The leadership problem in Africa is becoming more predominant by the day and it appears there is no big shift on the horizon. Over the past few decades, corrupt, narcissistic dictators who have no idea of what nation-building in Africa is have continued to acquire and hold power by all means. Some of these leaders even go as far as holding on to power despite glaring evidence of incapacitation and frailty and will rather die sitting on it than step aside in the interest of their countries.
Over the last month, Africa has been subjected to mockery and heavy concerns over the health of some of its leaders. First, in early December, a video appeared online showing President Salva Kiir of South Sudan wetting himself shamelessly at an official event. The 71-year-old president left his left leg wet as he stood for the national anthem at a road commissioning event. Just a few days later, it was the turn of his Cameroonian counterpart, Paul Biya to put up his own show of shame. In his case, he completely forgot where he was during the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC, the United States. It was such a sorry sight to behold. In the video which went viral on social media in a matter of hours, the president was heard audibly farting uncontrollably in public causing a moment of discomfort and embarrassment for those in attendance. As shameful and deeply concerning as these two national embarrassments were, it is however quite sad that they went almost unnoticed in the continent which is a clear indicator that the sit-tight mentality in power was fast becoming a norm.
The question that will most certainly arise in the minds of any African with a conscience is how and why a large chunk of leaders in the continent became so selfish and insensitive to themselves and their countries. Most of these leaders seem to have made personal vows to themselves not to relinquish power except when they are forced to do so, by death or a sudden violent takeover of their governments. These aged leaders who are mostly suffering from various unnamed infirmities do not have any issues with overseeing the affairs of healthy people in their country. Every available fact on the ground points to the fact that it will be easier for a camel to pass through a needle than to have an African leader step aside from power over health issues but the truth is that this abnormality has to give way if Africa is ever going to assume its rightful place among the comity of nations.
This absurdity has become state-sanctioned, in fact, many African governments have adamantly formed the habit of ensuring that their ailing leader’s health status is not made public. To make matters worse, in a number of countries, discussing a leader’s health status or condition is often considered a criminal offense punishable by death in some extreme cases. These wicked leaders simply position trusted allies and family members around very important positions just to retain power and ensure their tight grip on the country remains unwavering.
Perhaps the video of the President of South Sudan urinating on himself during a parade was even less disturbing than that of the Cameroonian President. The video is gory to say, put it mildly. Paul Biya failed to deliver a speech, despite his aide’s repeated attempts to remind him that he was at the US Africa summit and the world was watching him. The video showed how dazed, the 89-year-old president was by the number of people in the room. He even asked whether he had become a celebrity!
It remains a mystery how Cameroonians watched their President humiliate and disgrace himself and by extension Cameroon and Africa and choose to remain silent. In the video, Biya’s aide was clearly seen trying without success to prompt him to give his speech after President Paul Kagame of Rwanda had spoken, but the old man was unaware of anything. The 89-year-old from every indication is no longer fit to preside over the affairs of animals not to let alone the lives of almost 30 million Cameroonians!
Biya assumed office as president on 6th November, 1982, after seven years as the country’s prime minister, becoming only the second head of state since Cameroon’s independence from France in 1960. In fact, since Cameroon got her independence from France in 1960 the same year as her neighbors Nigeria, they have only known two Presidents.
Biya’s extraordinary political longevity draws inspiration from his ruthlessness rather than his political astuteness as his surrogates will love to portray. One thing he was able to clearly do during his hay days was to put together a closely-knit group of loyalists who hold key positions, and are always available to crush or silence opponents and rivals at the slightest provocation. Many people do not know that even openly talking about succession in Cameroon today is taboo even for his closest supporters. Biya and his wicked cabal have overseen a ruthless crackdown on dissent and have remained unflinching in their quest to hold Cameroon down for as long as they manage to keep the ailing President alive.
As bad as the Cameroonian situation appears, it is even more worrisome that Biya is not the only culprit. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo who is the dictator that is currently running the affairs of Equatorial Guinea is also towing the same selfish and wicked path. Obiang, who came to power in an August 3, 1979 coup, is Africa’s longest-serving leader, with 47 years at the helm. Just recently, he rigged himself to remain in office for his sixth term which will last another seven years. How can a man who has clearly run out of ideas and solutions to the myriad of problems confronting his fragile nation continue to cling to power five decades after? This is beyond wickedness, this is the height of insensitivity.
In South Sudan, the 71-year-old Kiir who was seen urinating on himself has been sitting tight as president ever since the small country gained her independence from Sudan. Under his maladministration which has been fueled by his ailing health, the world’s youngest country has been embroiled in crisis for much of that time, enduring brutal conflict, political turmoil, natural disasters, and hunger.
In Eritrea, the story is not different from the 76-year-old Isaias Afwerki who has ruled the Horn of Africa nation with an iron fist since independence in May 1993 and has ostensibly sworn to hold on to power despite his failing health. The cases are many and one can go on and on with many examples.
To make matters worse, an enlightened country like Nigeria is about to make Bola Tinubu, her next President after a calamitous 8 years of pain and agony under President Muhammadu Buhari who spent a considerable amount of time during his tenure on hospital beds in the United Kingdom. It is rather painful to know that desire, the fact that the narcotics-loving Tinubu is already clearly exhibiting clear signs of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and a debilitating Dementia but sadly, quite a good number of Nigerians do not mind foisting him on the most populous black country in the world.
The problem of having sit-tight leaders in Africa who will rather die than give way is fast becoming a terrible norm that must be dealt with and brought to an end if Africa is ever going to make any headway in the nearest future. Healthy people should no longer be surrendering their futures and destinies to ailing leaders who do not have any business being in power.
Given these circumstances, going forward, the health of a country’s leaders cannot and should no longer be left out of the political debate and discussions. It is time to ensure that transparent information on the relevant health conditions of current leaders must be made public for the people who are being governed to know and act accordingly. Africa surely deserves a better deal than she is currently getting and something must give way!