The curtains were drawn yesterday (Wednesday) on the autocratic rule of
Robert Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe. The Nation’s group political
editor Emmanuel Oladesu examines his ascension to power, revolutionary
ideology, achievements and descent into ‘sit-tight’ dictatorship.
Finally, Robert Gabriel Mugabe is out of power. The strongman is
grief-striken. The bravado is over. In the twilight of his life, he has
been disgraced out of office.
He started well as a revolutionary; a freedom fighter with a difference
and a popular nationalist. But, the former president of Zimbabwe did not
finish the race well. His rule ended on a sad note. Although military
coup is no longer in vogue in Africa, the intervention by soldiers,
according to commentators, was understandable.
The coup was even denied by the mutineers. They were in want of a
decorative interpretation of their putsch. Yet, there was no widespread
uproar. The continent was not enveloped in anxiety. Even, Mugabe’s
unrepentant admirers and supporters – the residual class of combatants,
who opposed colonialism – were ambivalent. To them, the nonagenarian had
outlived his usefulness. Gone are the days when he was a mentor and
role model. In popular valuation, history may not be kind to him.
Fear of life outside power
Mugabe had an obsession with power. He relished the pomp of his exalted
office. He may have hoped to die in office. Gradually, he was being
referred to as a life president. As a czar, the country had become his
fortress. He is the lone rich man in a nation-state ravaged by poverty
and squalor. His net worth as at June was $10 million. Indeed, Mugabe
feared life outside power. He loathed the difficult adjustment to the
ordinary man’s lifestyle. He was reluctant to abdicate. Thus, he became
an obstacle to legitimate democratic succession in that country.
Elections were held to sustain his hold on power. He was a great
electoral manipulator. The umpire usually danced to his tunes.
Literarily, the electoral commission operated in his bedroom. He was
powerful and influential. From his country, he fired salvos at Britain
and United States (U.S.) under the guise of sovereignty.
At 93, Mugabe brooked no opposition. His word was law. He even boasted
that, if he would leave power, he must be succeeded by his wife, Grace.
However, the reality dawned on him yesterday. He was caged by aggrieved
soldiers. In that moment of tribulation, he was isolated for ridicule.
Power, no matter how long it is wielded, is transient.
There is a vacuum in Zimbabwe. The soldiers of fortune lack legitimacy
to hold on to power, although their self-imposed war of liberation
against Mugabe was applauded. If they attempt to establish a military
rule, the world will rise in unison to condemn their neo-colonial
posturing. Military rule is old-fashioned in Africa. The onus is on the
emerging military leaders to set up a transparent transition process
moderated by an interim leadership with a limited time frame. The onus
will be on the interim government heal the wounds inflicted by Mugabe
and unite the country.
In the club of dictators
Mugabe has not been the only face of horror in Africa. There were other
sit-tight presidents and dictators, who left behind legacies of high
handedness, brutality of the opposition and muzzling of democracy. Their
regimes were marked by horror, terror, chaos and bloodshed.
Paul Kagame became the President of Rwanda in 2000. He rose to power
through his guerrilla movement that ended the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. He
has spent 21 years in office. He has been accused of human rights abuse,
oppression of opponents and the press.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was the President of Tunisia from 1987 to 2011.
He assumed office in a bloodless coup, a month after he was appointed
the prime minister. He led Tunisia for 23 years before stepping down in
January 2011 due to massive protests demanding his exit. Tunisia
witnessed stability and economic prosperity under Ben Ali. In 2012, in
abstention, he was sentenced to a life imprisonment for his role in the
murders of protesters in the 2011 revolution that led to his exit from
power. He was accused of embezzlement, misuse of public funds,
suppressing political opponents.
Gnassingbé Eyadéma of Togo (1967–2005) was one of Africa’s
longest-serving dictator. He became the president after he led a
military coup. He died of a heart attack in 2005. His son, Faure, was
named the President of Togo in controversial circumstances.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda (1963–1994) led Malawi from 1961 till 1994.
Banda lost effective control of Malawi during his absence from Malawi
in 1993 when he was flown to South Africa for an emergency brain
surgery. Bakili Muluzi, his former political protégé, became president
in 1994, after the general elections Banda had earlier postponed, was
conducted in 1994. Banda fought against colonialism and led of Nyasaland
(now Malawi) to independence as Malawi in 1964. His reign left Malawi
as one of the world’s poorest country. One in three children under five
died of starvation. He tortured and murdered political opponents. Human
rights groups alleged that at least 6,000 people were killed, tortured
and jailed without trial.
Gaafar Nimeiry of Sudan (1969–1985) came to power in a coup that
ended five years of corrupt civilian rule. He was ousted from power in
1985 and went into exile in Egypt until he was allowed to return in
1999. He contested in the 2000 Sudanese elections; he got just seven per
cent of the votes. He died at 79 in May, 2009. He signed the Addis
Ababa Agreement, which ended the First Sudanese Civil War and brought a
decade of peace and stability to the region. But, his indiscriminate
borrowing left the Sudanese economy in ruins. The Sudanese currency lost
almost 90 per cent of its value against the major international
currencies. He imposed Islamic sharia law in 1983. It led to a
two-decade long war religious war between the Muslim North and the
mainly Christian South.
Siad Barre of Somalia (1969–1991) took power in a coup. He ruled
Somalia for over 20 years before he was overthrown in 1991. He passed
away in January 1995, on exile in Lagos. General Barre’s exit left
Somalia without a central authority, and this resulted in a civil war
that left the country without a leader for over two decades.
Charles Taylor of Liberia (1997–2003), once
described as the “tyrant of death,” was the President of Liberia from
August 1997 until 2003 when international pressure forced him to resign
and go into exile in Nigeria. He remains one of the most brutal
dictators in Africa till date. He is currently serving a 50-year
sentence for his involvement in what the judge described as “some of the
most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.” He was found
guilty of terrorism, unlawful killings, murder, violence to life,
health and physical or mental well-being of persons.
Yahya Jammeh of Gambia (1994–2017) took power in a
bloodless military coup in 1994. In last year’s general elections, he
was defeated by Adama Barrow, and surprisingly, he conceded defeat, only
to reject the results few weeks after. He finally left Gambia on exile
to Equatorial Guinea after sustained pressure by the African Union (AU),
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UN.
Idriss Deby of Chad (1990–till date) and his Patriotic Salvation
Movement (PSM), an insurgent group, backed by Libya and Sudan, sacked
the incumbent government, and Déby became the President of Chad. Deby
has used oil proceeds and funds that could have been used to develop
Chad to purchase weapons and strengthen his Army. Forbes named Chad the
world’s most corrupt nation in 2006.
Obiang Mbasogo (1979–till date) has been President of Equatorial
Guinea since 1979 when he ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, in a
bloody military coup and sentenced him to death by firing squad.
President Obiang is one of the oldest and longest serving dictators in
Africa. The state radio declared President Obiang “the country’s god”
with “all power over men and things,” and thereby he “can decide to kill
without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell.”
Unlawful killings, government-sanctioned kidnappings; torture of
prisoners by security forces, and even accusations of cannibalism have
trailed President Obiang’s regime. He has used an oil boom to enrich his
family at the expense of the citizens of Equatorial Guinea.
Paul Biya of Cameroon (1982–till date) consolidated power in a
1983–1984 power struggle with his predecessor and he remains a
powerhouse in Africa and the president of Cameroon till date. Cameroon
has enjoyed peace and stability for the past 30 years. Biya’s regime has
also overseen one of the strongest diplomatic relations in Africa. Biya
perpetrated himself in power by organising sham elections and paying
international observers to certify them free of irregularities.
Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola (1979–till date). The father of
Africa’s richest woman, Isabel Dos Santos, is Africa’s second
longest-serving Head of State. Recently, he announced that he would
finally step down and end his dictatorship over Angola. The Angolan
economy has grown to become the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan
Africa, after South Africa and Nigeria. But the allegations of
corruption, misuse, and diversion of public funds for personal gain,
human rights abuses, and political oppression.
Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (1968–1979)
was the first President of Equatorial Guinea. He ruled Equatorial
Guinea before his nephew in 1979 overthrew him and sentenced him to
death by firing squad for genocide and other crimes he committed. He was
brutal. During his regime, he granted himself “all direct powers of
Government and Institutions.” He ordered the death of entire families
and villages; he executed members of his family, One-third of the
population fled the country, he ordered every boat in the nation sold or
destroyed and banned all citizens from the shoreline to prevent more
people from escaping his terror.
Hissene Habre of Chad (1982–1990) seized power in
1982 from Goukouni Oueddei, who had just been elected President. He lost
power to his former military commander, Idriss Deby, in December 1990.
Habre fled to Senegal when Deby’s Libya backed insurgents marched into
the capital, N’Djaména. In May 2016, he was convicted of crimes against
humanity. Habre’s government carried out a frightening 40,000
politically motivated murders, and there are documented cases of at
least 200,000 tortures.
Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan (1989–till date) took power in a military
coup. Al-Bashir is one of the most brutal dictators in Africa and
despite ICC’s warrant against him; he remains the president of Sudan.
The International Criminal Court wants Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war
crimes, murder, rape, torture, and other crimes against humanity for his
crimes in Darfur.
Sekou Toure (1958–1984) was elected as the first
President of Guinea in 1958, a position he held until to his death in
1984. Toure, like many other dictators in Africa, survived several
assignation attempts and coups while he was in power. He died of heart
failure in 1984.
Toure banned all opposition parties and declared his party the only
legal party in the country. He was accused of several cases of human
right abuse and extrajudicial killings.
Gen. Sani Abacha (1993–1998) became the military
Head of State of Nigeria in 1993 after he sacked the head of the Interim
National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan, who was appointed
after the annulment of the 1993 elections won by the late Chief Moshood
Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). The exact details
of the dictator’s death in the presidential palace ON June 8, 1998
remains unclear till date.
Col. Muammar Gaddafi (1969–2011) seized power in a
bloodless military coup in 1969. The charismatic leader of Libya met his
waterloo during the Libyan revolution in 2011 after rebels in Sirte,
his city of birth, killed him. Under Gaddafi, Libya became the first
developing country to own a majority share of the revenues from its oil
production. Gaddafi provided access to free health care, safe houses,
food and clean drinking water, free education to university level which
led to the dramatic rise in literacy rates. Gaddafi led oil-rich Libya
as an absolute dictator, for close to 42 years, he quashed anyone that
opposed him, and was responsible for the death of thousands of his
Idi Amin Dada (1971–1979) seized power in the
military coup of January 1971, sacking Milton Obote. He fled Uganda in
the heat of the Uganda-Tanzania war and went into exile in Libya and
later Saudi Arabia where he lived until his death on August 16, 2003.
His rule was characterised by rumors of cannibalism, frightening human
rights’ abuses, political repression, extrajudicial killings, corruption
and gross economic mismanagement.