By Ciugu Mwagiru
Despite mounting opposition from different quarters, Africa’s longest serving leaders are still insisting on seeking multiple presidential terms long after their sell by dates have expired.
A case in point is Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has just been re-elected for a fifth term despite the fact that he has ruled the tiny oil-rich West African nation since 1979, having come into power through a military coup.
According to official results released at the end of the week by the country’s electoral commission, Obiang, 73, was re-elected with a landslide 93.7 per cent of the vote in last Sunday’s election.
Ultimately, Obiang was all along assured of an easy romp home, and after his most recent win the occupant of the African political scene is now set to retain power until 2023, by which time he will have ruled his country for a staggering 44 years.
Already recognised as Africa’s longest serving ruler, he has survived despite claims by human rights groups that he is one of the continent’s most brutal dictators.
Supremely confident, prior to last Sunday’s poll he warned those countrymen who would not vote for him that failing to do so would be tantamount to rejecting peace and opting for disorder.
Despite his sense of indispensability, though, president Obiang has been accused, alongside his son, Teodoro ‘Teodorin’ Nguema Obiang, of massively plundering state coffers to buy property abroad.
That aside, in one of the most bizarre dynasty building arrangements in Africa, the younger Obiang incidentally serves as the country’s vice-president.
As for his father, he has in recent times been resisting attempts by US authorities to seize his assets, denying charges that they were bought with embezzled state funds. Despite such claims, Obiang is deeply entrenched in power, and is not showing any signs of relinquishing power any time soon.
In a broader perspective, his wily retention of power followed similar performances by other veteran African leaders who have ignored widespread protests, nationally and internationally, and insisted on seeking new terms any way but how.
Among them have been the presidents of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo Brazzaville, who have extended their tenures by changing their countries’ constitutions. Also in their ranks is Chad’s president Idris Deby, who was recently re-elected for a fourth term.
As in the case of other countries ruled by veteran leaders unwilling to relinquish power, there have been allegations of foul play during the Chad presidential election, which was held on April 10, and which Deby won outright in the first round.
Like other veteran rulers, Deby has been accused of firmly dominating his country’s political scene while also tightly controlling the entire election process with the aim of preventing effective monitoring by civil society.
Similar manoeuvres have been the stock in trade of most of the veteran African leaders seeking to perpetuate themselves in power. Among the most prevalent trick in the bag is the tendency to circumvent electoral technology, making it easier to tamper with polls.
Authoritarian rulers have also taken to scuttling opposition parties and marginalising them to the extent that they are forced to boycott elections, even as sections of the citizenry altogether lose faith in the ballot box.
Following such practices, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan recently warned that the veterans are courting trouble.
“If a leader doesn’t want to leave office, if a leader stays on for too long,” Dr Annan warned during a recent meeting in Bahir Dar City, Ethiopia, “and elections are seen as being gamed to suit a leader and he stays term, after term, after term, the tendency may be the only way to get him out is through a coup or people taking to the streets.”
Given their fabled obstinacy and the fact that the tendency to hold onto power for as long as possible seems to be the norm, to many veteran African leaders Dr Annan’s warning was like the Biblical voice of a man shouting in the wilderness.