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2017, The Year That Long-Serving African Presidents Left Power


2017 was an eventful year for Africa on the political scene. In 2017, Yahya Jammeh, Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Robert Mugabe all left power amid various circumstances

Undoubtedly, 2017 will go down as one of the most memorable and scintillating years in the annals of history. Seismic political waves gripped Africa and this resulted in the downfall of long-serving presidents.

The year started with Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled the Gambia for 22 years with an iron fist. After the December 2016 elections, Jammeh had lost and he conceded defeat. In a dramatic turn, he retracted his position and remained adamant that he would remain in power. What then ensued was intense pressure from fellow West African states who wanted him out, and give power to the rightful winner, former security guard Adama Barrow. A regional military force had already been positioned to move in if Jammeh had continued refusing to cede power.

Jammeh and his family then fled into political exile on January the 21st 2017 into Guinea. Jammeh’s departure was the first democratic transfer of power the Gambians has seen ever since he seized power during a 1994 coup. His rule was highly controversial, as it was blighted by the ruthless suppression of dissidents. His human rights record was among the worst in the world, and living standards continued spiraling down. In 2007, he declared that he had found the traditional cure to HIV/AIDS. During his rule, scores of people fled the country in fear of political persecution.

Regarded as one of the bastions of Africa’s “club of dictators” long-serving former Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos shocked many when in December 2016 he announced that he would resign as the head of state. This was materialized in August 2017 when he finally stepped down and his chosen successor Joaa Lourenco took the reins of a government widely castigated for being repressive, corrupt and nepotistic.

As Lourenco took charge, he set forth a mission to purge some of the staunch loyalists who had served his predecessor, dos Santos. He even fired Isabel dos Santos as the head of Sonangol, which is the state oil company. Isabel dos Santos is the daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos. He still has a long way to go in dealing with a myriad of problems that bedevil Angola, chief among them the ailing health system and the continuous fuel shortages.

Arguably the biggest story from Africa that caught the world’s attention, 2017 saw Robert Mugabe being pushed out of the comforts of his presidency through a military intervention dubbed “Operation Restore Legacy.” Robert Mugabe had been in power for a mammoth 37 years. In all respects, his ouster had become long overdue as he was an unwanted figure by people from his party and the general populace.

Interestingly, what precipitated the downfall of Mugabe were intense and acrimonious factional fights, in an apparent bid to succeed him. There were two factions, one led by incumbent president Emmerson Mnangagwa and another with Grace Mugabe at the top. Things took a nasty turn when Mugabe fired his then deputy Mnangagwa. It had seemed as if Grace was rising to the top political echelons, but as events turned out, this was not to be.

A military intervention that started with an announcement on state broadcaster ZBC TV saw tanks being rolled out into the streets and Robert Mugabe being confined to house arrest. On Saturday 18 November, under the auspices of the military and war veterans, Zimbabweans in Harare and Bulawayo marched peacefully in the streets demanding the resignation of Mugabe. The following day he was discarded by his party and in the evening, as the world watched on expecting him to resign, he gave a rambling speech that was bereft of resignation. He then resigned two days later fearing humiliation of impeachment.

It has been an eventful year for Africa on the political scene. In Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta remained president following hotly disputed elections that resulted in a historic judgement that annulled and nullified results of the first round. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame won by a landslide and in Liberia, ex-football start George Weah became the new president.

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