African leaders cling to health, power

2012-08-08 22:47

Dakar - The rumours started to swirl around Ghana in June: President John Atta Mills was ill, maybe too sick to seek re-election, and he was going abroad to seek medical treatment. Some radio stations went so far as to prematurely report his death.

Eager to deny the speculation, Atta Mills jogged at the airport upon his return in a display of his vigour. The following month, though, the 68-year-old was dead. Many lined up in the capital, Accra, where his body was laid in a casket draped in the national colours of red, yellow and green on Wednesday to pay their respects before his burial Friday.

In a part of the world where presidents traditionally have ruled for life, Atta Mills is only the latest West African leader to show that "routine check-up" can be the code word for much graver troubles.

Many long-time rulers in the region have feared coups or power grabs if they were perceived as vulnerable. Though even in a mature democracy like Ghana, those around Atta Mills still tried to protect his image of strength until the very end.

"I think it's a little bit about power - when you taste it and you really don't want to give it up whether you're sick or healthy," says Kwame Tufour, 36, who owns an energy company in Ghana. "I think it kind of got to his head."

Political calculation certainly plays a part in an election year, as there can be repercussions if a party's standard bearer is seen as weak, said J Peter Pham, director of the Africa programme at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

While Ghana is an exception as a stable democracy, Pham said earlier strongmen in the region tended to concentrate power in their own hands until their deaths.

"You didn't vote for a party with a platform if you voted at all," he said. "Leadership was viewed and functioned as the figure that you followed."

Speculation on leaders' health isn't unique to West Africa - 88-year-old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe insists he's "fit as a fiddle" despite reports he's battling prostate cancer. Few regions, though, can cite as many examples.

Alive and well

Only hours before the death of Gabon President Omar Bongo - at one time the world's longest-serving president - his prime minister described him as "alive and well".

And Nigeria's late President Umaru Yar'Adua grew so weak while in office he once had to be carried off a runway by a soldier during a state visit to Togo, according to a book by his former spokesperson. The military officer assigned to Yar'Adua apparently draped traditional robes over his arm to conceal what was happening.

State-run television was told to only film one side of his face when the other side was swollen, according to the book by Olusegun Adeniyi.

The National Assembly ultimately voted extra-constitutionally to empower then-Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to serve as acting president for Nigeria.

The health and undisclosed illness of late Guinean strongman Lansana Conte also was a topic of national debate for years before his 2008 death. Rumours of his death surfaced periodically, including in 2003 when he was forced to go on TV to deny them.

The week before he died, the editor of a local paper was arrested after publishing a picture of the frail leader struggling to stand up. A spokesperson for the president went on TV to assure the nation that Conte was not ill.

The newspaper was ordered to print a photograph of Conte, showing him in good health.

Keep power

In Ghana, opposition newspapers in the weeks before Atta Mills' death had started questioning whether the president was healthy enough to seek a second term in December.

The late Ghanaian leader was apparently in a coma for at least a day - possibly two - before he died, said a government official in neighbouring Ivory Coast who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The official said the Ghanaians did such a good job hiding it that even the intelligence services of Ghana's closest allies were not aware of his state of health.

Eugene Oppong, 40, a driving instructor, said Ghanaians had started to notice recently that Atta Mills had grown lean, spoke with a raspy voice, and frequently took sips of water while giving speeches.

Still, Oppong said Atta Mills was right to stay in office until his death, and he called speculation about the president's health before his death disrespectful.

"So far as you still have your power and you're alive, you don't need to give your power to someone else," he said.

  • zolisa.dlokovu - 2012-08-09 02:02

    This is bad my fellow Africans.Life presidents

      oscar.vanriel - 2012-08-09 06:49

      Yes, and Zuma is beginning to make the same noises...South Africa is going to be stuck with an uneducated fool as a president for a very long time.

      Barefoot - 2012-08-09 08:06

      @Oscar as much as i don't like the guy, you have to admire South African democracy when Mbeki was removed there was no war, anyway Zuma is within the constitution that he can seek a second term- hell Obama is doing it, Bush did it.

      sterling.ferguson.5 - 2012-08-09 12:50

      @Barefoot, in the US the people can vote for the president but, in SA the president is made by kingmakers in the party. The people can't vote for Zuma the people vote for the party.

      Billy - 2012-08-14 02:00

      in south africa the voting business is a bit of an illusion, we should also vote on who runs the party we voted for, instead its a few people that get to decide whos in charge. who will beter suite their agenda... in the states you vote for the person to run the country and what he stands for..

  • Gerda Malherbe - 2012-08-09 06:06

    Democracy African style. Whahahahaha

  • nicolaas.baker - 2012-08-09 06:07

    Just send them to prison here in South Africa and watch a mircale happen, then will surface alive and well the moment they have declared terminally ill!

  • themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 06:14

    The time is overdue for young people to speak up and assume power. These old senile men get stuck in a celebration mode, forever reminiscing about the past and holding their countries back impeding progress

      heibrin.venter - 2012-08-09 07:51

      No, the time is overdue for Africans to realize what true democracy is: voting for the political party that does the best by its people. Not a man (such as Malema / Zuma / whoever), not a political party that continuously mislead and fail their constituents (such as the ANC / Zanu-PF / etc), but the party that has done the best by the citizens of their country.

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 08:05

      The time is overdue for Boermag lunatics to also realise that racism is not going to be tolerated in Africa. Africans who still vote for the ANC include white Africans. White ANC leaders bring their white constituencies to the ANC. That is how leadership positions are allocated in that now corrupt party. For your information, everyone who is a citizen in any African state is an African Those who do not regard themselves as Africans must get on the boat back to Europe, and also stick their racist noses out of African affairs

      Anthony - 2012-08-09 08:52

      the time has come for this black racist government to step down....

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 09:20

      Williams, the ANC has your Afrikaner and English relatives such as Derek Hanekom, Johnny de Lange, Andries Nel, Rob Davies, Mary Metcalfe, Kortbroek, and many others not so prominent. Could that be why it is so racist? I mean there's a Hanekom in the current leadership 'popeyes' of the Boeremag that's being sentenced to a long time in jail. Perhaps your Boeremag relatives have inflitrated the ANC, hence the racism in the government (lol)

      donald.perumal - 2012-08-09 09:31

      Yes an dthe young ones will spend their time playing "kissing games" while the country burns!

  • jack.blaker.94 - 2012-08-09 07:05

    You forgot about Malawi as well

  • Chumscrubber1 - 2012-08-09 07:34

    I think its apparent to most that it is African culture to admire power. Even in our country, the apartheid regime stayed in power for so long as it forced itself powerfulfully on the majority. There does not seem a very strong will in Africa to stand up against oppression, too many Africans seem to accept that the powerful deserve to be respected. Before this mindset change's, there will never be any meaingful change in Africa.

      heibrin.venter - 2012-08-09 07:47

      There is a vast difference between a party being in power (such as the NP during the apartheid years) and a president being in power, such as described above. During the NP's rule we had quite a few presidents, all willing to step down once their term in office had been completed. Your statement should rather have said: it is in black African's culture to admire power.

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 07:54

      You are right. Even before the National Party took power in 1948, the United Party had been clinging to power for 14 years since 1934 under Barry Hertzog and ending off with Jan Smuts. It's wrong for one party to cling to power for more than 2 terms. Had the NP not taken over, the UP would probably have continued their stay in power for another 5 years, and maybe another 5 more years thereafter. Whether or not its leaders change makes no difference because the policies remain the same, with nuances slightly differing.

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-08-09 08:41

      Yes heibrin - more accurate to say black africans, as the white rulers did regularly change leaders and there was a relatively strong white opposition that was not forcefully silenced or oppressed. But it is this subservience to power that made it relatively easy for us as a minority to rule the black majority. They eventually stood up against us, but it took a very long time, and a lot of help from outside. Current black African leaders stand together as an elite clique, the masses allow them to. Themba I think changing leaders does make a huge difference. Compare PW Botha to FW de Klerk, do you honestly believe Botha would have released Mandela as soon? Think back to BJ - all very different people, and they guide the party in different directions. Look even at the ANC - the Mandela ANC compared to the Zuma ANC joke...

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 09:14

      I see this is degenerating into a racial debate. The ANC also confines it's presidents to two terms. That is what it's constitution says so far, and there are no indications that that is going to change. Just in case you two do not know, white ANC members don't live in the township where black ANC draw their constituency. White ANC leaders are voted for by their white constituencies where they live. That makes ANC voters white and black. Therefore, it is absolute rubbish to attribute the ANC' current hegemony exclusively to blacks. Who were you expecting blacks to vote for anyway - the very same whites who kept apartheid alive as voters and the military and police who brutally enforced apartheid laws against them? Or to vote alongside the very same people who are keeping apartheid alive on news24 and other forums by speaking disparagingly about their 'cultures' and 'mentalities' etc? White people's holier than thou attitudesagainst blacks is what is going to keep the ANC in power in SA for decades. Now go on and click 'don't like' and see if that changes the voting patterns

      heibrin.venter - 2012-08-09 10:28

      @Themba: I expect people (regardless of race) to vote for the party that will deliver the best service to them. Think of government as a publicly listed business, and the party in power as the current board of directors. If the directors of a business fails to deliver, then they are removed by the shareholders (voters). In SA's case that doesn't happen: the CEO (Zuma) goes to the shareholders, and makes more empty promises, which they then lap up and swallow. The worst thing about the whole thing is mentalities like yours: the previous board of directors were all white, and did very badly by the (non-voting) shareholders. You now assume that all future white board-members would be the same. Keep in mind, it was the choice in 1992 of the voting shareholders (the whites) to allow ALL shareholders to vote, and that they were the ones who had the majority of board-members, as opposed to the KP (Konservatiewe Party) who would NEVER have even allowed the question of non-voting shareholders (blacks) to come up. This also negates your theory that the NP was in power since taking over from the UP, as far as memory serves (I'm not that old, my first vote was in 1992) the KP had a few terms in office, and the two had vastly different policies. You expect us to vote for the ANC, which in my youth placed landmines and bombs that killed innocent civilians, much the same as what you say the military under the apartheid government did, or whose members kill and torture farmers and families??

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 10:40

      Venter I agree with what you just wrote. What I find appalling is your mentality: overlooking the fact that the ANC has all racial groups voting for it and claiming \black culture adnmires power\ or whatever you wrote, thus obliterating the role that whites, indians and coloured voters of the ANC ~ no matter how small their numbers ~ are playing in keeping the ANC in power. Even the current speaker of the ANC Women's League is a white woman, the spokesperson of the ANCYL is indian. But no, all you see is \blacks.\ Unless the time arrives when there won't be white, indian and coloured ANC leaders, and by extension of logic, no white, indian and coloured ANC voters, your comments are based on fiction and far removed from reality

      Heibrin - 2012-08-09 11:33

      @Themba: In my opinion it's all window dressing, since the proof is in the pudding, as they say: even though the ANC have members (and a few token leadership positions thrown in) of other races, their policies tell a different story; AA and BEE are aimed at whites primarily, and Indians, coloureds secondly. The ANC's actions speak louder than their words, in this case. The same arguments that you make for the ANC can also be made for the DA, who also have members of all races. In a true democracy (even a two-party dominated one) the people would have voted for the DA a few elections ago already, had they voted on performance, and not color. You say all I see is blacks, but I can say all you see is white, simply based on the DA vs ANC argument I made before. We've drifted very far from where we started: Chum's comment was that African culture (a generalization) admire power, based on the article's content. My intention was to show him that this wasn't the case in the old South Africa, contrary to his statement. We all know that the apartheid era government's exclusion policies were wrong, however most non-white South Africans can't (won't?) see that there were a lot of good policies as well, most, if not all, of which were abolished by the ANC government when they came into power, with the people of South Africa being the losers. As a prime example: teacher's colleges. There was no reason for them to be closed down, apart from the fact that they had been started by whites.

      Johan De Beer - 2012-08-09 12:12

      ANC is a black party, Themba. Don't try to deny it.

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 12:18

      Tokens or not, the ANC`s Policy ~ when it comes to leadership positions ~ is that a leader must have people who backs it to be a leader, which will also help swell ANC membership. So whether those whites who voted other whites into ANC leadership positions are tokens and have voted other white tokens into power does not change the fact that the ANC has white voters who vote for it. The same goes for Indians and Coloureds. Long story short, your statement that it is blacks who keep dictators in power, is a fallacy in SA. You accuse others of generalising. Take the log out ...

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 12:37

      Johan de Beer, are you saying all the whites such as Johnny de Lange, Andries Nel, Rob Davies, Derek Hanekom, Martinus van Schalkwyk, Maria Ramos, Gill Marcus, etc, coloureds such as Trevor Manuel, Trevor Fowler, etc and Indians such as Mac Maharaj, Ebrahim Patel, Pravin Gordhan, the Sheiks,etc, in the ANC etc are in fact black? Visit your optometrist and have your eyes tested, please. Don't try and deny that you see things. You probably also hear voices in my professional opinion :)

      Heibrin - 2012-08-09 13:10

      @Themba: Comparatively to the number of black voters the number of non-black voters becomes null and void in the ANC, even you should be able to figure that out. Now take the DA as an opposite: the number of white vs coloured vs Indian vs Black voters would be (at an estimate) 50/30/10/10. Compare this to the ANC where the distribution would be more like 5/10/10/75. When Zuma / Malema / whoever becomes SA's first dictator, voted and kept in power by the ANC, he would have been placed and kept there by the black vote. Nothing any of the other races do would make any difference.

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 14:54

      So we must pretend that there are no whites, or Indians or Coloureds voting for the ANC so that we cast the ANC in a racist category and attribute that ONLY TO BLACK VOTERS? Sorry, every vote, whether it is cast by a black, white, indian or coloured voter is counted. So your argument is just racist but not supported by facts

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-08-09 15:10

      heibrin - the KP never had ANY terms in office. It was NP until the end. Themba - its a perception created by what has happened all over the continent. Maybe ignore black and just say Africans. White people are generally less inclined to idolise a leader, they will vote rather for a party with a certain philosophy, not an individual. This is the only opinion I can have, as it is what I seem to witness in our politics. And as johan says - the ANC is a BLACK party, I think if you don't believe this you are in denial... it does not exactly make any effort other than to alienate white people, the odd white voters they have are insignificant. I doubt the ANC would miss them, or cares for them.

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-08-09 15:23

      Themba - what is it then that allows these okes to cling to power until they die. Be honest, under these leaders not much has been achieved for the people. How then do they never get ousted, besides a certain mindset - and I believe that mindset could well be cultural, a culture of tolerance way beyond mine. Again, let me refer to day to day life experiences. I see black people standing in long queues, getting treated badly by people, and it really appears they just take it on the chin. Us whites are forever getting angry, if we are made to wait we moan, if someone is rude to us we fight back - I don't see this in black people. I very seldom see a black ou lose his temper. What do you see. I see black people as generally laid back, and white people as generally quite highly strung and ready for a fight ...

      themba.thwala.98 - 2012-08-09 15:35

      Chumscrubber, firstly, if whites were not cared for, there would not be whites in the ANC`s leadership positions. Secondly, the fact that there are white Cabinet members even MPs in the ANC means those whites brought a very significant constituency with them. You, are sticking your head in the sand because you want to justify casting the politics of the ANC in a racial mould. I'm not the spokesperson of African dictators, neither am I psychic if you expect me to know why they cling to power. Lastly, some whites on this very same forum have labelled blacks savages. Now you are saying blacks are polite. Whatever, I don't think blacks care what white people think of them anyway. I suppose the opposite is true

  • piet.wagamashika - 2012-08-09 10:25

    ja ne african leader are so obsessed with power that they nt willing to vacate office even when gravely ill just like what mugabe is doing in zim.mugabe once said only god wil remove him and i guess until then zimbabweans wil continue to endure hardship.

      jerry.medina.756 - 2012-08-09 14:25

      Piet that Africa you bashing can show you a thing or two. The problem with South Africans is they think they are better than every African. Think about a country with a vibrant democracy in Africa, then think Ghana. Think about one of the most peaceful nation, GHANA. Black South Africans are the most poorest in the continent by design and the status quo will remain like that till Jesus come.

      Chumscrubber1 - 2012-08-09 15:27

      jerry - the poorest on the continent. Nee wat boet, nou vat jy 'n groot kans. Oh sorry, you don't understand afrikaans - its just a nice language to express certain things. What I said is - now you're taking a fat chance. Don't even start to try to claim that, its so far from the truth.

  • Johan De Beer - 2012-08-09 12:21

    Oh, just die Bob

  • BulletProof. - 2012-08-09 17:44

    That's how democracy is understood in Africa. Power for ever.Idiots.

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