Tag Archives: Africa

You say Kabila, I say Koliba…

Recent election results from the Congo indicate that sitting President Joseph Kabila is going the way of the Golongese dictator from Corruptions, Ernest Koliba. Kabila’s father Laurent began his Presidency as a dim beacon of hope after he’d ousted former Congolese dictator Mobuto.  Joseph succeeded his father, assassinated by bodyguards in 2001, and was facing his first reelection — but reelection can be such a tricky thing for African presidents.

Kabila, reelected last week in a severely disputed election, has now stated that there was absolutely, positively nothing wrong with his election, despite so much evidence to the contrary. Reminds me of a key paragraph in the novel:

Africa’s problem was the lack of viable governments or, as Weller always put it, “Africa doesn’t have political systems—it has political leaders.” From Mubarak in Egypt, down through Museveni in Uganda, Moi in Kenya and Mugabe in Zimbabwe, up through Mobutu in Zaire, Bongo in Gabon, the Eyadema family in Togo, up even to Ben Ali in Tunisia, Africa with rare exceptions was a series of “Big Man” countries where the President was the country, and the country served the President. The exceptions were glaring and most—like Nelson Mandela in South Africa—didn’t last, falling back into the “Big Man” mode once their Mandela retired. Much of the blame lay with the colonial powers that left Africa in a shambles; someday, though, Africans will need to focus on the solutions, not on who was to blame for their political misery.

Kabila looks to be yet another in a very long list.


The end of Ben Ali…

The overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is a welcome sign for the possibility of democratic rule emerging in the Middle East. Back when I was in Washington, my Tunisian friends convinced me that Ben Ali’s strongman style was the only way to protect the country from the region’s more radical elements. While that may once have been true, Ben Ali’s increasingly autocratic and corrupt rule meant that the country desperately needed a change. All too often, as discussed in Corruptions, African strongmen slide easily into the autocrat role:

[Golongan President Ernest] Koliba was a particularly egregious example of the paradoxes of [the foreign aid lobbying] business—a freshly minted, democratically elected President who promised change but turned to shit faster than any despot in history, even in Africa.
Africa’s problem was the lack of viable governments or, as Weller always put it, “Africa doesn’t have political systems—it has political leaders.” From Mubarak in Egypt, down through Museveni in Uganda, Moi in Kenya and Mugabe in Zimbabwe, up through Mobutu in Zaire, Bongo in Gabon, the Eyadema family in Togo, up even to Ben Ali in Tunisia, Africa with rare exceptions was a series of “Big Man” countries where the President was the country, and the country served the President. The exceptions were glaring and most—like Nelson Mandela in South Africa—didn’t last, falling back into the “Big Man” mode once their Mandela retired. Much of the blame lay with the colonial powers that left Africa in a shambles; someday, though, Africans will need to focus on the solutions, not on who was to blame for their political misery.

Tunisia’s recent events bode extremely well for escaping this cycle, in that the entire Ben Ali family seems to have been driven out of the country, former Ben Ali cronies subsequently driven out of the first new government established after he fled, and the Army appears to have decided to take on the internal security forces that still support Ben Ali. So far, all is going surprisingly well.


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