Folly of ailing strongmen who don't want to quit

Saturday February 25 2017

A cake bearing a portrait of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe at a private ceremony to celebrate his 93rd birthday in Harare on February 21, 2017. PHOTO | JEKESAI NJIKIZANA | AFP

A cake bearing a portrait of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe at a private ceremony to celebrate his 93rd birthday in Harare on February 21, 2017. PHOTO | JEKESAI NJIKIZANA | AFP 

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So old Bob Mugabe, as his closest admirers call him, finally turned 93 on Tuesday.

Of course with the routine celebration of massive bull-eating sessions to crown the birthday of the grand old man of African politics. And this year, he had a cake in the shape of his Mercedes-Benz car.

Still, in typical fashion President Mugabe, who once quipped he would rule until he turned 100, was quick to point out he had no plans to relinquish power.

That was despite the fact that he has kept an iron grip on power since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, and that in recent times he has routinely been making a beeline to Dubai and Singapore, reportedly for undisclosed medical attention purposes.

As for the other denizens of the African political scene, they are presidents Obiang’ Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

Apart from dos Santos, Africa is unlikely to see the last of the members of this rogue’s gallery any time soon. On the contrary, the membership is likely to go up with the addition of new multi-term enthusiasts. Currently, the more youthful converts to the multi-term phenomenon include the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

They have all shown reluctance to relinquish power unless they do so under duress, and by all indications the group may soon also include Zambia’s Edgar Lungu.

There are however African leaders who do not insist on overstepping their mandates, among them Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president and Nobel Prize winner.

Like Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, who has also vowed to quit the presidency come his country’s presidential elections next year, by all indications, the gracious lady is all set to call it a day.

She will presumably leave office come the presidential polls in her country next October.

As for recent exits from the African political scene, they include that of former Mauritian Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth, who first become prime minister in 1982.

Having begun a third spell as his country’s leader only in 2014, in deference to the vagaries of old age he finally threw in the towel at the age of 86.

According to him, he was resigning in favour of a “younger and more dynamic leader”, who however turned out to be his son Pravind, formerly the island nation’s finance minister.

Former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam warned that the Jugnauth family was turning Mauritius into a “banana republic”.

Back to Mugabe, his infirmities aside, he is not alone in presuming that he is God’s chosen own as far as ruling Zimbabwe is concerned.


Waxing truly loyal, doting wifey Grace, 51, recently said Zimbabwe’s voters would continue to back Mugabe even when he is dead.

In the meantime, reportedly ailing Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari is now well into his second month in London, where he has reportedly been receiving medical attention for an undisclosed ailment. Barely in office for a year, the Head of State has been in bad health for some time, which explains his lengthy sojourn in London, amid swiftly denied social media claims that he had already died.

The cloud of secrecy surrounding Buhari’s ailment has naturally left much room for speculation about his ability to serve the remainder of his term, as has the loss of the spark that characterised his ascendancy to power in 2015.

Moreover, Buhari’s deteriorating health has compounded the issue of whether ailing African presidents should continue in power even when it is physically difficult or impossible to do so.

A case in point is the pathetic image of the wheelchair-bound veteran Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 79, whose health and political future have also been the subject of intense speculation in recent years.

Having been in power since 1999, President Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 that affected his speech and confined him to a wheelchair.

Since then he has rarely appeared in public, but frequently visits France for medical treatment. Ironically, Algerians had expected him to step down at the end of his third term.