These days, well-behaved African heads of state are rewarded by Barack Obama with the chance to meet with him in groups of four and have their picture taken with him. It’s like meeting Beyonce, but you get to call it a state visit. That’s what happened on Friday when Malawi’s Joyce Banda, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Cape Verde’s José Maria Neves and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma were paraded before the White House press corps, sitting in star-struck silence as Barack reeled off a kind of wikipedia-level roll-call of their accomplishments. They beamed like competition winners. It was all very feudal.
….. The East Africancalled it as they saw it: “The meeting was to reward them for their support for US interests in Africa.” Though some others wanted to be there. In Uganda, some sites were wringing their hands over why Museveni hadn’t been invited.
The post raises an important question especially with regard to the recent rise in African assertiveness. Most of this has been restricted to elite circles with regard to the ICC and general Western meddling presence on the continent.
Among the many posts I hope to write soon – the dissertation and life permitting – is one on African IR (yes, African International Relations). For a very long time the Continent has engaged the world in disaggregated terms – mostly as a result of individual weakness. But recently some countries have realized their power (For instance Uganda and Kenya in their military and diplomatic usefulness, respectively) and are more than willing to exercise those powers. The realization of individual power has also catalyzed a tendency to use the regional bloc – the AU – as a leverage in wider international engagements (I expect Kenya’s president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta to use the AU a lot in dealing with the charges he faces at the ICC).
And among the African elite I expect a new sense of self-confidence, with calls like these to become louder and more common. Whether the Western governments (and regular Western Africa watchers) will adapt fast enough or be caught flat-footed is still unclear, especially after the ill-considered and tactless obvious attempt to influence the outcome of the Kenyan election. Also worth considering is whether this new-found African assertiveness will result in actual progress and attempts at catching up with the developed world or turn out to be a mere echo of the empty rhetoric of African pride – a la Zaireanization – that was championed by a kleptocratic navel-gazing African elite of decades past.
Macky Sall’s party, the Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope) coalition won 119 of the 150 seats (79.3%) in the just-concluded legislative elections in Senegal. President Sall assumed office this year after defeating former President Abdoulaye Wade who had been in power for over 12 years. Mr. Wade’s party got a total of 12 seats (8%). In the last legislative elections (2007) Mr. Wade’s coalition won 87.3% of the seats. Turnout in Sunday’s poll was a paltry 37% – a 3 percentage point improvement from 2007 (According to the African Elections database).
President Sall’s big legislative win is a bad omen for democratic consolidation in Senegal – and a sign of a shaky party structure characterized by unstable cycling super-majorities (see here). One would have hoped for a more competitive showing by former President Wade’s PDS in order to provide a formidable check on the president. With these results Sall might also fall into the temptation of trying to legislate his opponents out of political contention just like Wade did, and succeeded for a while.
The Daily Nation reports the passing away of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika (May he rest in peace).
Vice President Joyce Banda is next in line to run the country, according to the constitution.
But her succession to power could create new political tensions, because Mutharika kicked her out of the ruling party in 2010 as he chose to groom his brother as heir apparent instead of her.
The official silence has heightened anxieties in Malawi, which has seen growing discontent with Mutharika’s government over the last year. Rights groups have accused Mutharika of mismanaging the economy and trampling on democracy.
Mutharika’s death is a trend that will continue in the next couple of years; of Africa independence-era leaders passing on due to natural causes.
The last time I counted about six current African presidents were born after 1959. This number will only go up in the next couple of years. Hopefully, this will mean a new crop of competent leaders without the baggage of the anti-colonial movement and with enough confidence to chart a new course for their respective countries rather than merely trying to recreate what their dad’s bosses had back home.
This is not to say that younger leaders will automatically be better. Gambia’s Jammeh and the DRC’s Kabila are constantly redefining the possibilities of youthful mediocrity in important leadership positions.
The looming generational change of guard will mostly benefit the few African states (like Malawi, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, etc) that avoided the scourge of the junior officers in their political history.
The unintended consequences of the Malian coup continue to mushroom. AQIM seems to be taking advantage of the power vacuum left in the north of the country. Lots of people scared out of their wits over the latest developments.
Scientists in Kenya are working on a male contraception pill. May be this time the product will be good enough to overcome cultural barriers and the gender politics of contraception?