August 16, 2020

Strongman Politics Dominates East Africa More Than Other African Regions – Study

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The countries of the region

For the last few years the African political landscape has been dominated by high profile changes of leaders and governments.

But have the changes of leaders and governments generated more democratic and responsive governments? The University of Birmingham’s Bertelsmann Transformation Index Africa Report 2020 (BTI), titled; A Changing of the Guards or A Change of Systems?, suggests that we should be cautious about the prospects for rapid political improvements.

Reviewing developments in 44 countries from 2017 to the start of 2019, the study published August 11, finds that leadership change results in an initial wave of optimism. But ongoing political challenges and constraints mean that it is often a case of “the more things change the more they stay the same”.

Political change occurs gradually in the vast majority of African countries.

In the east African regional neighbors Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan – they have particularly unique political arrangements. The military leaders are President Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Salva Kiir (South Sudan) and very recently Evariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi) who is same as predecessor. Kenya and Tanzania may have different circumstances, but are also being consumed by the strongman politics.

Here are excepts from the study on the region;

Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan

“….many of the states of Central Africa and around half the countries in Eastern Africa – including Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda – are led by individuals who came to power as a result of the victory of a rebel army. While they have transitioned into civilian clothing and swapped titles such as “general” for “president”, their governance styles have often reflected military rather than civilian priorities, such as an emphasis on discipline, hierarchy and the use of force to settle disputes. Partly as a result, they are less likely to recognize the value of dissent and tend to view opposition as inherently suspicious, relying heavily on coercive institutions to sustain their rule.”

“At the same time, authoritarian leaders in Burundi, Djibouti, Rwanda and Uganda have established themselves as presidents for life and can be expected to respond to any challenge to their authority with repression, resulting in either continuity or, where a stronger opposition challenges emerges – as appears to be happening in Uganda – a further deterioration in political transformation.”

Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli

“At present, Tanzania is considerably more politically competitive than this group of states, but President Magufuli has already established a track record of being unwilling to accept criticism and intimidating opposition parties and civil society groups. It therefore seems likely that the build-up to the […] elections will see further infringements on civil liberties, undermining consensus and increasing the potential for high profile criticism from the international community.”

Kenya’s “handshake” and William Ruto

“There is also a significant risk of democratic backsliding elsewhere in East Africa. While Kenya is currently politically stable as a result of the “handshake” between President Uhuru Kenyatta and long-time opposition leader Raila Odinga – which ended the political impasse following the 2017 elections crisis – political tensions will rise ahead of the 2022 elections. In particular, competition to succeed Kenyatta when he stands down having served two terms in office threatens to split the government in two.”

“If Deputy President William Ruto is not selected as the ruling party’s presidential candidate, something which Kenyatta initially promised but which his allies are seeking to block, he will leave the party to form a rival alliance. This would represent a significant risk to national unity, as the coalition between Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, and Ruto, a Kalenjin, has helped to maintain an uneasy peace between two of the communities that experienced the worst violence during the post-election crisis of 2007/8. The country therefore faces a growing risk of both inter-ethnic tension and the heavy-handed use of the security forces as the government seeks to maintain control.”

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