Nature, character and dynamics of political succession in Africa

The dynamics of political succession in Africa has over the years taken different forms and dimension across different epochs. While political successions generally are potential sources of conflicts in the continent, it is the succession of executive leaders that has proved to be the most conflict- and interest-generating in most countries. A careful observation of patterns and dynamics of political succession in Africa reveals that there are cases where change in leadership precipitates change in regime (as witnessed in Nigeria in 1966, 1979, 1983 and 1999), while, in some other cases, it triggers state failure (as witnessed in Somalia after the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre). There are cases where leadership change creates an atmosphere for peace and development (South Africa in 1994 after Mandela took over). Yet there are cases where such leadership successions have very insignificant or no effect on the stability or legitimacy of the state. In such cases, the country carries on with the status quo irrespective of the regime or political party affiliation of the successor (Nigeria in 2015, Ghana in 2012 and 2017).

Most states of the continent have witnessed changes both in personnel and regime types at different epochs. Figure 12.1 shows the number of successions in Africa in every decade from 1950 to 2019.

Number of successions in Africa

Figure 12.1 Number of successions in Africa.

Source: Adapted from Inman (2014); updated by the author.

Every epoch is significant on its own mainly due to similarities in regime type and nature of succession among African states. This is therefore discussed under the following headings:

Transition from colonialism to independence

By the early 1960s, political succession in that era was characterised by transition of political power from Europeans to indigenous African people. Apart from Ghana that gained independence in 1957, Figure 12.1 above reveals that there were 47 successions in Africa between 1960 and 1969. Majority of these were successions from colonial powers to indigenous African leaders. In different African regions and territories, nationalism took different modes, forms and dimensions. In British West Africa, the struggle for political independence was characterised by series of constitutional conferences which eventually culminated into bloodless and compromised transition of power to Africans. One significant impact of this is that nationalist movements developed earlier in most British West African territories than in their French counterparts whose road to freedom was bloody and late because of French colonial policy of assimilation which thrived on obnoxious laws that forbade Africans from agitating for self-rule. Thus, political succession from French colonialists to Africans came at a huge cost - Africans had to fight - in states like Cote d’Ivoire and Mali.

Political succession in Portuguese African territories such as Angola, as well as other Southern African states like Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia, was more bloody and brutal. The process of transition was so complex that apart from getting rid of the Europeans, some of these African territories had to contend with challenges of internal dynamics and make-up between the minority white and the majority black race. This delayed independence was to have an implication in the formation of Africa’s first major regional organisation in 1963 as well as on variations in commitment levels of member states towards regional integration in the continent.

Succession through military cotips

Shortly after their independence, almost all the newly emerged African states were soon engulfed in crises of identity, governance, corruption, ethnicity, all of which were cited as reasons for a sweeping military takeover that rocked the continent just few years after independence. From Nigeria to Ghana, Togo to Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire to Congo, to far North African states, civilian governments were toppled by military officers who were supposed to be the gatekeepers of their respective countries’ territorial integrity. The wave of military coup in the continent was such that 15 years into independence, more than 70% of the newly emerged states were under military regimes. From 1970 to 1979 and 1980 to 1989 - a period usually considered as military era in Africa - there were 47 and 41 succession turns in Africa. Figure 12.4 below also reveals that more than

70% of the irregular successions in the continent within the period occurred through military coup. In some countries, the overthrow of civilian governments was bloodless, whereas in others, such as Nigeria, many civilian politicians, top military officials and even the citizens paid the ultimate prize with their blood when junior military officers planned and executed coups.

While the radical switch from civilian to military regimes created a somewhat new phase of political succession in many African states, the counter coups that sustained military grip in African politics helped to redefine militocracy and challenges of political succession in Africa. With every military coup (successful or not), the question of ascendancy to political power and regime type became a subject of discussion in the continent. Nigeria, for example, witnessed a series of military coups between 1966 and 1979 and between 1983 and 1998. Ghana witnessed six military coups, five of which terminated civilian regimes in the country. A thorough review of military coups in Africa shows that 40 African countries have experienced military coups since 1960, with Burkina Faso and Nigeria experiencing it ten and eight times respectively as shown in Table 12.1. Out of those 40, as many as 12 experienced coups in the first five years of their independence, while 23 of the 40 have experienced the phenomenon a minimum of three times.

Military succession to power in Africa declined in the 1990s (see Figure 12.4) when most African states embraced democracy and as more democratised leaders became apprehensive of another potential military interregnum and therefore sought ways of preventing the continent’s nascent democracy. To achieve this, the leaders, in 2001, during the reformation of the OAU, abolished in its entirety all forms of unconstitutional takeover of political power in the continent. This notwithstanding, there were still military coups in the continent in the last decade as shown in the table above. In 2013 alone, there were six planned coups

Table 12.1 African states with the most number of and recent military coups

£ No.

Country

Number of coups

1

Burkina Faso

10

2

Nigeria

8

3

Burundi

6

4

Chad

6

5

Ghana

6

6

Comoros

6

7

Mauritania

6

8

Sudan

6

9

Ethiopia

5

10

Libva

5

11

Sierra Leone

5

12

Central African Republic

5

13

Benin

5

Source: Tabulated by author.

in Africa - Chad, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Guinea and Libya. All these military successions were all forced out of power by the AU who invoked article 30 of the Unions Constitutive Act and therefore refused to recognise such military governments.

Succession to power through military coup helped derail integration movement in Africa. As these states continued to experience series of military coups and political instability, a yawning gap continued to emerge between public policymaking and the actual implementation both at domestic and international levels. The ouster of a particular government meant suspension, modification or outright abandonment of the country’s programmes and commitment towards regional organisations in the continent.

Transition from military regimes to civilian administration

We cannot adequately discuss political succession in the continent without making reference to agitations for the institution of democratic and civilian regimes in many states. During the era of military regimes, individuals, groups and international bodies mounted pressure on military regimes in the continent to conduct elections and hand over power to democratically elected government. Africa has witnessed a series of transitions from military to civilian government. In Nigeria, the first military-to-civilian transition took place in 1979, after over 13 years of military interregnum. The scars of the military era were still trying to heal when another military coup swept out the Shagari-led civilian regime in December 1983, sliding the country back to military regime. After another ten years of military grip on power, Nigeria was to witness another military-to-civilian handover 1993 until the Babangida-led administration annulled what has been adjudged to be the freest and fairest election in the country. With the annulment, the country’s political history experienced an interim government -a situation whereby the military government of Babangida stepped out of power and handed over control to an appointed individual to pilot the affairs of the country on interim basis, conduct fresh elections and then hand power back to a democratically elected civilian government. Unfortunately, the interim government did not last before it was swept aside by another military coup led by Abacha.

Nigeria also witnessed another political succession from military to civilian regime in 1999 when the military government of Abdulsalam Abubakar drafted a constitution, conducted election and officially handed over power to a democratically elected government of Obasanjo.

In Ghana, military regimes handed over power to a civilian government in 1969, 1979, 1981 and 1993. Other countries that witnessed military-to-civilian political succession include Togo and Congo.

One striking feature among the cases in these countries is that the militaries were never ready and willing to relinquish power. They were either forced to do so or were persuaded to do so with a promise to retain and exert some influence over the civilian government. In other cases, the military officers were forced to resign or relinquish power due to pressure from international communities, such as UN and AU. Again, military-to-civilian transition has been conducted in most African states in a way that either the military junta transit themselves from military rulers to civilian leader as witnessed in Ghana in 1993 when Jerry Rawlings transited from military head of state to civilian head of state, or they ensure that their civilian allies and anointed candidates succeed them in power. Through this means, they maintain and perpetuate their stay in the corridors of power. As postulated earlier, Africa witnessed sustained military-to-civilian handover between 1990 and 1999 during the démocratisation in the continent. Figure 12.1 shows that there were 69 successions at an average of 6.9 per year within this period in Africa. We also observed that most of these succession turns within the decade were military to civilian, thus, the sharp decline in military coups in the continent as shown in Figure 12.4 below.

Sit-tightism, wretched compromise and ‘transition’ of power by powerful African leaders to themselves

The history of African politics is replete with records of sit-tightism and struggle for political succession in many states. Table 12.2 shows African sit-tight leaders and the number of years they held on to power.

Across the continent, it has been observed that one of the major impediments to acceptable forms of political succession in most states is the unwillingness of leaders to freely relinquish power at the stipulated end of their tenures. There are notable cases of leaders who perpetuated their stay in power beyond the constitutional requirements. One of the mechanisms they adopt is continuous manipulation and amendment of the constitution to give their stay in power some false legitimacy. In Zimbabwe, for instance, Robert Mugabe adopted all the crude means to ensure he was in power between 1980 and 2018. In Egypt, Mubarak was in power from 1981 until his eventual ouster in 2011; in Cameroon, Paul Biya has been in power since 1975 as Prime Minister and as president since 1982 when he took over from Ahmadou Ahidjo; in Togo, Gnassingbe Eyadema assumed power in 1967 and held unto power by amending the constitution several times and winning highly manipulated elections in 1979, 1986, 1993, 1998 and 2003 before he eventually died in 2005. Opposition parties and citizens were denied the freedom they needed to cause any change. In cases where the opposition were relatively powerful to have won elections, the sit-tight leaders manipulated the electoral results, damned the attendant political unrest and public opinion and continued to rule their states at their own whims and caprices. At best, what the continent witnessed was a wretched compromise where regional bodies like AU and SADC had to mediate between the ruling parties and oppositions in a way that both parties formed government. Kenya and Zimbabwe are very good examples in 2008 and 2009, respectively. After the December 2007 presidential

Table 12.2 Some notable African sit-tight leaders

S. No.

African leader

County

Mode of ascension to power

Duration

1

Tcodoro Obiang

Nguema

Mbasogo

Equatorial

Guinea

Military coup

1979-date

2

Jose Eduador dos Santos

Angola

Election

1979-2017

3

Paul Biya

Cameroon

Served as Prime Minister between 1975 and 1982 before he became the President

1975-date

4

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe

Election

1980-2017

5

Abdelaziz

Bouteflika

Algeria

Election

1999-2019

6

Jose Maria Neves

Cape Verde

Election

2001-2016

7

Joseph Kabila

DR Congo

Succeeded his father, who died in office

2001-2019

8

Hosni Mubarak

Egypt

Military coup

1981-2011

8

Mohammed VI

Morocco

Hereditary

9

Denis Sassou Nguesso

Republic of Congo

Rebellion

1997-datc

10

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

Uganda

Rebellion

1986-date

11

Idriss Deby

Chad

Rebellion

1990-date

12

Isaias Afwerki

Eritrea

Election after war

1993

13

Yahya Jammeh

Gambia

Military

1994

14

Ismail Omar

Guelleh

Djibouti

Succeeded his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon

1999-date

15

Paul Kagama

Rwanda

Succeeded Pasteur Bizimungu after his resignation

2000-date

16

Omar al-Bashir

Sudan

Military coup

1990-date

17

Omar Bongo

Gabon

Succeeded President M’ba, who died in office

1967-2009

18

Muammar

Gaddafi

Libya

Military coup

1969-2011

Source: Author’s compilation.

election in Kenya, violent clashes erupted between President Mwai Kibaki’s supporters and the opposition supporters led by Ryla Odinga. The election was marred by irregularities as both President Kibaki’s party - Party of National Unity (PNU) and Odinga’s opposition party - Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) declared victory for themselves. As the post-election crisis was raging in Kenya, another broke out in Zimbabwe after the disputed March 2008 presidential election between President Robert Mugabe of the ZANU-PF and opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). African regional bodies brokered peace in both cases as the incumbents retained the post of presidents while the opposition candidates were made the prime ministers in a wretched compromise. In both cases, the opposition were side-lined in government and were eventually forced out of the agreed inclusive national government.

In other cases where the oppositions were not strong, African sit-tight leaders conducted elections in a very controlled manner that would make them ‘win overwhelming majority’ against public opinion. Through this means, they maintained ‘political succession from themselves to themselves’, thus consolidating their grip on political power at all cost.

In some other cases, political succession in Africa has over the past decades been characterised by a patriarchal model of power succession in which some African leaders employ all conventional and unconventional methods to ensure that their children (or relatives) succeed them in power. Although Gnassingbe Eyadema died in power, he seemed to have chiselled a well-oiled path to continue the domination and subjugation of the Togolese people which facilitated the crude politics and manipulation of the constitution that characterised the process that led to the emergence of his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as his successor (Banjo, 2008). Other examples include Omar Guelleh of Djibouti who succeeded his uncle as president in 1999. These methods have therefore become entrenched in African politics where constitutions and electoral processes are manipulated in the quest for political succession.

Succession due to death of an incumbent leader

The inevitability of death sometimes necessitates political succession in Africa. While there have been notable cases of death of incumbent leaders in the continent, it is the confusion, drama, succession crisis and the processes thereof that constitute the major discourse in such countries. From Ghana to Togo, Nigeria, Zambia, and Tunisia the process of succeeding a dead leader differs. For example, the death of Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo in 2005 almost threw the country into political and constitutional crisis. While those loyal to the late president wanted his son to take over as the next president, those who were opposed to that vehemently refused. This created an atmosphere of political chaos until elections were eventually conducted and the son expectedly won overwhelmingly. Nigeria also in 2009 witnessed a similar phenomenon, though with a different succession process. Upon the death of President Musa Yar’Adua, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was immediately sworn in as the new president in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the country. Tunisia also has a similar but different arrangement of power succession when a sitting president dies. In July 2019, President Beji Caid Essebsi died in office. Mohammed Ennaceur took over on an interim basis until October 2019 when elections were conducted. The import of the above exposition is that different African states have different methods or processes of succeeding a dead leader. While it breeds conflict in some countries, it follows due process of law in others.

Transition from civilian to civilian

Interestingly, since the turn of the New Millennium, there have been records of opposition candidates and parties winning national elections and actually succeeding the ruling party in some African states. Starting from South Africa, the continent in 1999 witnessed an epoch-making civilian-to-civilian power succession when the Apartheid hero Nelson Mandela handed over power to Thabo Mbeki after serving just one term. Since then, democracy has been consolidated and regular civilian-to-civilian handover sustained in the country. Nigeria witnessed the first civilian-to-civilian power succession in 2007 when Obasanjo successfully handed overpower to Yar’Adua, making him President of the federation. Despite irregularities in electoral processes, Nigeria made history in 2015 when the ruling party — Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) - led by President Goodluck Jonathan lost the national election and subsequently relinquished power to the All Progressive Congress (APC) led by Muhammadu Buhari. The post-conflict Liberia also experienced a similar change when Sirleaf Johnson of the Unity Party in 2018 handed over power to the opposition party led by George Weah, who had previously contested and lost in the presidential election.

The dynamics of political succession from one civilian regime to another, especially when it has to go from one political party to another revolve around many factors. First, the political atmosphere and adherence to democratic ethics and ethos such as rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free and fair election and independence of the judiciary determine the electoral outcomes and performance of opposition in elections. Where the electoral body is fairly unbiased, opposition candidates and parties tend to do well in elections in Africa. Second, powerful individuals and politicians play a significant role in determining who wins an electoral contest as well as the performance of the opposition in an election. More explicitly, financial resources available to individuals and opposition parties, and the cohesiveness of such opposition parties, more than their programmes and manifesto, determine their success or otherwise during elections in Africa. Using Nigeria as a case study, the PDP was only defeated in 2015 when the major opposition parties decided to coalesce their parties (Action Congress of Nigeria, CPC, ANPP, Labour Party) into a mega opposition party known as the All Peoples Congress. Through this means, powerful opposition leaders pulled their resources together, presented one candidate and eventually defeated the ruling party.

Third is the disposition and willingness of the head of state to give room for democracy to thrive. It is the ability of the leaders to allow for strict implementation of such laws that determines the dynamics of political succession in their states. Despotic leaders manipulate such laws and suppress opposition parties. In Cote d’Ivoire, President Gbagbo lost election in 2010 but refused to vacate office until he was forced to do so by the international community. In Gambia in 2016, when Adama Barrow, of the opposition coalition, defeated incumbent President Yahya Jammah, Jammah graciously conceded defeat, but few days later, he announced that he was rejecting the result, and he refused to vacate office until ECOWAS intervened and forced him into exile. From Togo to Gabon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Algeria and Cameroon, Africa has witnessed numerous cases

Regional integration in Africa 193 where leaders brazenly displayed their resistance to free and fair elections by illegally engineering amendments or manipulations of the constitution, usurping the powers of the electoral umpire or manipulating the entire process of acquiring political power to favour them and their allies.

 
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