Creating African dynasties

Sunday March 13 2011

Africa: Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader Moammar al-Gaddafi.

Africa: Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader Moammar al-Gaddafi. AFP PHOTO 

By Mwaura Samora

In the past 10 years, four sons have succeeded their fathers directly as presidents. For others, it hasn’t been easy, writes Mwaura Samora.

The political culture of dynasties is very much alive in Africa even where there are no kingdoms. In Uganda the opposition has claimed that President Museveni is grooming his eldest son Lieutenant Colonel Kaneirugaba Muhoozi, 36, to succeed him.

Museveni has already placed his presidential guard under the Special Forces, an elite army unit commanded by Colonel Muhoozi. The Special Forces is tasked with, among other duties, guarding the Lake Albert oil fields. In its ranks include commando, infantry, artillery and air force units.

“Already there has been an outcry from Ugandans about the president’s habit of putting his relatives in strategic positions,” opposition defense spokesman Hussein Kyanjo told Newswatch magazine. “What President Museveni has done confirms Ugandans’ worst fears. He is making the Ugandan presidency monarchical and is clearly anointing his son to succeed him”.

But Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye has defended Muhoozi by saying: “He has equal right like you and I and he didn’t chose to be born to a person who was later to become president of Uganda. He’s an individual Ugandan with rights, including contesting for the presidency if he wants”.

After the Presidential Brigade Guard was placed under his charge, the UK and US trained Lt. Col. Muhoozi is now said to have the sweeping powers of any commander-in-chief.


However this elevation did not come as a surprise since in recent years the Ugandan head of state seems to have developed a penchant for appointing his kinsmen to high office. The president’s stepbrother General Caleb Akandwanaho (Salim Saleh) is the senior presidential advisor on defense, brother-in-law Sam Kutesa is the foreign affairs minister, daughter tary to the president and the first lady’s nephew Justus Karuhanga is the president’s private secretary for legal affairs.

First Lady Janet Museveni is the minister for Karamoja region while her relative Hope Nyakairu is the finance under-secretary at Uganda’s State House.

Not alone
But President Museveni is not alone in the game. Although Swaziland, Lesotho and Morocco are the only de facto monarchies in Africa, the culture of dynastic political succession is breeding a class of “republican kingdoms”.

“Rulers prefer sons over alternative figures more inclined to hasten the succession through assassination or coup attempts. Concern about assassination by son is less in a hereditary successional arrangement than if the designated successor is a high ranking official of the existing regime,” writes Jason Brownlee, a political scientist.
Hereditary succession is common in autocratic regimes whose long-serving rulers have cultivated strong personality cults by eliminating rivals and hoarding power around themselves and a clique of elites. With no institutionalised power structures outside the leader, the state security machinery is used to whip the masses into accepting the preferred successor.

Africa has seen four sons of former heads of state ascend to power in the past 10 years, three of them inheriting leadership directly from their fathers. Ali Bongo of Gabon and Faure Gnassingbe of Togo succeeded their long serving fathers in bloody and hugely discredited elections.

In DRC, Joseph Kabila was appointed at the tender age of 28 by the military to replace his father who was assassinated in 2001. In Botswana President Ian Seretse Khama, son of the country’s founding father, came to power after the former head of state abdicated before the end of his term.

The street protests that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are said to have been triggered by, among other things, the prospect of his three-decade rule being extended through his son Gamal.

The fact that Mubarak was grooming his son to succeed was so obvious that some quarters in the west and the donor community were already warming up to his presidency.

“To the IMF and the World Bank, a few European capitals and even certain sectors of Washington Gamal looks like the future of the Arab World,” wrote The Weekly Standard, an American opinion and analytical magazine.

But with 60 per cent of Egyptians living on less than $2 a day, Gamal’s economic wizardry was far from evident. Now a Mubarak presidency is history following a successful uprising.

Inspired by the fall of Mubarak at the hands of unarmed citizens, Libyans have risen against Col Muammar Gadaffi. Despite the dictator’s vow to crush the revolt and die “a martyr” in his home soil, protesters are in control of eastern regions of Libya.
Although not officially endorsed for several years, it has been rumoured that Gadaffi’s son Saif l-Islam is the strongman’s most preferred successor. When protests broke out two weeks ago, Saif came out strongly declaring the regime will “fight to the last bullet” to stop the uprising.

Appointed by his father to the highly visible role of negotiating with the West and heading a number of key organisations in Libya, the 39 year-old London School of Economics graduate is so influential in Libyan politics that analysts believe he played a critical role in persuading Gadaffi to abandon the ambitious nuclear weapons program in 2003.

Described by many in his homeland as confident, charismatic, outspoken but sometimes naïve, Saif is also known for tinkering with liberal political concepts alien to his father’s Jamahiriya system like creating a constitution, instituting political freedoms and free-market reforms. To defend his deviant philosophies, most of which have rattled the older generation of the ruling elite, Saif used to explain that he was he was merely expressing the hopes of ordinary Libyans.

However when a revolt broke out a fortnight ago, Saif’s democratic pretensions disappeared. He is now leading an onslaught against rebels in eastern Libya.
But with people driven revolution reportedly less than 100 kilometres from the capital Tripoli it’s very unlikely that the “King of Kings of Africa” will have the opportunity and time to impose the scion on Libyans.

In Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade has similar plans. His son, Karim, “already holds the Senegalese government’s most senior position, as what the Dakar press calls ‘Super-minister’ in charge of International Cooperation, Air Transport and Infrastructure. But on 4 October, he added yet another string to his bow by taking over the most strategically vital – and potentially most lucrative – portfolio to become Energy Minister,” writes Africa Confidential.