When US president Bill Clinton visited Africa in March 1998, there was hope across Africa. From the US Government perspective, African was finally on the right track. Dictators, Apartheid and dictatorships had been overthrown in South Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, Eritrea, Zaire, and Rwanda. A new generation of leaders, that President Clinton called “a new breed of leaders” was at the helm. The hopes in African renaissance, democracy and freedom could not be better.
15 years laters, these hopes have been dashed. Most of the new breed of leaders turned into despots or war criminals, some were assassinated by their peers, and others are dying, leaving behind appalling human rights records, undried tears and grief, and a flowing river of suffering.
The leaders President Bill Clinton referred to included: Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, and Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Laurent Kabila. Some journalists and political analysts trying to interpret President Clinton’s statements later added Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings, Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki. But that was a stretch. The five leaders of Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, DRC and Eritrea were the “New breed of African leaders,” who had ascended to power with unusual and illegal means. 15 years later, the consensus is that all these five leaders have turned into the most brutal dictators that Africa has known. The question is: What happened to them? What turned these promising leaders into monsters, worse that those they replaced.
Let us look at each one, starting with the first to take power.
1. Uganda’ Yoweri Museveni. When he took power in 1986 with the help of his neighbor to the South, Rwanda’s General Juvenal Habyarimana, Yoweri Museveni promised one thing: that he will never hang onto power and he will be an example of democracy, freedom and leadership in Africa. What was his first act: turn against his sponsor and make Ugandan in an vitual monarchy. Twenty six years later, there is no sign of Yoweri Museveni relinquishing power. Just to show that he is not ready to go peacefully, on Monday, August 27, 2012 Yoweri Museveni made his 38-year-old son Colonel Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a one star general or Brigadier-general. His son’s meteoric rise in Ugandan army ranks was unprecedented in the history of African dictatorships. At some point, the son who received some military training in Great Britain’s Sandhurst Military Academy jumped two ranks. Reporting directly to President Yoweri Museveni, the son will be in charge of the army division that protects his father and the newly discovered oil fields. As such the son will make sure that the father is well protected and when times come, that he succeeds him. However, sources in Kampala told AfroAmerica Network that the ailing Yoweri Museveni is planning to leave power to a place holder, a straw man, before his son finally succeeds him.
This transition plan will serve two purposes: appease critics and give time to the son to place his own circle of trusted friends in strategic positions. Also, the military and security system is controlled or infiltrated by people left behind by Rwandan President Paul Kagame when he was the head of military intelligence. Yoweri Museveni, although not trusting Paul Kagame’s men, is unable to get rid off them without creating a rift around him; he wants to have the son do the job through the straw man and take power after cleaning up the system of Paul Kagame’s men. Perhaps Yoweri Museveni is practicing his usual nepotism, with his wife being a Cabinet minister, and his daughter, the president personal adviser and secretary. Museveni’s brother, Salim Saleh Akandwanaho (see here), was also a prominent Cabinet Minister before he was sidelined due financial scandals.
2. Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. His recent untimely death will make our comments short. He ruled by terror and repression, and he has left a country that could have been an exemplary democracy in a state of dictatorship. He has major responsibility in wars that have ravaged the Great Lakes of Africa, especially Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC, having provided weapons, soldiers, and financial backing to rebellions during these wars. He also provoked wars against another member of the breed of the leaders: Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki. Ethiopia is a great country that lost its way when Haile Megistu overthrew King Haile Selasie. Meles Zenawi was a new hope for Ethiopia to recover its greatness. He died, leaving behind a brutal dictatorship.
3. Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki was, along with Meles Zenawi, dynamic, progressive and full of anticipation. The difference between the two, is that Isaias Afewerki has turned Eritrea into a pariah. While Isaias Afewerki antagonized the West, Meles Zenawi made sure Ethiopia remains the friend of the West and a major player in the Horn of Africa. Isaias Afewerki is still alive and perhaps has a chance to turn his country around, make it into a democracy, transform his leadership into a positive experience for Eritreans and the World.
4. Rwanda’s General Paul Kagame: perhaps the most ruthless dictator among the five. He is accused of assassinating his predecessor General Juvenal Habyarimana, DRC President Laurent Kabila, and Burundian President Ntaryamira and being responsible of the death of more than 6 million Congolese and Rwandans. If all he is accused of turns out to be true, his macabre record will be unparalleled in the history of Africa. He still has a chance to, at least, leave a legacy. In fact, men are usually judged on their later years in life and rarely on the mistakes from their youth.
5. DRC’s Laurent Kabila. He did not have a chance to show his worth. A couple of years after President Bill Clinton’s statements, Laurent Kabila was dead, allegedly killed by the other member of the “breed of leaders”, General Paul Kagame. According to the accounts, they had failed to agree on who among the two would be prominent and who would follow. Laurent Kabila, true to himself, refused to submit. He was killed and replaced by his son, Joseph Kabila, who incidently was at one point a bodyguard of Paul Kagame, along with the current Rwandan Defense Minister, James Kabare, his childhood friend, or a cousin depending on who is asked.
So, from the initial 5 members of the club of new breed of leaders:
One question remains: What would President Bill Clinton say right now? Perhaps his deception would be summarized in the following statement made by US Ambassador at the United Nations, Susan Rice while visiting Rwanda earlier this year on March 15, 2012: ““The uprising in Libya has already sent a powerful—excuse me—has already sent a message to leaders in Africa and beyond. It is that if we lose touch with our people, if we do not serve them as they deserve and address their needs, there will be consequences. Their grievances will accumulate – and no matter how much time passes, they can turn against you.” (click here for more).
Did the new breed of African Leaders turn into a new breed of African dictators?
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