African Dictators

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African Dictators

Daniel Carvalheiro-Santos, Staff Writer

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The last four months have brought a lot of political upheaval to a continent whose politicians have been in power for ages and whose political ideologies are stuck in the 1970s: Africa. Since decolonization, Africa’s fifty-four countries have had only a handful of leaders each. So when two of Africa’s longest ruling leaders either resigned or were deposed (José Eduardo Dos Santos and Robert Mugabe) after being in office for more than 30 years each, the world began to believe that the political ambiance in Africa would finally change. But will anything change?

First, let’s evaluate what happened in the Western African country of the Gambia. Early in January of 2017, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh was forced out of office in a military coup after nearly 25 years of rule in the country. After reluctantly accepting that there was no way to prevent him from losing his job, he exiled himself to Equatorial Guinea (the country with the longest serving African dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo). His successor, Adama Barrow, the third president of The Gambia since their independence in 1965, seems to be bringing political change to the country by promoting more secularism and removing the Islamic affiliations of the old regime. In addition, he has made significant improvements to the justice system. Fortunately, this is an example of a peaceful and most likely beneficial political change.

Another recent leader who resigned in September of 2017 is Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the leader of Angola. Angola has been a country afflicted by the after effects of post-colonialism including a civil war and years of a Soviet influenced government. This oil rich country is one of the poorest in all of Africa and Jose Eduardo dos Santos did nothing to help the people of his nation other than creating a facade of cosmopolitan and modern innovation in his capital city, Luanda. Having been only the second president of Angola, he experienced and underwent many of the tumultuous events that come with the genesis of a nation. One of these events was the Angolan Civil War, a conflict influenced by the Cold War. This was fueled by disagreements between the two biggest independence parties, involving many foreign powers including the United States, the Soviet Union, Cuba, South Africa, Namibia, and East Germany. Furthermore, dos Santos and his government were also involved in a number of corruption scandals and dealings with foreign powers, scandals that outraged the international community but were not enough to get him impeached in his own country. After his resignation in 2017, he was succeeded by Joao Lourenco, the Vice-President of the MPLA (ruling party since independence and the party of Jose Eduardo dos Santos). Lourenco was quick to impose his new-found authority over the government, attempting to erase the traces of corruption of his predecessor. One of his boldest moves yet has been the firing of dos Santos’ daughter, Isabel dos Santos (richest woman in Africa), from her position as leader of the state oil firm. He has attempted to reestablish ties with the South African government and maintain and expand his government’s democratic policies. Some may interpret this as a change for the better, but others are worried that his attempt to erase all traces of the old regime could be a political maneuver to begin his own forty-year reign over the western African country.

The last and most recent of these cases is Zimbabwe, where 93 year-old Robert Mugabe was deposed by a military coup after 37 years as leader of Zimbabwe (as Prime Minister and President). Mugabe was a ruthless leader willing to do anything necessary to impose his authority over his country. While he was Prime Minister he fired the President, Joshua Nkomo (his superior), after Mugabe accused him of trying to overthrow the government. After oppressing all political supporters of Nkomo and years of conflict between the two political factions, Mugabe agreed to combine both parties in an effort to bring peace to the struggling nation. In the 1990s, Zimbabwe suffers famines, droughts, and a number of political and economic crises, while Mugabe stuffs his pockets with money he made from private businesses he had been overseeing. Mugabe was serving his 7th term and it was likely that he would have gone on to serve an eighth, had he not fired his vice-president and hinted that he was going to replace him with his wife, Grace Mugabe. Mugabe was set on consolidating power within the people he trusted. His vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, indignant with Mugabe and his actions, struck back at him, staging a military coup that deposed the president. The people of Zimbabwe were hopeful that a new regime change would bring much needed economic prosperity, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Mnangagwa is an infamous figure in Zimbabwean politics, earning the name “the Crocodile” because of his shrewd comments. At the beginning of his career, he was the head of a government organization responsible for a massacre that took the lives of 20,000 Zimbabweans. He has become known for his fervent comments attacking the opposition. While he was in charge of the Zimbabwean intervention in the Second Congo War, he took advantage of the conflict to enrich himself with mineral wealth he seized from Congo. Overall he is another corrupt man, and I would not be surprised if he becomes the next Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Who will be the next dictator to either resign or be deposed? Will it be Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his family, the wealthy corrupt ruling family Equatorial Guinea that has been in power since the country gained independence from Spain (1968)? Or will it be the leader of a failing and divided Cameroon, Paul Biya, who has been accused of committing genocide upon his people. I believe it is very difficult for developing countries in Africa to remedy the past, however, it is important to recognize the progress many countries have made in an attempt to step away from Communism and Marxist ideologies that once dominated in the continent. According to Business Insider, the majority of the fasting growing economies are in Africa, a list that includes countries such as Rwanda, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Ethiopia (leads the list). There is still a lot of progress to be made, but Africa and its politics are definitely taking a turn for the better, and as long as democracy prevent more dictators, Africa will continue to grow.


Photo Credits to Quartz Africa

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