Ejecting former Cote d’Voire strongman Laurent Gbagbo from office provided the kind of political drama that showed the extend to which a certain category of African presidents could go to cling to office. Gbagbo reasoned that it was better to drag Cote d’Voire to abyss than concede defeat.
However, one important lesson is that Gbagbo’s forced exit has in one way or another provided Africa with proof that indeed, it is very possible to rid the continent of its select club of leaders who overstay in office.
The implication of such an event is that much as it has left Cote d’Voire bleeding to death, it means that Africa cannot afford to be less relentless in ejecting such leaders from power. The events in Cote d’Voire should be a morale booster on how to effect the much needed transition in Libya. Apart from overstaying in office as Africa’s longest serving head of state, Col Muammar Qaddafi stands accused of his alleged abuses against his own and other people during more than four decades of what critics say was brutal rule in Libya.
On top of that you have the latest accusations of Qaddafi turning his guns on innocent Libyans after the “FaceBook” revolution visited Tripoli. The African Union (AU) needs to be reminded that change of government in Libya, if effected with the blessing of the continental body, woud give such a process more relevance than if the AU continues with its detached stance of seating on the fence as other powers come to the real military rescue of Libyans.
By extension, the prospects of a post Qaddafi Libyan political dispensation has brought the issue of African leadership succession into more prominence. Libya’s regime change is more dramatic as it is more prominent and has more implications than the rest of the so called “Arab awakening”, that visited North Africa early this year , all put together.
During the post Cold War era of the 1980s and 1990s, Africa witnessed a change of guard in its leadership ranks that could only be equated to the independent movements of the 1960s. The continent ushered in a new crop of overzealous revolutionary leaders who seemed to have brought new blood into the continental leadership landscape. In this new league are comrades Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe , Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Africa’s own version of Che Guevara-the iconic Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso.
For some of us who were studying African history in the mid 1990s, no one could convince us at that time, that, a vast majority of the revolutionary leaders, would one day be accused of so many misdeeds against the very African people that they had sought to serve. I remember so well while still at campus , back in Kenya, how we used to be captivated by the ideals of Yoweri Museveni, while Kenya was groaning under the dictatorship of Daniel Arap Moi.
As students of African history, we had taken Museveni’s ideals as the most pragmatic, and by extension, the most illustrious political ideology to have emerged from East Africa at that time. Fast forward to the Ugandan elections of 2010 and some of us are now wondering what happened to the great revolutionary ideals Museveni espoused at the height of his power in mid 1990s.
As for Comrade Bob in Zimbabwe, his shining credentials of the 1980s have since given way to one of the ugliest resumes any leader can ever have.
Mugabe is seen as squarely responsible of taking Zimbabwe to hell by hanging onto power when it was clear that he must go. The bitter lessons learnt from such leaders whom we previously held in high esteem, 20 years ago, is that time has a big relevance in African political leadership succession and overstaying has its own set of high risks.
The message arising out of concerted efforts aimed at smoking out Qaddafi from Libya just as it happened to Gbagbo, is that placing term limits for African presidents is more relevant than ever. If anything, the African leadership story is as well littered with selfless leaders who have willingly given up power, as it is with leaders desperately trying to hang on to power.
The author is an editor with The New Times