Is Africa’s Strong-man Era Reaching its End-game?

In early April, after months of protests in Algeria and Sudan, the long-term presidents of both countries were forced out of power within less than ten days of each other. A mixture of public protests and pressure from the military brought an end to the ageing leaders’ terms in office. Following a similar conclusion to Robert Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe in late 2017, there is reason to believe that Africa’s elderly strongmen are fast-approaching their end-games.  

Although Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned, it was the military that essentially ousted him, much like his counter-part in Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. It was no coincidence that Bouteflika submitted his resignation only hours after the head of the Algerian Army reiterated his call for the president to be removed. While Bouteflika, Bashir and Mugabe came to power through different paths – an election, a coup and a war of independence – all three leaders previously served in the military and relied on it to keep them in power. And, ultimately, either directly or indirectly, it was the military that brought an end to their presidencies.

Aside from the military’s role in Bouteflika’s, Bashir’s and Mugabe’s rise and fall, the three former presidents also all belonged to an older generation of leaders. Bouteflika resigned at the age of 81 with questions being raised about his mental and physical capacities following a stroke in 2013.  Mugabe was removed at the age of 93 following similar questions about his mental capacity and the growing influence of his wife. Of all three leaders, Bashir was the most youthful at 75; however, his physical health was a matter of speculation.

Significantly, the ages of all three leaders contrasted with their countries’ youthful populations. Despite their being 75 or over, a large percentage of the populations of Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe are estimated to be under the age of 25. Algeria has the oldest populace with only 45 percent under the age of 25, while in Sudan 61 percent are under that age and, in Zimbabwe, the proportion is estimated to be 59 percent. Although Bouteflika’s, Bashir’s and Mugabe’s ages were not considered a problem when they came to power, after serving for 20, 30 and 37 years respectively, they became increasingly out of touch with their citizens.

While there are various reasons why each of these leaders came under pressure prior to losing power, it appears that their respective militaries could see a growing gulf between the elderly long-term leaders and their increasingly restive and youthful populations.  They acted accordingly to protect their interests. The military has long been considered an essential pillar of Africa’s strongmen and, although it was once seen as an instrument under the control of such leaders, this no longer seems always to be the case. The militaries of such regimes appear to be increasingly willing to intervene to protect their interests, at the expense of the figureheads they helped to put in place.

This growing trend could have repercussions across the continent, triggering soft coups in countries such as Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Uganda. Much like the former presidents of Algeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe, Presidents Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Yoweri Museveni are significantly older than their populations. The youngest of the three, Museveni, is 74 years old, while an estimated 69 percent of the population of Uganda is under the age of 25. Biya, Obiang and Museveni have served for 37, 40 and 33 years, respectively, and, although Biya was not previously in the military, all three leaders have relied on the military establishment to keep them in power. Accordingly, as pressure begins to mount on these ageing leaders, it is possible that their respective militaries will take inspiration from elsewhere and act to protect their interests, at the expense of Africa’s remaining strongmen.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s May 2019 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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Is Kabila Finally Preparing to Step Down?

DRC flagSurrounded by accusations of wanting to alter the constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in order to remove presidential terms limits, President Joseph Kabila has refused to stand down since the end of his second term in December 2016. Although Kabila has had to contend with anti-government protests since then, it appears that regional, rather than domestic, pressure may be what finally convinces him to step down and allow a democratic transition to take place.  

Since the violent suppression of anti-government protests in January 2018, there have been signs that Kabila is inclining towards a more conciliatory position. On 26th January 2018, Kabila held his first press conference in five years and reiterated his commitment to holding elections by December this year. Although he refused to accept responsibility for the violence and took a swipe at the opposition, such a public proclamation is a rare occurrence and indicates that Kabila recognises that the electoral process cannot be delayed further. While Kabila did not address the ever-increasing calls for him to stand-down, his Minister of Communications – Lambert Mende – addressed this issue in an interview in early February. In the interview, Mende asserted that Kabila does not intend to stand in this year’s election or to choose a successor and rule by proxy. He said that “this is not a kingdom […], it is a democratic republic”. Although Mende’s comments have received significant attention in international media, it should be noted that he reportedly backtracked on them later, when speaking to Congolese media. Nevertheless, such confusion at least suggests that Kabila is unsure about running again.

Despite criticising the opposition during his press conference and insinuating that they will cause the DRC to descend into “chaos”, there are signs that Kabila is willing to re-open negotiations with opposition figures and adopt a more placatory stance. This is demonstrated by the proposed release of two prominent political prisoners – Jean Claude Muyambo and Eugène Diomi Ndongala. At the time of writing, both prisoners are expected to be released on 20th February 2018. There is an expectation that this could lead to the release of more political prisoners and maybe even the dropping of charges against Moïse Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga, who announced his presidential candidacy on 2nd January 2018. Although there is little indication of this happening in the short-term, Africa Integrity has been informed that Kabila has offered an olive branch to Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo – a figurehead of the protests in January, which were backed by the Catholic Church in the DRC. According to our sources, Monsengwo has been invited by Kabila to discuss ways to “revive” the December 31st Saint-Sylvestre Agreement between the government and opposition. This readiness to reengage with the opposition is a radical change in approach from Kabila, which could be an indication of his willingness to step aside.

The Catholic Church’s support for anti-government protests is undoubtedly significant, given that around 50 percent of the DRC’s population is Catholic. Moreover, Africa Integrity understands that other religious groups have been following the Catholic Church’s example. Nevertheless, according to our sources, it is Kabila’s loss of regional support that has had a greater effect on his apparent change in approach. It is understood that Kabila has had to reassess his position since the fall of two of his powerful regional allies: Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe; and Jacob Zuma in South Africa. In spite of international pressure, both of these individuals were unwavering in their support of Kabila since December 2016. For example, in June 2017, Zuma invited Kabila to South Africa and publicly pledged his support for the embattled president. We have been informed that since Mugabe and Zuma resigned, Kabila has started to feel increasingly “isolated” and has begun to re-evaluate his future.

Although Kabila can still count on the support of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Paul Kagame in Rwanda and Edgar Lungu in Zambia, Museveni and Kagame are facing increasing criticism for their alleged support of rebel groups in the DRC and Lungu is preoccupied by an opposition which aims to prevent him from standing in the next election in Zambia. Furthermore, Kabila’s close ties with Congo-Brazzaville and Angola seem to be weakening. The pressure put on these countries, especially Angola, by the influx of refugees from the DRC, has put strain on their governments’ relationships with Kabila. It has been reported that the ruling MPLA in Angola, which has previously provided much needed military support to Kabila, will no longer be willing to intervene directly in the country, particularly under its new president – João Lourenço. Similarly, given the current instability in Congo-Brazzaville, it is highly unlikely that President Denis Sassou Nguesso will be in a position to support his neighbour. Senior political sources in Congo-Brazzaville and Angola have confirmed that both Lourenço and Sassou Nguesso have recently informed Kabila that they will not intervene on his behalf and that they support elections going ahead this year.

Along with the fall of Mugabe and Zuma, this constitutes a loss of regional backing for Kabila, leaving him increasingly exposed. It appears that Kabila has begun to realise that, without regional support, elections cannot be delayed any further, and it will be extremely difficult for him to stand again. After his motorcade was involved in two accidents in February, suspicions of assassination plots are rife, and it seems that Kabila sees a more conciliatory approach towards the opposition as his best means of protection. While Kabila may still try to put his name forward for the election, there are strong indications that he has realised that a third term will not be possible and that he is finally preparing to stand down.

Southern African Dynasties: The Parties Strike Back

Southern African Dynasties

In recent years, political dynasties have received a lot of attention across the African continent as ageing presidents have been accused of trying to manoeuvre family members into the line of succession, to protect them and their interests after they step down. Until last year, it seemed that Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa could have been following this path; however, the leaders of these countries evidently underestimated the power of their parties.

Decline of Dos Santos

It had long been speculated that Angola’s former President Eduardo dos Santos planned to appoint one of his children, or possibly his nephew, as his successor. After assuming power in 1979, dos Santos inserted his family into Angola’s political and economic hierarchy, and to many, the dos Santos family transcended the ruling MPLA. Consequently, it was expected that a member of the dos Santos family would take over the presidency. However, in December 2016, it was announced that dos Santos’s “hand-picked” successor was former Minister of Defence Joao Lourenco, who, unlike dos Santos family members, had the support of the MPLA.

Given that he was a member of dos Santos’s inner circle, it was widely expected that Lourenco would protect the former First Family’s interests.  However, as Africa Integrity predicted in our July 2017 Newsletter, Lourenco has sought to assert his authority by side-lining members of the dos Santos family. Africa Integrity understands that dos Santos is seriously ill and no longer has the influence he once had over the party, which has seemingly taken the opportunity to reassert itself as the primary organ of power in Angola.

A Fall from Grace

In Zimbabwe, it was a working assumption that Robert Mugabe’s successor would be either Joice Mujuru or Emmerson Mnangagwa – both former Vice Presidents. However, in 2014, Mugabe’s wife – Grace Mugabe – entered Zimbabwean politics and rapidly ascended to ZANU-PF’s politburo. By the end of 2014, Mujuru was removed from her position and later expelled from the party following a factionalist campaign led by Grace Mugabe. After Mujuru was removed, ZANU-PF coalesced into two factions, one aligned with Grace Mugabe, which was dominated by younger party members, and one aligned with Mnangagwa. Although Mnangagwa had more support in the party, on 6th November 2017, Mugabe seemingly cleared the path to the presidency for his wife by sacking Mnangagwa, who subsequently fled the country.

This move appeared to signal the creation of a Mugabe dynasty in Zimbabwe, but it was short lived. On 14th November 2017, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) seized control of the country and initiated negotiations with Mugabe for his resignation. There was very little resistance to this from within ZANU-PF and the party’s favoured candidate – Mnangagwa – was sworn in as president on 24th November 2017. Given ZANU-PF’s close relationship with the ZDF, the military’s actions cannot be separated from the party’s wishes and, much like the MPLA, it appears that ZANU-PF reasserted its superior influence over that of the Mugabe family.

Not Another Zuma

In contrast to dos Santos and Mugabe, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma had not been in power as long, nor was his family as entrenched in the political and economic structures of the country. But he also wanted a family member to succeed him: in this case, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Dlamini-Zuma was a prominent figure in the pro-Zuma faction of the ruling ANC. Her candidacy faced opposition from influential sections of the party, which were acutely aware of the damage caused by corruption allegations against Zuma. But the pro-Zuma faction was very influential in the provincial ANC, which would play a vital role in selecting the party’s new president at the ANC’s National Conference in December 2017. Accordingly, the leadership race between Dlamini-Zuma and Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa was too close to call. But, on 18th December 2017, Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Dlamini-Zuma. Again, this signalled a rejection by the liberation party of a future dominated by Zuma, his allies and his family.

The Power of the Liberation

Although the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC are all markedly different political parties, they share a common history of being liberation movements. And it is this shared history that may explain why each of the parties rejected the prospect of family dynasties. In all three countries, liberation credentials remain very important and in Angola and Zimbabwe, the presidents’ preferred successors lacked such credentials. In contrast, Lourenco fought in the Angolan War of Independence and Mnangagwa fought in the Zimbabwe War of Liberation. For many in the MPLA and ZANU-PF, the presidency should be held by individuals with such credentials in their own right.

Although the situation in South Africa was different, as both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma were anti-Apartheid activists, another important aspect of these liberation struggles is that the movement or party is paramount. In South Africa, Dlamini-Zuma’s victory risked splintering the ANC and potential electoral defeat. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe’s leadership would have brought underlying factionalism in ZANU-PF to the surface and, without the support of the ZDF, electoral defeat would have been a very real prospect. While the MPLA was probably in a stronger electoral position, a family dynasty would have further damaged the country’s international reputation and, given Angola’s poor economic situation, this would have posed a threat to the MPLA’s leadership.

Although cults of personality developed around dos Santos and particularly Mugabe, it is important to recognise that their power derived ultimately from their political parties and the military. While the circumstances are different in South Africa, the ANC is still the dominant political force in the country and it can be difficult to differentiate between the party and state. After fighting protracted liberation struggles, the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC were not willing to risk their supremacy by allowing family dynasties to emerge. It seems that, amongst the Southern African liberation movements, no individual or family is bigger than the party.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s January 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

Factionalism and Coalition: The two sides of Zimbabwean politics

On 21st May 2017, growing factionalism in the ruling ZANU-PF provoked violence at the party’s provincial headquarters in Zimbabwe’s second largest city – Bulawayo. Party youths disrupted a meeting at the headquarters accusing the provincial leadership of supporting the embattled Minister of Local Government Saviour Kasukuwere and riot police had to be called to restore order. Although such factionalism and violence is not new to politics in Zimbabwe, given the continuing questions surrounding Mugabe’s succession and the prospect of an opposition coalition, ZANU-PF’s supremacy could be under pressure as elections approach in July 2018.

A number of senior cabinet ministers have been accused of challenging Mugabe’s leadership in the past and, based on very little evidence, have been attacked by sections of ZANU-PF. The most recent to fall foul of this is Kasukuwere, who has been accused of setting up parallel structures in the party in order to unseat Mugabe. Significantly, Kasukuwere is viewed as a leading member of the G40 faction, which is opposed to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa succeeding Mugabe as President and reportedly support the First Lady – Grace Mugabe. This suggests that Mnangagwa and the so-called Lacoste faction are attempting to asset their authority in the party and block any challenge from the G40 faction. Although large sections of ZANU-PF have publicly called for Kasukuwere’s removal from not only his cabinet post but also the party, it appears that the second vice president – Phelekezela Mphoko – supports Kasukuwere. This is significant as Mphoko is the chairperson of the ZANU-PF appeals committee and therefore reviews disciplinary cases brought against party officials. This suggests that the factionalist infighting that surrounds Kasukuwere is likely to continue in the coming weeks. Moreover, such infighting is unlikely to pass even if Kasukuwere is removed from the party.

Although Mugabe has been confirmed as ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate for next year’s election, it seems that this has had little effect on the factionalist politics associated with his succession. Considering Mugabe’s age, his increasingly frequent international health trips and his deteriorating public persona, it is unsurprising that factions are trying to establish their position in the party. Presently, Mnangagwa seems the most likely to succeed Mugabe, given the opposition to the G40 faction from within ZANU-PF and his strong links to the security forces. Such links are extremely valuable and are likely to become more important in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. The Commander General of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ recent warning to the influential War Veterans Association, regarding criticism of Mugabe’s leadership, demonstrated the security forces’ willingness to intervene in politics, which will be an important factor in Mugabe’s succession. Grace Mugabe would need her husband’s support and influence if she was to assume the presidency and as it seems increasingly likely that Mugabe will die in office rather than stand down, this puts Mnangagwa in the pole position to succeed him.

Whilst ZANU-PF is once again preoccupied by factionalist infighting, it seems that Zimbabwe’s divided opposition are finally coming together to provide a united front against the ruling party. Zimbabwe’s main opposition party – Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – splintered in 2005 and 2014, leaving three smaller opposition parties: MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T); MDC-Ncube (MDC-N); and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Although the relationship between these parties’ leaderships has been strained at the best of times and hostile at the worst, they are putting aside their differences to form a coalition. The PDP’s leader – Tendai Biti – who once said that “we don’t share the same values with MDC-T” and stated that “Morgan Tsvangirai was a thief”, has now been welcomed back by the largest MDC faction (MDC-T) and its leader. Upon joining forces again with the MDC-T, Biti said that the opposition was “putting Zimbabweans first” and the MDC-N leader – Welshman Ncube – stated that “we owe it to future generations”.

Although the re-unification of the splintered MDC is undoubtedly important, significantly, this grouping has been joined by a new opposition party – National People’s Party (NPP) – which is headed by the former vice president and ZANU-PF stalwart Joice Mujuru. Mujuru was expelled from ZANU-PF in 2015 after being accused of trying to illegally remove Mugabe from power. On 19th April, the previous adversaries – Tsvangirai and Mujuru – signed a memorandum of understanding which outlined their commitment to field a joint candidate to challenge Mugabe in July 2018. On 20th May, Mujuru proclaimed that the “NPP and MDC are one and the same thing”. This is significant as Mujuru’s participation in the coalition could enable the opposition to attract support from outside of their urban centre strongholds. Unlike Tsvangirai, Mujuru was part of the liberation struggle and reportedly still has strong links with Zimbabwe’s security apparatus. This means that it will be harder for ZANU-PF to side-line her and it is possible that she may be able to draw support away from the ruling party.

The opposition coalition will try to tap into the burgeoning discontent in the country due to its dire economic situation. This discontent was illustrated by the popularity of anti-government protest movements in 2016 such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka. Although these groups are working outside of the party system, it is likely that their followers will support the coalition.

Nevertheless, the coalition is in its early stages and it is not clear if it will be able to stay together until the election next year. Although the leaders of each party are promoting unity, members of both the MDC-T and the NPP believe that their respective leaders should be the coalition’s presidential candidate. It seems likely that primaries will be held to decide this, which will indicate the durability of the coalition. Furthermore, even after this is decided, the coalition will have to turn its attention to policy formation, which again will highlight the differences between the parties. Thus, although this is a positive step for the opposition, compromise and co-operation will be key to maintaining this united front ahead of the election in July 2018.

As ZANU-PF is entering a new round of factionalist infighting associated with Mugabe’s succession, the opposition is positioning itself to pose its strongest electoral challenge since the contentious 2008 election. If the opposition coalition selects a leader, formulates joint policies and remains united, it could potentially draw widespread support from across Zimbabwe. Although this unity is yet to be tested and ZANU-PF’s resilience should not be underestimated, the continuing factionalism within the ruling party is only likely to strengthen the opposition’s resolve.

Poisoned Chalice: Zimbabwe considers politics without Mugabe

Grace Mugabe supporters

Robert Mugabe is showing no sign of loosening his grip on power in Zimbabwe, but speculation is mounting about who will succeed the nonagenarian president. Africa Integrity’s founder and managing director Julian Fisher examines the unfolding situation in Zimbabwe in IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review February 2015. In this article Julian discusses the current political, social, economic, security, and external stability of the country in the wake of ZANU-PF’s December 2014 Congress. He examines topics such as: the purging of former vice president Joice Mujuru and the subsequent re-emergence of Emmerson Mnangagwa in the Zanu-PF; the rapid rise of Mugabe’s wife as a political figure in her own right; the apparent decline of the MDC-T under Morgan Tsvangirai’s leadership; the precarious economic situation in the country; and Zimbabwe’s strained relations with the West. He also outlines three possible scenarios concerning Mugabe’s succession, which are: Mugabe dies while still holding office; Mugabe resigns in favour of his wife; or Factionalism destroys ZANU-PF party.

The full article, which provides risk ratings for the current situation and each of the possible scenarios, can be found by subscribers at http://www.janes.com/magazines/ihs-janes-intelligence-review .

Grace Mugabe, Vice President?

Grace Mugabe supportersIn early December 2014 ZANU-PF will hold its party congress to select the party’s presidium; it could prove to be the most important congress in ZANU-PF’s history. Unlike previous congresses, this year’s has the heightened importance of acting as a critical indicator of who will succeed the aged Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s president. Two factions within the partyhave emerged in the run-up to the December congress, one in support of Vice President Joice Mujuru, and another in support of Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, since her appointment as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League in August 2014, Grace Mugabe has also become a key figure in the succession battle.

Since officially entering politics in August 2014 Grace Mugabe has firmlysituated herself in the Mnangagwa faction, becoming an outspoken critic of Mujuru and even calling for her resignation. However, this should not be mistaken as merely support for Mnangagwa and her own political ambitions should not be underestimated. This was illustrated by her highly publicised “Meet the People” tour, which resembled campaign tours of presidential candidates. Moreover, during this tour she declared “They say I want to be president. Why not? Am I not a Zimbabwean?”

Mugabe has previously attempted to remain above the succession battle (at least ostensibly) but as the party congress draws nearer and factionalism intensifies it has become clear that he must begin to play a part. It has been reported that the infighting within ZANU-PF has reached such a level that the Zimbabwe National Army has been put on high alert and soldiers on leave have been recalled in light of the upcoming congress. A senior ZANU-PF figure, speaking privately, told Africa Integrity that Mugabe has reacted by bringing the congress forward to 1st December 2014, so as to minimise the damage to the economy caused by factionalism and uncertainty. Moreover, Mugabe has also begun to take a more active role in the succession race. This was illustrated on the 2nd November 2014, when, whilst addressing a crowd of anti-Mujuru protesters outside of the ZANU-PF headquarters, Mugabe reportedly criticised Mujuru loyalists, such as war veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda, and stated that “when a marriage breaks down, a divorced wife is given time to pack instead of chasing her on the spur of the moment”. This appears to be a reference to Mujuru which suggests that Mugabe has already made his decision, and is merely waiting until the December congress to remove his Vice President. This scenario was lent some weight by the senior ZANU-PF source, who told Africa Integrity that “there will be big scalps at the congress” and said that “this is what politics is all about…after December, it will be business as usual”.

The likelihood of Mujuru being the casualty of the December congress seems to be increasing as her allies in the ZANU-PF continue to be purged. On 9th November ZANU-PF Midlands provincial chairman and ally of Mujuru, Jason Machaya, was forced out of his position through a vote of no confidence. He was the fourth provincial chairman aligned to Mujuru to suffer this fate. This comes on the back of accusations, predominantly disseminated by Grace Mugabe, claiming that Mujuru and her followers are plotting against the President. The accusations include working with the opposition MDC-T, which was given credence by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai after he stated that he is working with ZANU-PF “moderates” at his party’s congress. Mujuru’s vulnerability was also demonstrated by reports of her apparent resignation as Vice President on 10th November. At the time of writing there has not been any definitive evidence to support these reports and ZANU-PF has not commented on the matter.

Furthermore, the faction linked to Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe is also attempting to alter ZANU-PF’s constitution so that Mugabe personally selects the presidium rather than the positions being contested in a congress-wide vote. This amendment could be passed before the December congress if approved by the Central Committee. Although the ZANU-PF chairman, Rugare Gumbo, has said that he is not aware of this plan and noted that it would not succeed, a recent article in the state-owned Herald newspaper specifically called for the amendment in order to bring stability to the political scene. This is highly significant as the Herald is widely perceived as Mugabe’s personal media outlet.

It seems likely that Mugabe is attempting to gain control over the presidium selection process, perhaps in order to remove Mujuru as first Vice President (the second vice presidency, currently vacant, is usually reserved for a representative of the former Zimbabwe African People’s Union ZAPU). Although the removal of Mujuru would appear to leave the first Vice Presidency open for Mnangagwa, Grace Mugabe has also become a significant contender for this position. Thus there is an undeniable possibility that after December Zimbabwe’s two most senior political positions could be held by Mugabes.