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Political power: Keeping it in the family

By | September 26th 2009

By Juma Kwayera

The defeat of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s son, Karim Wade, in last week’s local elections demonstrated African electorate’s disenchantment with the ruling clique’s inclination to create dynasties.

President Wade had come under criticism for grooming his son, a Member of Parliament, to succeed him, continuing a tradition in African politics where exiting leaders transfer power to sons.

Wade’s debacle comes hot on the heels of the election of Ali Ben Bongo to succeed his father, former Gabonese President Omar Bongo, who died in March, this year.

From left: US army official, President Museveni, his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba and First Lady, Janet Museveni. Museveni is grooming Muhoozi to succeed him. [PHOTOS: COURTESY]

Bongo’s ascendancy to the throne left by his father has stirred debate on father-to-son power transfer culture in Africa.

His election was expected and is an episode in the continent’s long history of First Families maintaining their clutch onto the reins of power.

The junior Bongo (born Allain Benard Bongo in 1959 before he was Islamised) joins three other heads of state whose trajectory to power takes a familiar pattern, varying only in details.

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He joins the league of President Ian Khama, son of former Botswana president, Sir Seretse Khama and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, who took over from his father Laurent Desire Kabila, assassinated in January 2001. The DRC military, accused of plotting the assassination, replaced the elder Kabila with his son as president of the continent’s mineral-rich but war-ravaged the second largest nation.

Gen Joseph Kabila came to power when he was 29. Prior to this, he headed his father’s army during the bush war that culminated in the ouster of former dictator Mobutu Seseseko, who died in exile in Morocco six years ago.

Father-to-son power transfer also saw President Faure Gnassingbe take over from his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died in 2005. The elder Gnassingbe came to power in 1967 with the support of the military.

Power domination

The looming political standoff in Gabon is reminiscent of the situation in Togo following the demise of President Gnassingbe Eyadema. According to accounts, opposition supporters perceived Faure’s presidency as an extension of his father’s four decades of state power domination.

Faure’s highly disputed victory in the April, 2005, elections sparked violent protests by the opposition, who claimed the vote was rigged.

The final results gave Faure well over 60 per cent of the valid votes cast against 38 per cent for Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, then main opposition candidate and Gulchrist Olympio’s deputy. Olympio, who was barred from contesting for having been in exile since 1992, is the leader of the Main Union of Forces for Change.

The unfolding scenario in West Africa is being witnessed in Kenya and East Africa in general. The sons of former and serving presidents are also jostling for an extension of their fathers’ hold on power.

In Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of founding President Jomo Kenyatta contested and lost the presidency in 2002, while Jimmy Kibaki is believed to be eyeing his father’s parliamentary seat when his presidency expires in 2012.

Uhuru, who stepped down for Kibaki in the 2007 presidential poll, is positioning himself to have another stab at the coveted seat in 2012.

Political mantle

Former Baringo Central MP, Gideon Moi, picked the political mantle — albeit at constituency level— from his father when he stepped down after ruling Kenya from 1978 to 2002.

The Ugandan scenario is almost a foregone conclusion. President Museveni’s son, Lt Col Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who heads the army, is preparing to take the mantle from his father. Museveni undid the constitution in 2005 and annulled presidential term limits and his opponents say he wants to bid for more time until Muhoozi is ready to lead.

Following graduation and the subsequent promotion to the commissioned officer rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Muhoozi has been appointed and reassigned by his father to command the Special Forces in charge of guarding the oil fields recently discovered in western Uganda.

The promotions are an indicator that Museveni’s 34-year-old son is being groomed for bigger things.

Rapid promotions

It is through rapid promotions that President Ian Khama, who served as chief of staff during retired President Festus Mogae reign, rose to prominence. Lt-Gen Khama came to power in April, last year, riding on the back of his widely respected father. In Gabon, Ali Ben Bongo was the Defence Minister during the reign of his father.

The military seems to be a launch pad for sons planning to succeed their fathers.

In Northern Africa, Libya and Egypt are on the verge of creating monarchies.

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi and his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak are grooming their sons to succeed them. Col Gaddafi is the Arab world’s longest-serving leader who has vowed to surrender power only "once defeated by disease or death."

Gaddafi’s second son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, whose name stands for Sword of Islam in Arabic, is the heir apparent.

Saif Al-Islam holds a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from the Al-Fateh University in Tripoli. Predictably, he has a military background, having served in the army until 1994. He is said to be studying global governance at the prestigious London School of Economics.

In Egypt, the ailing Mubarak is reported to prefer Gamal Mubarak to succeed him. Gamal or Jimmy, 45, is a former investment banker and deputy head of the ruling National Democratic Party.

The next presidential election is scheduled for 2011, but the incumbent’s state of health has been a source of concern. It has been widely reported that Mubarak’s poor health could precipitate a snap election with his son running as an NDP candidate.

Notably, Mubarak has never appointed a vice-president or shared his duties with a deputy. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazir deals solely with the economy. Diplomatic, military and domestic security policies are the sole province of the president.

Handpicked heir

In Namibia, the situation is no different. Former President Sam Nujoma — now a university student — is said to have his line up sewn up for the next decade. According to media reports, Nujoma, the country’s founding president, has anointed Trade Minister Hage Geingob to succeed incumbent President Hifikepunye Pohamba. Geingob would then pass on the baton to Nujoma’s eldest son, Uutoni Nujoma, who is currently deputy Justice Minister.

Nujoma handpicked Pohamba for the presidency in March 2005, when he retired.

It has been reported that the former president is opposed to Pohamba serving a second term.

In June this year, The Namibian reported that Nujoma "now feels he made a poor choice and indications are that the former president is opposed to Pohamba serving a second term."

President Abdoulaye Wade, once touted as one of Africa’s leading lights together with former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Tanzanian Benjamin Mkapa, is also said to be grooming his son, Karim Wade. The four former presidents were credited with the formation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), which aims at finding African solutions to African challenges.

Post-power retribution

The topics that dominated Nepad forums were democracy and good governance. Among the many criticisms African governments have faced is the entrenchment of dynastic leadership as a hedge against potential post-power retribution for ills committed during their tenures.

Karim Wade is in his father’s government, having been invited by Prime Minister Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye. The younger Wade, 40, has since 2001 had pivotal influence on his father’s decisions.

President Wade talked Karim, a businessman, into quitting a banking job in London for politics. Although the elder Wade has frequently denied the rumours of grooming his son to succeed him, his opponents point out that he talked his prime minister into inviting Karim into the Government.

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