Thursday, April 19, 2018

Changing of the Guard

Michael - Thursday

Over the last six months, three long-serving leaders of southern African countries were replaced. All three stood down, all three were replaced before an election, and all three were replaced by another member of the same party. There the similarity ended.

Robert Mugabe
First to go was Robert Mugabe who had ruled Zimbabwe since independence more than 30 years ago. Initially, he set out to make a success of the country. But slowly but surely things deteriorated and he started to behave in a more and more corrupt and dictatorial fashion. Eventually, in his nineties, he was more of a figurehead than a leader. His eventual downfall was the result of a power struggle between his wife, Grace, and his number two, Emmerson Mnangagwa. He tried to intervene in her favour, and that was the last straw.  He had the army on his side, but Mnangagwa he knew that if he grabbed power in a coup, his government would immediately be regarded as illegitimate by almost every country in the world. Hence he played his cards carefully, putting more and more pressure on Mugabe, making him better and better offers. He would be secure, with all his corruptly obtained money and assets. His legacy would be respected as ‘father of the nation.’  All he had to do was step aside and enjoy the rest of his life. And give up any pretensions to his wife taking over. Mugabe reacted like a cornered lion, but a toothless and clawless one. 
Emmerson Mnangagwa
Eventually, on the eve of a no confidence vote, he gave in. So far at least Mnangagwa has kept his promises, and is saying all the right things to get Zimbabwe back on track. Time will tell which direction he will actually choose.

Jacob Zuma
Second down was President Jacob Zuma.
A year short of his ten years (the SA constitution allows only two presidential terms of five years each, although there were rumblings that Zuma wanted to change that), he was forced out by Cyril Ramaphosa who gained control of the ruling ANC by the narrowest of margins from a Zuma ex-wife and look alike, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Ramaphosa went the same constitutional route as Mnangagwa, and Zuma also fought until the last minute. No get out of jail card free for him. He is currently facing a variety of charges for corruption. Whether he will ever serve time is moot—he is regarded as the leader of the powerful Zulu nation, and Ramaphosa may not want to alienate them.
Cyril Ramaphisa
But he is gone, and a huge sigh of relief was breathed by the country, which seemed to be headed towards the Zimbabwe model.

Ian Khama
And last month Ian Khama stepped down as president of Botswana and handed the reigns to his hand-picked deputy, Mokgweetsi Masisi. Not much, if any, of the money he handled stuck to his fingers. He did a farewell tour of his country, and was showered with praise and gifts by his people. Not everyone was impressed by him, and the opposition was getting close in the last election. But that is what democracy is about. He could have stayed on for the next election next year, but he wanted to give the new president time to establish himself.  In Africa—as in many other places—an incumbent has a big advantage over an opposition challenger.  42% of elections re-elect incumbents; only around 18% re-elect the governing party where the opposition and government both field unknowns. So it seems that Khama’s move was designed for the good of his party. As I was told long ago, the time to go is when everyone asks you to stay.
Mokgweetsi Masisi

Is there a moral to this story? I leave it to you to decide.


  1. Fingers crossed, Michael. I do think that, until the malefactors are stripped of their ill-gotten gains and have to do jail time, the next guy will think why not? And do the same. In South America they are taking back the money and sending the women who do this to jail. The men are still getting away with it. Interesting, huh?

  2. And your penultimate paragraph begs the question: when is the time to go when everyone has always wanted you to stay away?

  3. It appears to me that those next in line to assume power have learned how to play the game to move their predecessor along and out. That's a skill that keeps the violence down, but not "necessarily" the corruption. But to paraphrase the song, "one out of two ain't bad"...considering the alternative.