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Friday, July 21, 2017

#African autocrats find new ways to cling to power

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda will be 76 at the next election.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda will be 76 at the time of the next election. HANNAH MCKAY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Many of the continent’s presidents are among the longest-ruling in the world, and they don’t plan to loosen their iron-fisted grip.
More than 30 years after seizing power, President Yoweri Museveni is still the undisputed ruler of Uganda, and he plans to keep it that way. But he faces one small pesky problem: an age limit.
At the next election, he will be 76. And Uganda’s constitution bans its leaders from seeking re-election after the age of 75.
So now his supporters are gearing up to amend the constitution, removing the age limit and extending his rule – to give him a potential four decades in power. Officials say the amendment will be introduced later this year.
Removing the age limit would be a “constitutional coup” to create a form of “imperial” rule, some Ugandans say. “We would be hurtling towards establishing a life presidency,” said Crispin Kaheru, co-ordinator of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.
But the ruling party has a strong majority, and the amendment is expected to pass.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is now 93.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is now 93.
AP PHOTO/TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI, FILE
Tinkering with the constitution is just one of the creative methods that African rulers are exploiting to protect their power. A wave of protests had briefly endangered some rulers in 2014 and 2015, even toppling one or two of them. But today those protests have largely been crushed, and many of the autocrats are finding new ways to entrench their rule.
The world’s oldest president, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, is now 93 and has dominated his country for 37 years. His health is so frail that he walks with difficulty and often falls asleep in meetings. Yet he is widely expected to run again in elections next year, using a new constitutional provision that allows him to remain in power until he is 99.
Another long-ruling autocrat, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, will sweep to victory again in a tightly controlled election next month. He has governed his country for the past 23 years, first as defence minister (and effective ruler) and then as president.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, 59, could hold office until 2034.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, 59, could hold office until 2034.
SAYYID ABDUL AZIM/AP
Rwanda amended its constitution last year to allow Mr. Kagame to remain in power until 2034. Only two minor candidates have been allowed to challenge him in next month’s election. Nobody is pretending there is any doubt over the outcome. “I am happy that we already know what the results are,” Mr. Kagame told a recent campaign rally.
In another election next month, oil-rich Angola will get its first new leader in 38 years. But the president, José Eduardo dos Santos, will continue to dominate the country, since he will remain the leader of the ruling party, while his tiny elite of insiders will continue to control the wealth. He is simply handing the official title of president to his hand-picked successor and close ally, defence minister Joao Lourenco.
Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, has held power since 1979.
Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, has held power since 1979.
THEMBA HADEBE/AP
Similar ruses are allowing many other African leaders to entrench themselves. Many of its presidents are among the longest ruling in the world, and they have no intention of loosening their grip.
In the Republic of Congo, for example, President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled for 20 years. When he was nearing the end of his two-term limit, he simply orchestrated a referendum to change the constitution, then was re-elected again last year.
Across the Congo River, the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo has been ruled by President Joseph Kabila for more than 16 years. He was legally required to step down at the end of his term last December, but instead he remained in power by claiming that the country was unprepared for elections. There is still no date set for a vote, and he is still in power.
The world’s oldest president, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, is now 93 and has dominated his country for 37 years. His health is so frail that he walks with difficulty and often falls asleep in meetings. Yet he is widely expected to run again in elections next year.
In Zambia, meanwhile, President Edgar Lungu has deepened his political dominance by jailing the main opposition leader, suspending opposition MPs from parliament, and invoking emergency powers. Until recently, Zambia was considered one of Africa’s most democratic nations.
Jailing or eliminating the opposition is a common tactic in much of the continent. Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, faced an uprising in the streets in 2015 when he announced his bid for a third term, in defiance of the provisions of a national peace accord. He simply used police and soldiers to crush the protests, while pressuring Burundi’s constitutional court to validate his decision. One judge who disagreed with the third term was forced to flee the country. Other judges, he said, received threatening phone calls until they agreed to write the ruling that the president wanted.
Some of Africa’s most authoritarian leaders have been even more ruthless in eliminating their opposition. The oil-rich nation of Equatorial Guinea has been ruled for 38 years by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who seized power in a military coup. He tolerates no significant opposition in his one-party state.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled Equatorial Guinea for 38 years.
JAMES AKENA/REUTERS
President Paul Biya has been Cameroon’s dictator for 35 years. His police have killed and jailed opponents, and he switched off the Internet for three months to quell protests in one region last year.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, Chadian President Idriss Déby, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and Swaziland’s monarch King Mswati III have all ruled their countries for 26 years or more. None of them is showing any signs of departure, or any tolerance for independent challenges.
For the past two years, Mr. Déby has simply refused to allow the parliamentary elections that were scheduled to be held in Chad. He claims that the country cannot afford elections because of declining oil revenue. “In the time of the lean cow, we can do nothing,” he said.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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