Monday, 29 August 2011

Africa's changing list of strongmen

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

This year alone the list of Africa's strong men and longest serving leaders is diminishing gradually. The "Arab spring" revolts began by 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed Tunisian graduate who set himself alight after authorities interfered with his source of livelihood, have spread to a number of North Africa and Middle East countries. So far the former leaders of Tunisia and Egypt have been ousted after decades in power repressing the citizens' alternative views. In Libya the revolution that began in February has seen Muammar Gaddafi on the edge and remains a fugitive after the NATO-backed rebels took over his presidential palace of Bab al-Azizia.

Tens of countries around the world say they now recognise the rebel-led National Transitional Council (NTC) as new government of Libya. The US and UN are succeeding in pushing for unfreezing of Libyan assets frozen at the beginning of the war. But the African Union whose leaders view power as an end in itself say they don't recognise the NTC's leadership of Libya. They seem to forget that the list of Africa's long serving leaders is changing fast and the winds of change blowing in North Africa could settle in their realm.

However, they seem to forget that now it's no longer waiting to die while in power like it was with the late Omar Bongo of Gabon who had been president of that country for 42 years. Instead they should be worried of the growing numbers of tech savvy unemployed youths, citizens who feel bored by unchanging and sometimes insensitive regimes. The power no longer lies in in the barrel of the gun but the People's will. In 42 years as Libyan president Gaddafi paid little or no attention to the democratic aspirations of his people. The people of Libya said enough was enough.

Now the longest serving list of African presidents has shifted to Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, (where rulers in these countries have been in power for at least 32 years), Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Uganda (close to 30 years in power). All that said, can the African strongmen learn a thing or two from events unfolding in Arab countries?

As President Obama said in his July 2009 Ghana visit Africa needs stronger institutions. We need institutions that are working autonomously for the all citizens not individuals.

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