Transforming power into a family business has been a temptation for North African leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak with their respective sons, Saif al-Islam and Gamal. The former in recent years tried to appear as a moderate and ‘reformist’ element in his father’s regime, but when the war in Libya broke out his stances were revealed to be far more radical: he mercilessly vowed to fight the insurgents until the end. Before the fall of Tripoli he escaped the city and was eventually captured only on 19 November 2012, a month after his father’s death. It is still uncertain if he will face trial in Libya – as the militiamen who captured him want – or before the International Criminal Court, where he is accused of crimes against humanity for the suppression of the 2011 protests. If tried in Libya, Saif al-Islam could face the death penalty. On the other hand, Gamal Mubarak has already been judged by an Egyptian court, together with his older brother Alaa, a former businessman: both were acquitted for the killing of protesters in Tahrir Square, but they remain in prison on other charges including financial crimes and abuse of power.
Some cases of ‘hereditary republics’ can also be spotted in Sub-saharan Africa. Before his 2012 electoral defeat, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade apparently tried to pave the road for his son, Karim, planning to appoint him as his deputy. The possibility of a dynastic succession (Wade is in his 80s) sparked outrage among many – mainly youths – who took to the streets. The protest also aimed at underlining the serious economic and social problems of the Senegalese people and played an important role in the electoral campaign. Eventually, Wade was defeated by one of the opposition candidates, Macky Sall. He thus failed to follow the path of the only three African heads of State who managed to hand over power to their children, as if the country were their personal possession.
The first (relatively) successful heir is Joseph Kabila, Laurent-Desiré’s son, the man who overthrew Mobutu’s regime in Zaire, which since then regained the name DR Congo. His succession was easy (he was chosen by his father’s inner circle) compared with the task of securing his power: a never-ending conflict is taking place in DR Congo. Kabila was re-elected in two successive presidential elections (2006 and 2011); the results of the latter have been rejected as fraudulent by the opposition, which recently filed a request for the president’s impeachment, even if it is unlikely to be approved. However, speaking about future developments might be risky, given the country’s chronic state of instability.
Gabon’s Ali Ben Bongo acts on a slightly less complex stage: his country was ruled by his father Omar, from 1967 to 2009. Ali inherited his post (after having been in charge as Defence Minister) thanks to an election that was highly contested by the other main candidates (opposition politician Pierre Mamboundou and former minister Andre Mba Obame). The 2011 parliamentary election was allegedly fraudulent too, and the country is now being criticized by international NGOs for human rights abuses, as it had been before. The BBC saw few changes, if any, for the Gabonese people and commented the political transition with: “Like father, like son”.
Faure Gnassingbé has a rather similar story. He is Eyadema Gnassingbé’s son and successor. Eyadema deposed Sylvanus Olympio, Togo’s first president, in a 1963 coup. Then in 1967, when he was army chief of staff, he officially decided to take over as president. He remained in office for 38 years, until his death. Talking about his succession, he once said: “God will choose the most suitable person to take my place”. Actually, the military appointed Faure and a vote secured his power sparking protests which left hundreds dead or wounded.
It is still unclear whether Denis Sassou Nguesso wants to follow the path of these ‘monarchs’. He got to power in Congo-Brazzaville by a common method: a coup (in 1997) followed by plebiscites. Were he really willing to crown a relative, he would have a wide range of possibilities: both his son Denis Christel and his daughter Claudia Lembouma won parliamentary seats in the latest election, along with his son-in-law Hugues Ngouelondele. They are not new to state administration: Denis Christel is a manager in the state oil company, and Claudia is one of the president’s ‘communication advisors’.