The characterisation “new breed of African leaders” was a word that captured wide imagination in African politics.
This crop of leaders – Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi – beaconed something new of a kind that then US president Bill Clinton saw.
The leaders, Mr Clinton foresaw, would be pacesetters in the disorderly African politics; the understanding was they would not behave like the ‘old guards’ who considered it a right to rule for life because they led the struggle for their countries’ independence.
With the benefit of hindsight, the characterisation was used [often] by the Clinton administration to point to America’s newest allies on the continent, whose countries were previously troubled by coup d’états, dictatorships, wars and civil strife.
This “new breed of leaders” had cut an early image of reformism. They despised Africa’s strongmen who imprisoned opponents they could not kill or bribe and lived lavishly as majority citizens wallowed in poverty and offered perks to secure soldiers’ loyalty.
Twelve years earlier, for example, President Museveni had promised a “fundamental change in the politics of our country” at his inaugural speech in 1986.
Besides ridiculing “leaders who overstay in power” whom he described as the source of “Africa’s problems”, in the same speech he went further to scold presidents [on the continent] who flew in private jets to New York to attend UN summits while leaving in their backyards citizens walking barefoot and jigger-infested.
Of the quartet, all former rebels who snagged power by the gun, only Meles Zenawi is out of poverty and has since passed on. He died in 2012 from the Belgium capital, Brussels. He certainly would still be president were he to be alive.
President Museveni, the incumbent for 30 years, was declared winner of the February 18 election with 60.7 per cent. President Kagame is set to run for a third term in office next year after 98.4 Rwandans gave a “yes” vote in favour of the constitutional change to allow him.
In Eritrea since 1993, president Afwerki is still going strong at 70. He has held no election.
No doubt their countries are much better now. They are relatively peaceful. Economies have grown by threefold coupled with general improvement in the human development indexes.
Mr Clinton himself has since been succeeded by two presidents; George Bush and Barack Obama [outgoing], who have both served two four-year terms. So how would he rate these leaders he famously called “new breed” today?
Gone are the days
Early this week, the United States’ permanent representative to the UN, Ms Samantha Power, removed diplomatic gloves to launch a blistering attack on Great Lakes regional leaders, singling out President Museveni whose actions she described as “a risk to Uganda’s future stability” due to his government’s worsening repressive behaviour and on Mr Kagame, whose government has been accused of intolerance to dissenting voices.
These leaders, Ms Power noted, have diminished democratic credentials, suffocate civil liberties, violated their country’s laws and citizens’ rights with impunity while manipulating the laws to stay in power.
She was addressing the 15-member UN Security Council, the world body’s most powerful organ, on conflicts in the Great Lakes—a regional bloc whose membership include Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.
Mr Okello-Oryem, the State minister for International Affairs, asked whether those “darling” days are gone, says: “What Uganda does not want are lectures from anyone, especially on how to govern themselves.”
To describe him [Museveni] as a “new breed” leader, he says, was just “pampering” but which the head of state does not need.