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Africa and the Succession Trap
by Tim Kelsall
January 07, 2013


Jan 07, 2013 (African Arguments/All Africa Global Media) -- Mozambique`s Samora Machel built a strong consensual party with a succession tradition. Uganda`s Yoweri Museveni has not.

2012 was a tough year for African leaders: one resigned, one was sacked, two were overthrown in coups, two were defeated in elections, and three died in office. Even in states like Angola where incumbents remained in power, the question of leadership succession was rarely far from the agenda. In 2013, we can expect the topic also to be hot in Madagascar, Kenya and Zimbabwe, all scheduled to hold Presidential elections later this year.

Succession is an inevitability of political life, and there are several ways to accomplish it, from dynastic inheritance to assassination to a competition for votes. Some states do it better than others, however, and it`s fair to say that Africa has had more than its share of disorderly successions.

Even where succession does not lead directly to violence or state breakdown, uncertainty surrounding the process can damage economic growth, as happened in fast-growing states like Kenya, Cote d`Ivoire and Malawi in the 1970s and 1980s.

Economic growth and leadership succession

Since African economies are now growing strongly again, it seems pertinent to ask whether growth will once more be undermined by problems of political succession. In many cases the answer unfortunately appears to be `Yes`. Part of the problem is personal, or `big-man` rule, sometimes called `neo-patrimonialism`.

As I show in a book published tomorrow, these forms of governance are not necessarily obstacles to economic growth; however, growth under the purer types of personal rule rarely lasts more than one or two decades. When pro-growth policies and property arrangements are closely associated with just one man (or woman), the demise of that individual is likely to induce damaging uncertainty in investors.

So how do states avoid the succession trap? In a new Working Paper and Policy Brief for the Developmental Regimes in Africa Project, I answer this question by comparing sub-Saharan Africa with Southeast Asia, a similar, but economically more successful region.

I combine historical analysis with systematic comparison to tease out the factors uniting those countries that combined high growth with succession (Laos, Malaysia, Mozambique, Thailand and Vietnam), and distinguishing those that fell into a succession trap (Cote d`Ivoire, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi). [1]

I found that high growth was more likely to be sustained through succession if leaders handed over power before the age of 75, if the country had a fairly homogenous ethnic structure, if the state had its roots in an identifiable pre-colonial political formation, and if the external economic environment was favourable. However, there were exceptions across the board, making these contributing, not crucial, conditions.

In addition, I found a combination of three conditions present across all the regimes that combined succession with high growth, and absent from those that didn`t.

First, leaders were motivated to search for growth to stave off perceived threats to their survival from external aggression, popular mobilization, and/or resource scarcity. Second, all had broadly pro-market and pro-foreign investment policy packages, although all retained substantial state involvement in the economy. And third, all the successful regimes embedded policy-making in strong institutions of one or other of two types:

- a dominant party with a tradition of consensual decision-making and leadership succession, or

- a strong, organic bureaucracy, effectively insulated from changes in political leadership.


Mozambique provides an example of the first type. Between 1997 and 2010, the country experienced growth of 7.83 percent, despite a change of leadership in the ruling Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO). FRELIMO was formed in opposition to Portuguese rule in 1962 by an elite group of assimilated Africans. A tradition of orderly succession was established in 1969, when Eduardo Mondlane, FRELIMO`s founding president, was killed by a parcel bomb.

Although party vice-president Uria T. Simango was appointed successor at a meeting of the Executive Committee, this decision was overturned by FRELIMO`s more powerful Central Committee, with Samora Machel becoming President. When Machel died in a plane crash in 1986, the Central Committee nominated Joaquim Chissano as President. In 2002, Chissano announced that he would not contest the next Presidential election, and the party congress nominated Armando Guebuza to succeed him.

Like all political parties, FRELIMO has its tensions, but these are muted by an impressive sense of mutual loyalty and internal cohesion. Forged during the liberation war, unity has been maintained even though FRELIMO has abandoned its historic commitment to socialism and taken measures to encourage private enterprise. A stream of investments has followed.

Thailand is (the only) example of the second type. Between 1961 and 1998 growth there averaged more than 7 percent, notwithstanding more than 15 leadership changes, as power oscillated between military factions and weak civilian parties.

Predictability was provided by an organic bureaucracy with roots in the 19th century, in which specialized pro-growth agencies were created in the 1950s. Continuity in the mission and personnel of these agencies gave domestic and international investors confidence, despite a bewildering number of political successions.

Growth and succession in contemporary Africa

Currently there are three countries in Africa that have maintained high growth for more than a decade but have yet to experience a political succession: Angola, Rwanda and Uganda.

All are ruled by dominant `liberation struggle` parties. More research is needed, but it seems probable that the RPF in Rwanda has some of the same unity of purpose as FRELIMO, despite the towering presence of Paul Kagame, and the prospects for succession with growth appear good. In Angola and Uganda, however, leaders are older, external threats are less severe, and despite their post-liberation history, power is more personalised. In states like this, the prospects for combining succession with growth are poor.

To avoid the succession trap, political and economic actors need to devise institutions that can supply credible commitments for investors in a context of transition.

In 17th century England, this happened when the King acceded to a range of formal checks on his power, an experience echoed in currently fashionable development thinking like Prime Minister David Cameron`s `golden thread` or Acemoglu and Robinson`s `inclusive institutions`. Successful Asian and African countries have done things differently, however. Making strong but personalised ruling parties more collegial and consensual, or strengthening and insulating the bureaucracy where parties are weak, might be more realistic alternatives.

Tim Kelsall has taught politics at the Universities of Oxford and Newcastle, and is a former editor of African Affairs. He is currently working freelance for the Developmental Regimes in Africa Project and the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research. His latest book, Business, Politics and the State in Africa: Questioning the orthodoxies on growth and transformation, is published by Zed.


[1] I excluded countries with a population of under five million (eg Botswana) and also countries where a portion of the growth phase could be accounted for by a peace dividend (eg Ethiopia, Myanmar). I defined high growth as growth of at least 7% per annum.

© 2013 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved

Politics of Succession - Coping When Leaders Die
by Kingsley Ighobor
November 30, 2012

Front row, from left: Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, King Mswati of Swaziland, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila pose for a family photo in Mbabane, Swaziland, on March 30, 2009 during a summit of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit.

Nov 30, 2012 (Africa Renewal/All Africa Global Media) -- In December 2008, a Guinean newspaper published a photo of a frail and ailing President Lansana Conte, who appeared to be struggling to stand up. The photo stoked rumours of the president`s ill health.

Its publication also angered the country`s political elite, who hastily ordered the editor`s arrest. By the next day, on the instructions of security operatives, the publication`s front page carried an even bigger photo of Mr. Conte - this time smiling broadly and looking spirited. But he died just a week later, justifying the newspaper`s initial resolve to let Guineans know that his health was failing.

The head of the National Assembly, Aboubacar Sompare, later explained that leaders hid the president`s “physical suffering in order to give happiness to Guinea.”

Mr. Sompare`s clumsy explanation implied a need to avoid succession squabbles and potential violence. Yet six hours after the president`s death was officially announced, the army staged a coup, suspended the constitution and threw the West African nation into political turmoil.

Succession squabbles

While Guinea`s military, after a period of chaos and yet another coup, eventually organized democratic elections, the muddled aftermath of Conte`s death draws attention to the broader issue of how African nations manage successions when their leaders die in service.

Ten of the 13 world leaders who have died in office since 2009 were African. In 2012 alone, presidents Malam Bacai Sanha of Guinea-Bissau, John Atta Mills of Ghana and Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, as well as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, have all died.

Some countries have handled succession better than others. As chaotic as they were, the developments in Guinea were not as dire as the more recent situation in Guinea-Bissau.

Since President Sanha died in January from an illness, the country has been embroiled in an ongoing transition crisis, with the military mostly controlling the affairs of state.

Malawi, on the other hand, had a relatively successful transition after 78-year-old President Mutharika`s fatal heart attack in April. But the process could have gone off the rails when some cabinet members tried to have the late president`s younger brother, Foreign Minister Peter Mutharika, sworn in, instead of Joyce Banda, the vice-president and constitutionally designated successor.

This effort followed the late president`s expulsion of Ms. Banda from the ruling party to pave the way for his brother. When he died the political class was divided between those who cited the late leader`s intentions and those who wanted to follow the constitution.

Many Malawians agitated against any deviation from the constitution, supported by donors, including a strong message from the US State Department: “We trust that the vice-president, who is next in line, will be sworn in shortly.” And she soon was.

It is important to avoid such succession problems, argues Tesfaye Habisso, an Ethiopian writer and former diplomat. “Stability, predictability and continuity in leadership are important ingredients of good governance and are assured by a well-planned and -managed succession strategy.”

The rule of law

Succession strategies need to be strictly constitutional, argues a 2011 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US think tank. The report specifically draws attention to oil-rich Angola, governed since 1979 by Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is now 70.

While the country is now at peace, and its economy is growing, the CSIS report expresses concern that the established rules of succession could be violated because of infighting within the ruling People`s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Some MPLA factions oppose the current vice-president.

Most African countries` constitutions specify that when a leader dies in office, his or her deputy or the head of the national assembly will step in until an election can be held. Some leaders, however, expect the designated “heir apparent” to display fawning personal loyalty.

If he or she does not, political conflict can arise. In Nigeria, for example, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar had a frosty relationship with then President Olusegun Obasanjo, who wasted no time arranging Mr. Abubakar`s expulsion from the ruling party.

Some African leaders have groomed relatives as successors. When President Omar Bongo of Gabon died in 2009, the ruling party named his son, Ali Bongo Ondima, who was foreign and defence minister, as the new president. Presidents Faure Gnassingbe of Togo and Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo succeeded their deceased fathers.

Yet picking a relative can spark a revolt, maintains the CSIS report, citing the case of Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak`s intention to install his son as his successor added to the opposition that erupted in the revolution of early 2011. In Burkina Faso, indications that President Blaise Compaore may be grooming his younger brother, Francois, as a successor have stirred considerable controversy.

Constitutions should be followed strictly when a president or prime minister dies, says Adewalo Banjo, an expert in African development. Without the rule of law, he argues, there can be “constitutional somersaults which bear all the hallmarks of what ridicules Africa before the world.”

Signs of progress

The rule of law certainly prevailed in Ghana after President John Atta Mills died in July. Unlike in Malawi, there was never any doubt as to who should take charge.

Vice-President John Dramani Mahama took over the mantle of leadership in line with constitutional requirements and promptly rallied a distressed nation. Ghana`s seamless transition reflected the strength of its democratic system, in which ruling parties have twice handed over power to the opposition, after electoral defeats in 2000 and 2008.

Nevertheless, while a strong democratic tradition can facilitate smooth successions, considerations of political power may get in the way.

When Nigeria`s Umaru Musa Yar`Adua died in May 2010, some Nigerians demanded that another northerner be sworn in instead of Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner. Mr. Jonathan eventually prevailed.

Following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August, the succession process in Ethiopia was also successful despite initial hitches.

There had been speculation that Mr. Meles` deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, although a member of the ruling circle, could not be trusted with power because he did not belong to the Tigray People`s Liberation Front (TPLF), a former militant group once led by the late president and still a powerful faction within the ruling party.

Ironically, the case for Mr. Hailemariam was made on the basis of ethnic considerations: to defuse tensions associated with the TPLF`s domination over the years and to placate the Wolaytas, an ethnic minority that had never had a member at the summit of power.

Ultimately, Ethiopia`s ruling group rallied around Mr. Hailemariam, who was quick to promise a continuation of Mr. Meles`s policies “without any change.”

Ethiopia, Ghana and Malawi - the three latest cases of smooth succession following the death of a leader - provide evidence that Africa is gradually getting its transitions right. Succession can be a frequent problem even in developed and stable democracies, because it is all about political power, says Minion Morrison of Mississippi State University in the US.

It is even more problematic if a leader dies in office. After the mess that surrounded the illness and death of Nigeria`s Mr. Yar`Adua, writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka sent a simple message to African leaders: political succession should not be a matter of “do or die” politics.

© 2012 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved

When Will Africa`s Succession Disputes End?
by Kelvin Kachingwe
June 10, 2005

Jun 09, 2005 (The Times of Zambia/All Africa Global Media) -- AFRICAN elder statesmen, former Republican president Dr Kenneth Kaunda, former South African president Nelson Mandela and late Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere have one thing in common.

They are all heroes!

For a start, Nyerere was among the first African presidents to voluntarily handover power at a time when the most fashionable thing to do for many leaders was to cling to power and wait for eternity to decide their fate.

On the other hand, Mandela whose fame has reached cult status worldwide also stepped down for Thabo Mbeki after only one term in office.

Despite enjoying wide popularity among the various racial groups in South Africa, Mandela gave up power to Mbeki, who was always going to find it difficult to fit in the former apartheid icon`s shoes.

As for Dr Kaunda, he was the first to risk all and face a popular vote in the 1991 multi-party elections won by Frederick Chiluba. Rather than annul the elections, which he could have easily done, Dr Kaunda gracefully conceded defeat and made a phone call to Chiluba to congratulate him on his election victory.

It is that phone call he made to Chiluba that made KK, as he is fondly called, a statesman indeed.

That fact, educationist, lawyer and politician John Mwanakatwe agrees with in his book, End Of Kaunda Era.

It is Dr Kaunda`s move that paved a way for many other African presidents thereafter to decide to go to the polls and test their popularity. Among these are leaders like Malawi`s Dr Kamuzu Banda, Tanzania`s Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Kenya`s Daniel arap Moi.

For most of these countries that were making a return to multi-party politics, they put a clause in their constitutions to only allow a president to rule for a maximum two terms.

The idea, borrowed from the United States` constitution which allows only a maximum two four-year terms for a president, had become the in-thing for many of these African countries making a return to multi-party politics.

However, where as the United States have had no problems with their presidents leaving office once they complete their maximum two-terms as evidenced with the case of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the situation is pretty much the opposite in Africa.

Zambia, which led the way for the return to multi-partisan in the region found itself in the news both locally and internationally for the wrong reasons.

Towards the end of second Republican president Dr Chiluba`s second and final term as president, he found himself in the centre of a serious debate about his successor.

With a number of his supporters urging him to go for a third term and others arguing against what late human rights activist Lucy Sichone referred to as “bastardisation” of the Constitution, the stage was set for an acrimonious debate that not only split the ruling party, but also the Church and the nation at large.

It was not until Dr Chiluba addressed the nation live both on radio and television saying in no uncertain terms that he was not going for a third term that heads on both sides froze.

If the controversy that rocked Zambia was supposed to be an isolated case in Africa, it was far from it, for Malawi had an almost parallel experience when Bakili Muluzi, who had succeeded Dr Kamuzu Banda, was nearing the end of his final term as president.

No sooner was Muluzi`s term coming to an end than a bill proposing the constitutional amendment to facilitate a third term for him was presented to Parliament.

But fortunately or unfortunately, the bill failed to garner the required two-thirds majority when it was first introduced in July 2002.

Undaunted by the first defeat, another bid to push through the amendment was introduced but failed in January 2004 amid heavy protest from churches, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the donor community.

And like Dr Chiluba, the then Malawian president Dr Muluzi announced in a nationwide broadcast that he would not seek a further term in office.

His chosen successor, Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, just like Dr Chiluba`s heir Levy Mwanawasa, was a surprise choice.

The appointment of Dr Wa Mutharika was expected to damage the ruling party, much the same way the MMD here was expected to have some divisions.

And true to predictions, shortly after Dr Wa Mutharika and Mr Mwanawasa settled in their respective offices, they begun a crackdown on alleged corruption in the previous administrations.

Their corruption crusades cost them friendships with men they had succeeded.

Dr Muluzi, who still wields strong influence within the ruling party later apologised to Malawians for choosing a successor who has turned against him.

“Let me apologise to the country for the choice of Bingu wa Mutharika and imposing him on the country.

I didn`t know he would be accommodating dissenting views,” Muluzi told a political rally in the capital, Lilongwe.

A few months earlier Dr Wa Mutharika had launched his own political party in an attempt to secure a majority in Parliament. No party in Malawi has a majority in the 193-member Parliament.

Zambia and Malawi are not the only countries in Africa where finding a successor has proved to be a thorny issue.

In Namibia, former liberation hero and president Sam Nujoma found himself amending the constitution to allow himself to go for a third term as he was initially only allowed to serve for a maximum two terms.

However, unlike his counterparts in Zambia and Malawi, Mr Nujoma managed to get a third term which he completed before handing over to his preferred successor Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba.

Still, the drama continues. In Uganda, attempts are underway to amend the constitution so as to give President Yoweri Museveni a third term.

The move has, however, attracted condemnation from within Uganda as well as the international community who are urging the maverick leader to respect the constitution.

But before the Ugandan puzzle can be solved, there is one more drama in Togo, West Africa, where that country`s longest serving president in Africa, Gnasingbe Eyadema, died and the army chose his son Faure as his successor.

Had it not been for international pressure, a monarch-like system would have been established, much similar to the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Joseph Kabila succeeded his father, Laurent.

And is it any wonder that very few elections in Africa could be said to be free and fair?. Other than those held in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, the majority of the other elections have always ended with the opposition crying foul, or at most accusing the ruling party of rigging the polls.

Take the case of Zimbabwe, Togo, Zambia, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Malawi, none of these polls were conducted without the opposition claiming that they have been cheated, and without them petitioning the results in the courts of law.

With that scenario, the question to ask is why does Africa have difficulties in finding successors? The solution probably lies in what former South Africa president Mandela said recently on his way to see United States President George W Bush.

Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate himself, said the best democracies are those that are homegrown and not exported.

In that, Madiba, voted by Time Magazine recently as being among the 100 most influential figures in the world, was saying Africa and indeed any other country elsewhere should come up with its own democratic system of governance, one which the locals themselves would have developed.

It is probably therein that the solution to the succession puzzle in Africa may lie.

© 2005 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved

Togo succession an affront to Africa`s democratic aspirations
Associated Press
February 08, 2005

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) - When Togo`s army anointed the son of its dead president to be the new leader, it not only ignored its constitution but also challenged Africa`s emerging new democratic order.

The new Africa is trying desperately to end its image as a continent ruled by despots who seize power through the barrel of a gun.

Togo`s curious experiment with hereditary democracy began Saturday when longtime President Gnassingbe Eyadema died of a heart attack and the army named his son to succeed him.

The 53-nation African Union immediately condemned the appointment of 39-year-old Faure Gnassingbe, branded his succession a military coup and demanded the armed forces respect the constitution and end its interference in politics.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the AU, said the “unconstitutional transfer of power in Togo” would not be condoned.

The United Nations and the European Union also condemned the illegal succession, but analysts say the African Union`s response is critical to support of emerging democracies on the continent.

“It is harder and harder in this age of performance based aid for Africa to go ahead with the old business as usual and be taken seriously by the donor community,” said John Stremlau, head of the international relations department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Togo`s constitution required the speaker of parliament to become a caretaker president until new elections could be held in 60 days.

But following the military`s move, the country`s parliament, by an overwhelming margin, added a veneer of legality to Gnassingbe`s succession by hastily amending the constitution Sunday to allow him to serve out his father`s term.

“Togo`s parliament is a creature of the Eyadema family,” Stremlau said.

The African Union condemned the hasty amendment and threatened Monday to impose sanctions unless Togo rapidly restored constitutional rule.

Africa`s road to democracy has been troubled from the beginning of the independence movement in the 1960s by a series of coups and civil wars.

Eyadema himself helped stage a coup in 1963 and four years later seized power. He went on to become Africa`s longest ruling despot. He was the classic African big man who enriched himself at the expense of his impoverished countrymen and ruled with an iron fist, brutally crushing any opposition.

For decades Africa was the land of tyrants, leaders like Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-styled “emperor” and alleged part-time cannibal in the Central African Republic; or President-for-life Idi Amin of Uganda.

More recently, Africa has suffered from the despotic rule of now ousted President Charles Taylor in Liberia and still ruling President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose country U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently labeled an “outpost of tyranny.”

But Africa is also the continent of statesmen such as Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela, the beloved one-term president of South Africa, and Obasanjo, who is leading his own Nigeria away from its recent military dictatorship.

“The trend in Africa is toward more accountable government,” said Stremlau. “This cannot stand in Togo.”

But Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the executive secretary of the Economic Community of West African States hinted there could be some regional support for Togo when he said it was “encouraging” that Togo`s parliament had taken steps to address the constitutional questions on Gnassingbe`s succession.

“You`ve got the classical problem of stability versus political change,” said Heather Deegan, a specialist on democratization in Africa at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

ECOWAS, which appeared to ready to embrace the new president, may now be giving more weight to stability and security, which is “not to say that they`re against any kind of democratic process,” she said.

Steven Friedman, a senior research fellow at South Africa`s Center for Policy Studies, said the AU condemnation is a sign that Africa is changing for the better.

“African heads of government looked after each other, took care of each other,” said Friedman, adding that if one seized power the others rallied around and told the West not to meddle in Africa`s internal affairs.

But while democracy seems to be gaining ground in Africa, Freedom House, the U.S.-based policy institute, said in its global survey of democratic reforms that Africa still has a way to go. Of the 48 sub-Saharan countries, it listed just 11 as free, 21 as partly free and 16 as not free.

© 2005. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.





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