HILLARY Clinton will not need a lot of new introductions to African leaders if she wins the 8 November US presidential election.
In all, 28 of the heads of state on the continent, over 50%, were already in office when she left as US Secretary of State (Foreign minister) in February 2013. The majority were in power before she came to the job in 2009.
This picture IS not necessarily ironclad evidence of the infamous tendency for African leaders to cling to power. Some of these leaders had just been elected in democratic polls – or taken over due to the death of the incumbent – and are serving their last terms.
In country order:
- Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of Algeria (1999-present)
- Jose Eduardo dos Santos, President of Angola (1979-present)
- Ian Khama, President of Botswana (2008-present)
- Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi (2005-present)
- Paul Biya, President of Cameroon (1982-present)
- Jorge Carlos Fonseca, President of Cape Verde (2011-present)
- Idriss Deby, President of Chad (1990-present)
- Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo (1997-present)
- Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2001-present)
- Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti (1999-present)
- Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea (1979-present)
- Isaias Afwerki, President of Eritrea (1991-present)
- Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon (2009-present)
- Yahya Jammeh, President of the Gambia (1994-present)
- Alpha Conde, President of Guinea (2010-present)
- Alassane Ouattara, President of the Ivory Coast (2010-present)
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia (2006-present)
- Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Mauritania (2009-present)
- Mohammed VI, King of Morocco (1999-present)
- Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger (2011-present)
- Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda (2000-present)
- Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa (2009-present)
- Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of South Sudan (2005-present)
- Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan (1989-present)
- Mswati III, King of Swaziland (1986-present)
- Faure Gnassingbe, President of Togo (2005-present)
- Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda (1986-present)
- Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe (1987-present)
However, indicating the existence of a hardcore of “presidents of life” and entrenched or absolute monarchs, twelve of them were in office when her husband, Bill Clinton, was the 42nd president of the US between January 1993 and January 2001, and many did business with him.
It’s therefore highly likely that if Mrs Clinton becomes president, and is re-elected in 2020, by the time she leaves office at the start of 2025, some of these will still be sitting pretty in their presidential palaces.
Based on their past record, the fact that the constitutions of their countries were amended to remove presidential term limits or have never had them at all, at least 16 of these leaders are looking to still be in office by 2025.
One of them, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, faces a both a steep age and health barrier. Often frail, he will be turning 101 years old then.
Algeria’s Bouteflika, already in a wheelchair, will be 86, and on current form unlikely to still be in power. Equally, Angola’s dos Santos, also on health watch, might throw in the towel before then.
Biya would be 92, the current age of Mugabe. He has not reported ill-health often, and would mark a combined 50 years in office were he to cross the line in 2025 while in office. Given his previous determination to cling on, he likely will.
The Equatorial Guinea dictator Nguema will be 83, and already 37 years in power, and not showing significant signs of wear and tear, is almost set to be in office.
The other leaders who are 70 plus years today, are nearly all former rebel leaders or have shown an admirable determination to be president. Afwerki, the iron-fisted president of the hermit Horn of Africa Eritrea, will probably mark his 79th birthday in office in 2025.
Both Sudan’s Bashir and Uganda’s Museveni, will be 81, and will almost certainly be plodding along if all else permits it. Uganda scrapped term limits in 2005, and moves are underway for another constitution amendment to lift the 75 years cap for presidential age.
Conflict-ravaged South Sudan’s Kiir will be 74, and given the uncertainty of the political situation in the country, his case is difficult to predict. In addition, he is an alleged heavy drinker, and close associates worry that he might be damaging his liver. Combined with the stress of the job, he is unlikely to be top dog in Juba beyond the next five years.
Burundi’s Nkurunziza crossed the Rubicon last year, plunging his country into a bout of violence when he stood for what the opposition and critics said was an illegal third term. At 52 today, he will still be a “young” man of 61. He will try to be around until fate overtakes him.
Djibouti’s Guelleh will be 77 in 2025. He has no incentive to leave any day soon.
Mauritania’s Aziz will also be a “young man” of 65, and a chorus to change the constitution to allow him to continue “doing the great work he is doing” is rising. He will likely go a third and fourth bite at the cherry.
Morocco’s Mohammed VI is king, and will be a youthful 62. He’s going nowhere. Nor will Swaziland’s Mswati, one of the world’s last absolute monarchs.
At 57 by that time, going by presidential age in Africa, the polygamous Mswati would still be a “baby”, and only halfway through his reign.
Last year with a hefty 98.3%, Rwandans voted to lift term limits, potentially enabling Kagame to stay in power until 2034, when he will be 77. Nine years down the road, the sound of that endorsement will probably still be ringing in Kagame’s ears.
Togo’s Gnassingbe will be “only” 69 by 2025, and if he is anything like his father, the dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma from whom he inherited the presidency after his death in 2005 after he had been in power for 38 years, in power, then he too will delay his farewell for a long time.
The result of all this is that the combination of improved life expectancy, greater political stability and economic growth, and the shift toward presidency-for-life, as Africa becomes by far the world’s youngest continent, it will also have some of its oldest leaders.
Clinton’s presidency could also have far reaching for political succession in Africa in the years to come. In the past, and currently from Zimbabwe to Uganda, African First Ladies have been positioning to succeed their husbands, without much success.
A Hillary Clinton rule – particularly if it is successful – might change and break a psychological barrier that could help other First Ladies. In addition, Bill Clinton could offer former presidents important lessons into how to transition from president to First Gentleman. He himself has joked about being called the “First Man” or “First Dude”, highlighting how rare his situation would be.