South Sudan problem before next week’s African Union summit, and therefore reportedly used threats of sanctions the combatants risked facing if they did not sign the much-delayed pact.
Still, the South Sudan agreement was widely welcomed, as was the election last Monday of Ms Catherine Samba-Panza as the interim president of the Central African Republic.
The clearly very popular woman garnered 75 votes against 53 for Desiré Kolingba, the son of a former Central African president, and her election was lauded as an achievement for African women— particularly given the lowly political estimation they enjoy on the continent.
The former mayor of Bangui, Ms Samba-Panza was tasked with restoring peace to a country that has for too long been torn by sectarian bloodshed.
However, there were muted misgivings about the choice of the 59-year-old law graduate as the country’s interim leader.
Some critics queried her background, particularly the fact that she had apparently cosied up to discredited former regimes.
It was pointed out, for instance, that she entered politics in 2003 after then president Ange-Felix Patasse was overthrown in a coup by former military president Francois Bozizé.
The former strongman was himself ousted in March last year by the now disgraced rebel leader Michel Djotodia.
Even more intriguingly, it was the latter who, after his rebels ousted Bozizé’s government, named Ms Samba-Panza mayor of Bangui— the country’s capital. Intriguingly, Bozizé had himself earlier made her the vice-president of a national reconciliation conference.
But the misgivings about her past political associations notwithstanding, Ms Samba-Panza was last Monday quick to assure her compatriots that she would be “the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion”.
She added that her top priority was “to stop people’s suffering”. A plus for her was that as her country descended into chaos and bloodshed, she stood out as relentlessly pushing for peace between Christians and Muslims in the country of 4.6 million.
“I have no animosity, I am looking for skills, a government of technocrats, with strong moral probity,” she reportedly told Radio France Internationale (RFI), even as her relieved countrymen welcomed the ‘resounding appeal’ for peace by the woman popularly referred to as ‘Madame Catherine’.
“If I have a prime minister who meets these criteria and is of the Muslim religion, I don’t see why I shouldn’t appoint him.”
Taken together, the developments in South Sudan and CAR were welcome signs that the African continent may eventually manage to overcome the numerous calamities that beset it.
Not all African hotspots are under control, though, and the situation in Egypt, for instance, is by all accounts disturbing, particularly given recent reports of escalating violence in the strife-torn country.
Even more unfortunately, as South Sudan and CAR have emerged as good examples of how endless struggles for power can wreak havoc on entire nations and even regions, there were persistent signs last week that Africa’s veteran leaders are as reluctant as ever to hand over the reins of power even in these days of generational change.
NOT LETTING GO
And this time around it is not only old fogies like the reportedly ailing Robert Mugabe, who at 90 is still desperately refusing to let go.
Not so old, albeit also ailing and hardly able to conceal the vagaries of old age that are slowing him down, is Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 76, who according to reports on Friday may face his former premier Ali Benflis in presidential polls to be held on April 17.
Although he has not himself formally announced the decision, on Wednesday it was announced that the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) had endorsed Bouteflika’s candidacy to run for a fourth term.
First elected in 1999, the incumbent president was re-elected in 2004 and 2009 for five-year terms.
Elsewhere, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaoré, who has been in power since 1987, was under-pressure from thousands of opposition protesters who gathered at venues around the country on January 18.
They were protesting against alleged plans by Compaoré — who will be turning 63 next month— to modify the country’s constitution to enable him to run for a third five-year mandate during elections slated for next year.
In Madagascar, former disc-jockey-turned president Andry Rajoelina was reported to be angling for the position of prime minister.
Further, the former president was hardly being modest about his estimation of himself even as he prepared to hand over the presidency to his successor, President-elect Hery Rajaonarimampianina, on Friday prior to the latter’s inauguration on Saturday.
“I will no longer be the president beyond Saturday,” he reportedly said with a tinge of arrogance on Wednesday and added:
“Andry Rajoelina does not seek the seat [of prime minister] but it is the seat which needs him.”