Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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While Cameroon’s sit-tight Paul Biya is readying to celebrate 30 years in power, other African countries are consolidating democratic gains of the last two decades. Ghana on Tuesday made its third smooth transition of power in less than 12 years following the sudden death of President John Atta Mills

By Clovis Atatah — Ghana’s John Evans Fifii Atta Mills acceded to power three-and-a-half years ago after his predecessor John Kuffour reached the end of his constitutionally prescribed maximum two four-year terms of office. Mr. Kuffour’s predecessor, Jerry John Rawlings, also handed over power peacefully. On Tuesday Mr. Mills died suddenly in Accra and Vice President John Dramani Mahama was sworn in as new leader barely a few hours later.

In accordance with the country’s constitution, Mr. Mahama took the oath of office Tuesday night at Ghana’s parliament, swearing to protect, preserve and defend the country’s as president and commander in chief.

“We are deeply distraught, devastated as a country,” Mr. Mahama said, referring to his predecessor’s sudden death, after taking the reins of power. But in the country’s hour of darkness, the comic twist of fate that has stamped John as one of the names of all of Ghana’s last four presidents lit a few faces with smiles. The real light that has brightened the land of the African legend Kwame Nkrumah, however, is the fact of three smooth power transitions in just over a decade.

For African enthusiasts, it is another sign that constitutional democracy is taking a foothold on the continent, after the recent smooth constitutional succession in Malawi following the death of the country’s president and the graceful exit of Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, after his heavy defeat in presidential elections. Only last year, Zambia also gladdened the hearts of democracy lovers when power changed hands in free and fair elections. Liberia’s recent re-election of Ms Johnson Sirleaf, the country’s first female president, was also widely greeted as sign of Africa’s maturing democratic credentials. Other peaceful democratic advancements have been noted across the continent in recent times.

Added to these developments was the so-called Arab Spring that gusted like a maelstrom across northern Africa beginning late last year and straddled into this year. Although it was neither smooth nor peaceful, the Arab Spring erased the names of the then three sit-tight leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya from the shrinking list of African strongmen. Democratically-elected leaders are now presiding in those countries.

But while freedom lovers look at these bright examples with pride, several aberrations still blight the governance map of Africa. Most notorious among them are Equatorial Guinea (where Teodoro Obiang Nguema is still hounding opponents since ousting his own uncle in a 1979 coup); Angola (where Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been holding sway since 1979); Zimbabwe (where Robert Mugabe has had a vice-like grip over the country since 1980); and Cameroon (where Paul Biya has been roaring in his self-declared den since 1982).

In Cameroon, where most users of this website reside, Paul Biya is preparing to celebrate his 30th anniversary in power on November 6, 2012 and laying the ground work – most probably – to further extend his interminable reign when his current 7-year-term expires in 2018.

Leaders like Mr. Biya are causing pain not only to their compatriots, but to hundreds of millions of Africans clamouring for more democracy and inspiring leadership on the continent. But if lessons from history are a reliable compass, it is very likely that the trend towards constitutional democracy in Africa will hold. Since the early 1990s, constitutional democracy has been slowly but surely taking root in Africa. Countries like Ghana will in the near future become the rule rather than the exception in Africa and leaders of Mr. Biya’s ilk will sooner than later be dumped in the dustbin of history.

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