There’s hope as African politics is maturing one country at a time

Thursday March 8 2018

Botswana’s President Ian Khama. PHOTO | FILE

President Ian Khama of Botswana has announced that he is stepping down in April, one year ahead of the general elections in 2019. For a president who is marking 10 years in office to be leaving ahead of schedule is indeed progress. PHOTO | FILE 

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The founding fathers of the precursor of the African Union, the Organisation of African Unity, made the promotion of democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance of Africa the key objective of the organisation.

They had hardly fulfilled the same when some of them flashed the continental goals down the drain.

This led to the emergence of autocracies and despotic rule, and a certain crop of leaders started viewing themselves as having a monopoly of the redemptive vision of the African people.

This departure from the objective was presided over by the likes of Gen Muammar Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe, Omar Bongo and Mobutu Sseseseko, among others, who were later emulated by younger presidents. And because of this departure, Africa has suffered human-induced calamities such as civil wars, corruption and disregard of the rule of law and democratic principles; on top of the natural calamities — drought, famine and disease.

Following the rise of social movements and civic activism on the continent, there was a glimmer of hope. This “revival” can be traced back to the 1990s, but also as recently as 2011 with the Arab Spring that occasioned the fall of entrenched dictatorships in North Africa at the hands of citizens.

This marked the beginning of the “political exorcism” in Africa, ending Ben Ali’s 23-year rule in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in Egypt and most significantly, ending the 43-year reign of Gaddafi.

A number of West African presidents like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, and leaders in Ghana and Senegal, have taken unprecedented progress of leaving office honourably and within constitutional terms.


By the end of 2017, one could authoritatively say the tide which seemed to be sweeping from North to South, had changed direction. There is a new wind of democratisation and regime change that is currently sweeping northward in furtherance of the “political exorcism,” to return political hygiene in African politics.

Currently, political “prophets” are talking of political change in countries where the long stay in power of liberation movements has stifled democratisation, good governance and economic development. All signs show that the time is now.

In Angola, the resignation of long-time strongman Eduardo dos Santos last year paved the way for his successor João Lourenço.

Without prejudice to the challenges presented by leaders who are awarded leadership positions on a silver platter, there are signs that President Lourenco will give democracy and good governance a chance, in the “resource cursed” Angola. 

Political pundits continue to debate over what happened in Zimbabwe last November, with the questions of whether it was a bloodless coup d’etat, or a resignation of the president, or both, remaining unanswered. But what is certain is that Mugabe finally threw in the towel on November 21, 2017 ending a 37-year rule.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has already exhibited signs of good governance and rule of law by promising to hold free and fair elections to seek the people’s mandate. This signifies a new dawn in Zimbabwean politics notwithstanding the opposition’s criticism of the new president as “a mere change of guard.” 

President Ian Khama of Botswana has announced that he is stepping down in April, one year ahead of the general elections in 2019. His vice-president Mogweetsi Masisi is his likely successor. For a president who is marking 10 years in office to be leaving ahead of schedule is indeed progress.

Bearing fruit

In the words of Kenyan lawyer PLO Lumumba in his speech titled Magufulification of the African Continent, we are seeing some hygiene being injected back into African politics.

In the continents powerhouse, South Africa, former deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s rise to the helm of the all-powerful African National Congress, amidst then President Jacob’s Zuma’s corruption legal battles, has since culminated into Zuma’s resignation from the presidency.

The prayer in East and Central Africa is that this “hygiene” continues northwards, past the already exorcised Tanzania through the politically ailing Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda, to the democratically decaying Uganda and crisis-riddled South Sudan. And then finally resurrect the politically and democratically rotten and decomposing DR Congo and the Central African Republic. So we pray.

James Muhindo is national co-ordinator for Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas at the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment. E-mail: