Adamu Muhammad Hamid PhD
Mahamat Deby swears in as the new leader of Chad who is the commander in chief of the country’s military and will take charge of the office of the country’s head of state for eighteen months from now after his father Field Marshal Idriss Deby Itno died on April 19, 2021.
Mahamat’s appointment is until when the 17 million-man country holds elections in two years, in which he is now free to contest. In attendance at his swearing-in ceremony was President Muhammadu Buhari, which signals Nigeria’s approval of the processes that lead Mahamat to directly succeed his father, Deby. This is in spite of the bold writing in the air that the African Union abstained from the ceremony, indirectly signalling disapproval. So, why would Nigeria support an undemocratic and uncivilized uncouth tendency for hereditary succession principle? As Africa gravitates inch by inch to what seems a gradual degeneration into a bloc of dynasties is an open testimony that civilization or development would continue to bypass the continent. The dynamism of a modern egalitarian society dictates that wisdom and excellence are not a monopoly of any one family, therefore leadership, ideally should be recruited by giving capable hands a free and convenient ground to play.
The trend of transmitting power directly from father to son is most prevalent in Central Africa. In some instances, it is a direct blatant process, while in others it’s an indirect arrangement of all relevant mechanisms for a son to succeed his father. The Central African Republic maintains being on the fringe of this trend at least for the moment, but for the other five states in the zone, the dynasty-type practice is well manifest. In bordering Gabon, President Ali Bongo Ondimba is the son of Omar Bongo, who ruled from 1967 to 2009, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila ruled for 17 years after succeeding his assassinated father Laurent-Désiré as head of state in 2001.
Of course, political dynasties are manifest even in developed democracies – for example, the Bushes and Kennedys in the US. It’s true that in the U.S., in the recent past, both the late Bush (Snr) and Bush (Jnr), father and son became president in a non-directly successive manner. So what is the difference between the US’ case and the one in Africa? In the case of the US, the democratic processes were allowed to play out according to the tenets until Bush (Jnr) emerged as Republican flag-bearer, and ultimately the president. Bush (Snr) did not play any significant role in contriving the process. His only role was of giving birth to Bush (Jnr). Nor did he play any significant role in making Bush (Jnr) the governor of Texas. This is a scenario in which another ideal of democracy is fulfilled: being a son of the president does disenfranchise one from joining the race and becoming one. However, in the emerging trend in Africa, in all cases where a son succeeds his father, the father himself or his cronies prevail on the country and get the son in place. And the continent is gradually moving in this direction.
The family transmission of power as a mode of leadership succession in Central Africa corresponds well to what part of scholarship in political science referred to as African-style democracy, reflective of anachronisms and contradiction of democratic practice in the continent. It is a paradoxical reflection of the gap that exists between the democracy practised in certain African countries and true democracy as understood in its real essence built by the competitive contest to power, political pluralism, organization of free, transparent and regular elections, fundamental freedoms and respect for human rights, separation of powers, rule of law, etc.
If the status of the son of the president cannot be regarded as a prerequisite for ineligibility, it is palpable that the mere hereditary succession of power contradicts the dictates of free and democratic competition for power. Beyond neutralizing political competition, it distorts the fair expression of the votes cast and calls into question the popular legitimacy of the political heir. Moreover, the succession of power in a dynasty style appears to be a considerable hurdle, an obstacle to the realization of democratic choice or the promotion of a real alternative.
In addition, the succession of power from father to son undermines the principle of equality of citizens before the law by consecrating an a priori imbalance, or a strange opportunity to the son who benefits in his ascension to power from all the institutional apparatuses or arrangements and financial resources of State. It logically follows then that the mechanism complementary to the hereditary transmission of power consecrates, a priori, the hegemony of a claimant to the throne by annihilating all other possible choices.
Therefore, the dynasty of republics sweeping Central African countries can literally be regarded as an outgrowth of disabled or poor governance, exemplified by corruption, the buying of conscience, embezzlement and predation of public authority.
In many African countries, such a dynasty-style transition looks imminent. Elected to a further term in March this year, after ruling the country for all except for five of the past 41 years, there’s no sign of the 77-year-old head of state Denis Sassou Nguesso losing his appetite for wielding power himself. Cristel was gradually being continuously strategically positioned in the country by the father for a glaringly manifest possible succession. He was appointed administrator general of Cotrade and subsequently made deputy director general of the National Petroleum Company of Congo Brazzaville. He was brought to the centre of government operations. So if Denis-Christel eventually steps into his father’s shoes, this will neatly align Congo-Brazzaville with the increasingly prevailing pattern in Central Africa.
The President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang who has been in power since ousting his tyrannical uncle Francisco Macías Nguema (the country’s first head of state, back since 1979) had before now installed his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue as vice-president, positioned strategically to succeed him.
Again, for Gabon, the previous year Mr Bongo when he suffered a stroke during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Brice Laccruche Alihanga, his chief of staff became prominent in managing affairs of government during his long illness and recuperation. But eventually, soon after recovery, the president reasserted control, demoting Mr Laccruche, sacking him and then arresting him over allegations of corruption, which he denied. Meanwhile, Nourredin was installed in the new post where he oversees his father day-in-day-out, and is charged with “transmitting his wishes” to the rest of the government machine, and has a free hand to get involved across the board on his father’s behalf.
There are also rumblings on a probable family succession in Cameroon, where a faceless citizens’ movement campaigns to promote the public image of Franck Biya, son of the 88-year-old President Paul Biya. The president of Cameroon, Paul Biya has been in power since 1982. While Franck publically indicated that he had nothing to do with the campaign, but nor had he warned the campaigners to abstain from it, or issued an unambiguous rebuff of any ambition to succeed his father. Uganda is witnessing social media campaigns touting General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, son of the current head of state Yoweri Museveni, as a latent candidate for governing party for the next election of the country, come 2026.
Now, after Chad’s President Idriss Déby passed on last month, his son Mahamat, a four-star army general, swiftly emerged as the leader of the interim ruling military council, as last week swore as head of government. And in a dramatic move to console possible unrest in Chad, Mahamat announced this week, seventy-five-year-old Saleh Kebzabo as the new prime minister. Kebzabo was the leader of the opposition party National Union of Democracy and Renewal, and a staunch opposer of Idriss Deby’s policies. He contested against Idriss Deby four times in the past for the seat of Chad’s presidency.
Some of the reasons heads of states in Africa install or position their sons for succession can be explained by a clear desire to appropriate power to guarantee to some extent any accountability that might be required in order to protect their own interests. Put differently, if there happens to be an association between the length of the period in power and the hereditary succession of power, it is possible with a view to evade, to some extent, any responsibility for accountability that would fall to the father, which is reassured by the presence of the son in charge.
Besides that, “parentocracy” is to be found in ‘neo-patrimonialism’ according to Bayard, and Bourdieu further said it is “based on the privatization of the state by clan entities that ensure the reproduction of the sons of the ruling elite.” Meanwhile, in this process, power will continue to remain the possessions of an individual, then later of a family, which controls multiple allegiances by the redeployment of pretends.
It is also important to mention the shocking role of foreign powers in the dynastic succession of power in Central Africa. In reality, in the name of preserving their interests, certain foreign powers that often aver to themselves the role of giving democratic lessons take part in the scuttling of these same tenets on African soils by endorsing the hereditary transmission of power from father to son. The role of France in Gabon, and now in Chad after the death of Marshal Idriss Deby Itno is quite instructive in this regard.
The history of Africa’s traditional arrangement traces back to kingdoms where the norm was a hereditary succession of power. So, in part, this emerging tendency of hereditary transmission of power can be justified by some as gradually manifesting because of the civilizational and cultural foundation of Africa. In fact, the dawn of republics after independence was a profound break with the tradition of kingdoms and chieftaincies that had long existed in Africa. In this practice, a succession of the throne from father to son was not regarded as an anomaly, just a normal or recognized way of power succession.
Thence the budge to republicanism and democracy literally means now that some African states are yet to abandon the principle of hereditary succession of power, which clearly seems to be the antithesis of the principles of democracy and good governance. Africa takes pride in joining the global civilization of transiting to democracy, but at the same time, its leaders are fast drifting back into Africa’s traditional system of monarchies. Does the continent suffer from ‘multiple personality disorder’?
To guarantee the democratic transference of power in Central Africa and other parts of the continent, it is crucial to encourage the political commitment of the masses to reclaim the State and the role of true sovereignty that is theirs when a system is democratic. This responsibility falls principally on political parties, civil society, the mass media, etc. In addition, the international powers must desist from playing double standards in the construction and consolidation of the democratic process in Africa.
Finally, it is also imperative to work towards strengthening the institutions of power control. This is because dynasties are recognized where institutional checks and balances are deficient or become totally under the control of the political elite who are in government. In this direction, the fight against exacerbating ‘communitarianism’ and tribalism would be of great interest.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect WikkiTimes’ editorial stance.