Elizabeth Ohene, in her June 2015 open letter on `African Presidents being addicted to tittles` raises the disturbing trend of African presidents – from the founding fathers like Kwame Nkrumah to our present leadership promulgating themselves with absurdly long tittles. Ironically, all the long titles each of these Presidents gave themselves were coupled with the self-proclamation: `president for life`. One of Africa`s most celebrated founding fathers, the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah was to be called, Osagyefo, (a chief’s title, said to mean Redeemer) Dr. Kwame Nkrumah – Life President of the Republic of Ghana.
The sergeant major turned President of Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Mobutu, took the trend to a scale higher. He became Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Waza Banga, meaning ‘The Warrior who goes from Conquest to Conquest Leaving Fire in his Wake’. Former Malawi President Kamuzu Banda was, President Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda-Life President of the Republic of Malawi. The infamous former Ugandan president Idi Amin was called, Field Marshall Dr Idi Amin Dada MC DSO CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire)-Life President of Uganda.
Since the dawn of time, Africa has had its fair share of teething troubles, some of which have left enduring scars on the continent and its people. From colonialism to poverty, disease, hunger and never-ending civil wars, Africa has indeed come a long way.
But even as Africans endeavor to disentangle themselves from this past, they have had to contend with the question of power hungry presidents who are willing to destroy everything just to prolong their mandate.
For example, some presidents, such as 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, believe that God has appointed them to lead and it is only Him that can remove them from power.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for more than 36 years, has vowed to rule for life.
What’s worse is the fact that the new generation of young African leaders — who were once seen as the “breath of fresh air” that the continent has craved for so long — appear to have been infected by this archaic disease of a narcissistic and domineering style of leadership.
President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza is an example of a head of state who blatantly defied the Constitution by running for a third term in office, leading to a deadly civil war that has left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced from their homes.
Another perfect example is President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo who remains in office even though his mandate as president ended in December. His continued stay in power has led to nationwide protests, where dozens of people have died.
Other dysfunctional leaders include President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Idriss Deby of Chad, and more.
In 2015, former U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a scathing attack on African leaders who have overstayed their mandate, telling them that “nobody should be president for life.”
But even with Mr. Obama’s intervention, some African presidents have resorted to changing constitutions by scrapping presidential term limits.
So, why are these leaders so insistent on clinging on to power despite their many years of futile reign?
The truth is many of these African leaders are addicted to power and believe it is their right to rule. This is largely because many of them — either directly or indirectly — participated in the liberation of their countries from colonialism. So they see it as their birthright.
Unfortunately, many Africans, especially the older generations, still see these leaders as heroes and God’s chosen monarchs who should rule forever. And in order to cement this belief, these leaders continue to tout the idea of “Whites versus Africans.”
It is therefore not surprising to find some African presidents appointing their own sons and daughters to important government positions in readiness for their succession.
And since most of these African presidents have often overstepped their mandate and ended up committing serious crimes against their own citizens, they are afraid of handing power over to new administrations because they fear being held accountable for their past misdeeds.
Consequently, they would rather die in office than go to jail or witness their multi-billion-dollar dynasties, which they have built off the backs of their poor populations, go down the drain.
Others have surrounded themselves with opportunists and sycophants who are ready to do anything to please their masters.
It is also fair to say that the majority of African government structures lack checks and balances, giving presidents absolute power to do as they like. Consequently, these leaders have created legal loopholes that allow them to act with impunity, sometimes even killing their own people with no one to hold them accountable.
It will take more than economic sanctions and hardline statements by the international community to persuade these African leaders to relinquish power.
Ultimately, Africans must also rise up and demand accountability and restraint from their leaders.