Africa’s aging presidents

President Robert Mugabe started ruling Zimbabwe just after HIV was discovered, but before it was known in the country. The virus has killed millions worldwide since then, among them a host of former cabinet ministers and lieutenants under him.

Robert Mugabe.
Robert Mugabe.

Four of his deputies, Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda, Joseph Msika and John Nkomo, have died in office. 60 percent of the population knows no other ruler but him.

If he lives through his next five-year term, Mugabe will be a creaky 94, joining the shady league of non- statesmen, mostly from Africa, who have held power the longest.

Born on February 21 1924, a nationalist who participated in the liberation war against British rule, he was inaugurated as the executive Prime Minister in independent Zimbabwe on April 18 1980. The late Canaan Banana was non-executive president. In 1987, Zanu (PF) merged with another nationalist party, Zapu, and Mugabe became executive president.

All the elections that Mugabe has “won” have been disputed. In 1980, Zapu, then led by Joshua Nkomo who became his deputy and died in 1999, claimed that Britain had rigged the first majority polls in favour of Zanu (PF) and Mugabe.

Further elections were held in 1985, 1990, 1995, 2002 (when the tenure of a president had been changed to seven, instead of five years), and in 2008. All these polls were marred by claims of rigging, intimidation and violence. In 2008, for the first time, Mugabe was officially beaten by Tsvangirai. This led to a bloody run-off with Mugabe competing against himself when the MDC president withdrew because of the violence.

There are some who still believe that Tsvangirai won by well beyond the 50 percent plus one votes required by the law for one to form a government independently in 2008. It took the electoral commission a month and one week to release results of the poll.

In South Africa, which attained independence 14 years after Zimbabwe, they have already been through four presidents (eight since 1980).

Mugabe came to power when Samora Machel was president of Mozambique. He died in a plane crash in 1986 after being in power for 11 years and was replaced by Joachim Chissano (1986-2005) who passed the baton to the current president, Armando Guebuza.

Mugabe was just in time to see Seretse Khama spend his last three months in office, with Botswana’s leader leaving in July of 1980. Then he witnessed the inaugurations of Quett Masire (1980-1998), Festus Mogae (1998-2008) and the current Ian Khama, with whom there is no love lost for the latter’s militant stance against the Zimbabwean leader’s rule.

Only a handful of other leaders have ruled as long as Mugabe. Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi was officially said to be 96 when he left office. He died at almost 100. He declared himself life president after a palace revolt in 1972 and hundreds were killed, tortured or forced into exile during his rule.

Gaddafi was in power in Libya for more than 41 years before being toppled and killed during an uprising in 2011. He seized power in a bloodless military coup in September 1969. He had himself introduced at the 2009 UN General Assembly as the “leader of the revolution, the president of the African Union, the king of kings of Africa.”

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbassogo took over from his uncle in a palace coup in August 1979, and has been in power in Equatorial Guinea since then. Jose Eduardo Dos Santos has ruled Angola for the past 33 years and is considered a close ally of Mugabe. He came into power in 1979 when Angola was still embroiled in a civil war with Unita rebels. He could rule until 2022, as amendments to the constitution allow him to last that far.

Post published in: News
  2. Macon Pane

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