In a dramatic week of political turbulence, two leaders of some of Africa’s biggest economies quit.
Jacob Zuma of South Africa, a country with the most heart-rending and most inspiring history of the African spirit, came crashing down.
In less than 10 years after engineering the humiliating exit of South Africa’s second post-apartheid president, Thabo Mbeki, Zuma turned the Rainbow Nation into a global laughing stock, largely through personal folly, but with it perpetuated the fallacy that Africans were incapable of governing their countries no matter how good the economic fundamentals.
Overall, in a short 20 years since the end of apartheid, South Africa had dashed hopes, both for its own citizens and the continent and world at large, that years of struggle and thousands of lives lost in a war to end white dominance would usher in a new democratic era for all South Africans under a new identity as a Rainbow Nation.
While Zuma’s exit was long anticipated and in some cases eagerly awaited, the resignation of Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn came rather as a surprise.
The contrast between Ethiopia and South Africa cannot be farther. While Ethiopia was able to fend off colonialists, South Africa battled apartheid until 1994.
Yet, it was under Hailemariam’s watch, that some of the worst ethnic violence and subjugation of a section of the population, the Oromia in particular, indiscriminate arrest of opposition leaders, killing of demonstrators by security forces and economic exclusion happened.
In December, the world watched in horror as a standoff over the continued leadership of Robert Mugabe threatened a humiliating end for a man who had for long been hailed as a hero by Zimbabweans and some black Africans for his fight against continued minority white domination in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe had exhausted his goodwill by over a decade, that even a negotiated exit could do little to repair his tattered image.
However, these exits of African leaders do not in any way represent a new dawn but rather add a sad chapter to the most elusive commodity on the continent — dignified service to the people and predictable, respectful and organised change of power.
Africa cannot mourn the exit of Mugabe, Zuma and Desalegn much the same way we cannot celebrate George Weah’s win and the peaceful change of power in Liberia because the political stand-off in Kenya, the constant constitutional manipulation in Uganda, the senselessness of the unending and now resurging wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan raise the question: What is Africa’s problem? When and who will find a lasting solution to all these contradictions?
Forced resignations might appear to be replacing the coups de tat of yesteryears, but hope for better political management on the continent is still far from sight. Until and when all governments provide better and universal healthcare, equitable education and get rid of poverty, we are still not out of the woods.