Since 1901

Burundi’s president epitomises Africa’s selfish leadership

Questions have been bandied as to why Africa lags behind other continents in virtually all crucial aspects. The answer is simple. Leadership. It is largely due to the curse that is Africa’s leadership so imbued with selfishness that South East Asian tiger nations that were no better at independence have paced ahead.

Well, Nelson Mandela was an exception, hence his enviable status as Africa’s icon par excellence. Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria listened to wise counsel and saved his face recently, salvaging Africa’s economic powerhouse from a looming quagmire. Tiny Mauritius in the Indian Ocean has been in a class of its own. But rotten or rotting eggs dominate the African scene, with East African Community’s Burundi conspicuous in the rot.

African leaders have been known to plunge their countries into chaos by refusing to quit power when defeated, as recently seen in Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivory Coast. Kenya came close to tipping over the cliff in 2007.

At 51, President Pierre Nkurunziza feels he is still too young to quit the stage where players include nonagenarian Robert Mugabe, 91, and still going strong with his wife Grace waiting in the wings to occupy the seat of power in Harare.

Octogenarian Paul Biya of Cameroon, who at 83 has been in power since 1982, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, 73, in the saddle in Luanda since 1979, fellow septuagenarian Teodoro Mbasogo, 73 at the helm in oil rich Equatorial Guinea for 36 years, just to name a few. Mbasogo raised his selfishness an octave higher by making his son his vice president.

Others Nkurunziza is certainly envying and is bent to emulate are Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, 72, who has been president for 31 years, 71-year-old Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, a former guerilla leader who has held the sway in Kampala since 1986 after successfully trashing the two-term constitutional rule and is rumoured to be grooming his son Muhoozi Kainerubaga to succeed him.

The other one is Sudanese strongman Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, also 71. He has been in power in Khartoum since 1993. Bashir has just bulldozed himself through a dubious re-election with over 94 per cent of the votes cast by die-hard supporters undaunted by an opposition boycott.

But Perhaps Nkurunziza’s greatest inspiration is his younger neighbour, Joseph Kabila Kabange of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The 44-year-old has ruled the giant mineral rich nation, which is famed to be the rape capital of the world, with an iron fist since he succeeded his assassinated father, Laurent Desire Kabila in 2001 via electoral processes that are anything but credible.

Unlike Blaise Compaore, who attempted to change the Constitution to force another term after 27 years at the controls in Burkina Faso, stirring a civil rebellion that forced him into exile, Nkurunziza chose to ‘plough the bush’ unbothered by the consequences and mindless of the fact that he ascended the throne in Bujumbura courtesy of a peace agreement midwifed by non-other than the late Africa’s icon, Nelson Mandela.

Blood marks

He ensured nobody in his CNDD-FDD ruling party could stand up to him and snubbed civic protests as 17,000 of his compatriots fled into neighbouring countries, fearing for the worst in a country whose post-independence history is punctuated with blood marks.

His steely resolve to cling to power by all means has led to bloody demonstrations where police use live bullets to silence the disgruntled. The ruling party’s youth wing, christened imbonerakure, goes on the rampage harassing perceived dissenters. Rumours are rife that the Hutu-dominated imbonerakure have been trained in the past one year to suppress any uprising against Nkurunziza’s quest for longevity in power.

The President hails from the majority Hutu community. Remember Rwanda’s Interahamwe, which featured prominently in the 1994 genocide? Imbonerakure is a perfect model, of the former.

The scheme to force Nkurunziza back embroils the security forces, with the interior and security ministers taking positions on the front line, if their utterances in the wake of anti-third term demonstrations are anything to go by, to the effect that demonstrators were detractors of peace and would not be tolerated.

It is a pity that as Nkurunziza and his cohorts flirt with a potential bloodbath, both the African Union and East African Community, to which Burundi belongs, are watching with arms folded. They would not be that quiet if a Head of State was cornered. Such is Africa’s irony!