Africa

As Uganda’s Museveni Takes On Young Challenger, What Happened To Africa’s ‘Forever Presidents’?

Yoweri Museveni came to power in Uganda in 1986 after his rebel army, the National Resistance Movement, finally took the capital after a six-year bush war. He brought stability and relative prosperity after years of violence and strife under Idi Amin and Milton Obote but he is now 76.

Ugandans go to the polls on Thursday, 14 January, with both the European Union and the United States having severe doubts about the electoral process.

President Museveni is seeking to hold onto power after 35 years in office and is facing a strong challenge from Bobi Wine, 38, a singer who grew up in one of Kampala’s biggest slums.

​The EU said this week Uganda’s elections had been “seriously tarnished” by the excessive use of force by the government and the US cancelled plans to send a team of election observers.

Museveni, wearing military uniform in a televised address on Tuesday 12 January, accused foreigners of interfering in Uganda and added: “We…don’t need lectures about anything from anybody. Because there’s nothing we don’t know.”

Bobi Wine told The Observer this week: “My warning to Museveni is to learn from history. It’s important that you respect the voices of the people of Uganda because, if you do not, you will also end up in the dustbin of history like your friends Gaddafi, Mugabe and Bashir.”

So how many of Africa’s other leaders are getting long in the tooth and how many have recently fell from power?

Equatorial Guinea

Teodoro Obiang Nguema, 78, has been the leader of the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea – which is in – since 1979.

His longevity is largely due to his country’s oil and gas wealth which has enabled him to reward his supporters and pay off his opponents.

In 2004 a group of mercenaries led by a retired British soldier, Simon Mann, planned to overthrow Obiang.

The plotters were detained in Zimbabwe en route to the Equatorial Guinean capital, Bata, and Mann was later jailed for seven years.

Sir Mark Thatcher – son of former prime minister Margaret – was among those implicated in the coup attempt.

Obiang rules with a rod of iron and opponents are killed or locked up in the notorious Black Beach prison.

His son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who was appointed First Vice President in 2016 is being groomed to take over.

Cameroon

Next door to Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya, 87, has been the head of state in Cameroon since 1982.

Three-quarters of the country’s population have never known another leader and his mandate – after being re-elected in 2018 – is not due to expire until 2025, when he will be 92.

​France is the country’s former colonial power and Biya has been a loyal ally of Paris for decades.

But his love of all things French, including the language, have got him into trouble in recent years.

In the far north-west of the country, along the border with Nigeria, is a strip of territory which was once a British colony and where the people are Anglophone, rather than Francophone.

In 2017 a rebellion broke out by Anglophones wanting to create their own country – Ambazonia – but government troops have brutally crushed it.

Eritrea

When the Dergue – which controlled Ethiopia since the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in the 1970s – were brought down in 1991, Eritrea broke away and became independent.

Isaias Afwerki, who had led the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, was referred to by US President Bill Clinton as a “renaissance African leader”.

​Afwerki, who is now 74, became the new head of state and has not bothered with holding elections in Eritrea.

He recently became embroiled in Ethiopia’s conflict with the leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front.

Eritrean troops reportedly crossed into Ethiopia’s Tigray region in support of Addis Ababa and have even been accused of kidnapping Tigrayan women.

Eritrea is one of the most impoverished and repressive countries in Africa and every year tens of thousands of Eritreans migrate, or try to migrate, to Europe for a better life.

Morocco

Morocco is one of only three kingdoms in Africa – the others being Lesotho and Eswatini – and King Mohammed VI has been in power since 1999.

In 1975, after Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara, his father King Hassan II encouraged the so-called Green March by which Moroccans marched into the territory and annexed it.

​Last month President Trump gave US approval for Morocco’s sovereignty of the Western Sahara, something which has not been accepted by Britain or many other western countries.

Mohammed VI’s powers are more than a constitutional monarch but slightly less than an absolute monarch.

In 2010 a new constitution was introduced which gave greater powers to parliament and the prime minister but the king remains the head of state and has wide-ranging powers.

Mohammed VI is 57 but has suffered heart problems in recent years. His heir is his 17-year-old son, Hassan.

Chad

Idriss Déby, 64, has been the leader of Chad since 1990.

A former army officer, he swept to the power at the head of a Libya-backed rebel movement, the Patriotic Salvation Movement which ousted President Hissène Habré – who was convicted of war crimes in 2016.

Déby has survived several rebellions against his rule but has been propped up by France, which considers him a key ally.

Chad, a Muslim-majority country in central Africa, cut diplomatic relations with Israel in 1972 but restored them in 2019.

Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe became leader of Zimbabwe in 1980 after the British government brokered an agreement to end a war in the former colony, originally known as Rhodesia.

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