President Wade mad with power like his peers

Okech Kendo

They threw stones at a man they loved in 2000. Twelve years ago today, there was euphoria around the president who was booed when he voted for himself at his home polling station in Dakar on Sunday.

Now Senegalese rappers have stuck, and hecklers have taken up the tune, "Old man, Get lost." The president who thought he was still loved, and sought a third presidential term, has been humbled. The coming run-off, for which opposition candidates are expected to unite, would be the ultimate humiliation for the president who should have quit when his lovers were still cheering. Now they are jeering.

Abdoulaye Wade, 85, is not an isolated case of a president struggling to steal a third term when the constitution permits two.

There is also Robert Mugabe whose appetite for power still rages. Mugabe, like Wade, has too much past at the end of the future.

Wade’s love for equity when he won elections in 2000 has faded. He had this metaphor of five friends walking along a beach. At sundown they came by a treasure, sealed as if left behind by a ship crew. The trove had US$1,500,000 – a lot of loot for the lucky lot.

In the Wade narrative the loot was not going to be shared equally among the five. Each would get a share according to need, and not greed. What each had in the pocket would determine their size of potato. Equity was the rallying call of Wade, who is today associated with inequities.

Wade lost the chance to impose his son, Karim, to cover his back. Karim, who is not popular with the electorate, is called ‘Mr 15%’. Running at least four ministries thanks to Daddy Wade, Karim is dubbed the "prince of corruption and the guardian angel of nepotism".

Love-turned-scorn is absurd for a leader who was thought enlightened. But power makes lunatics of vulnerable men in public office.

It is not that women cannot be insane with too much power. They have not been tried frequently enough with State power to assess their evolution. But behind every reckless president there has always been a powerful woman.

One-candidate match

Grace Mugabe, much younger than her husband president of Zimbabwe, is said to be responsible for many of the president’s excesses.

Think of Mugabe in 2008, when he seized a win of a one-candidate match in which he banged the ball against an empty net. He then ran around the field, chest-thumping with warlike hubris. It was the peak of presidential lunacy. Mugabe is running again for president.

That Mugabe wants to rule Zimbabwe longer as a bulwark against Western influence is a lie for a man who would look lost without presidential lustre.

Former Malawi president the late Kamuzu Banda’s spouse-cum-hostess, Cecilia, was the power behind the throne. Cecilia, a much younger woman than her president-consort, drove Banda real mad.

Banda had to ban Paul Simon’s blues Cecilia, then an anthem in Malawi to ridicule the president and his hostess.

Imelda Marcos was the power behind the late Ferdinand Marcos’ madness in the Philippines.

Earlier Maria Antoinette drove France’s pre-Bastille Day King Louis XV into indifference. When poor workers who could not afford grain found cake a mirage, they broke into prisons to free captives of the ancient regime.

These powerful women drove men of might to insanity that preceded their inglorious downfalls.

They are studies in how not to handle power.

Twelve years ago no one would have thought power could madden then opposition icon, now President Wade. But like many others before him, and his peers, the difference is the intensity of megalomania.

Wade thought of succeeding himself after he failed to groom his son. His rationale was, "I am not going to take the mandate and hand it over to somebody who cannot handle the situation or who is not loved by the people."

Wade wanted to keep power in the family through Karim. A movement La Generation du Concret (The Concrete Generation) was lobbying for son to succeed father.

Wade first ran for president and lost in 1978, to Senegal’s founding president Leopold Sedar Senghor.

In 1988 he was jailed after he was found guilty of inciting insurrection following a controversial presidential election. Wade lost another presidential election to Abdou Diouf, Senghor’s successor in 1993.

The old man could get lost in the run-off to follow when results of the Sunday presidential election are finally announced.

Disturbing thought

Wade forced the humiliation on him because he can’t trust anyone else, except himself or his son, with State power. Such is the insecurity of personalising public office. Wade’s madness is particularly disturbing. The man arrived tortuously, preaching good governance, not just in Senegal but also in Africa.

Wade is co-founder of ageing New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), the continental institution expected to define a ‘new way’. His millennial inspiration was that African leaders had failed and a new thinking was essential.

Nepad came along with peer review. African presidents would at definite times evaluate governance in different countries, set goals, and assess performance. Peer reviewers would reward good work, and reprimand bad governance.

No African president has reprimanded Wade for his constitutional coup in one of the continent’s, so far, stable countries.

Writer is The Standard’s Managing Editor Quality and Production.

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