‘Democratic’ dynasties

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Nepotism does not only affect ‘presidents for life’. Even democratically elected heads of state have been accused of giving key posts to relatives. This might not be so for the much-criticized Jacob Zuma, the South African president, and for Nkosazana Dlamini: she was recently named head of the African Union and is the ex-wife of the head of state and has held key ministries in previous South African governments. 

Instead, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, seems to have ‘fallen into temptation’. The appointment of her son Robert, former presidential advisor, as head of the national oil company has been highly contested. Even Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize with Sirleaf was among the president’s critics because of this. And Robert was not the only presidential relative to obtain important roles: his brother Fumba is in charge of national security and another brother, Charles, was deputy governor of the Central Bank until he was suspended – following his mother’s decision – because of his reticence to face State officials monitoring corruption. This crime is widespread in the country, and Sirleaf has been accused of not having taken appropriate measures to tackle it.
One of the main commitments that Zambia’s Michael Sata made after his election in 2011 was to fight corruption. Since then, however, he has been accused of favouring relatives and friends when appointing officials: Lombe Chibesakunda, a magistrate and the president’s cousin, was michael-sata-zambia-presidentchosen to replace the Supreme Court chief judge, whose term had expired; Alexander Chikwanda, Sata’s uncle, and Miles Sampa, a niece, are respectively the Minister and Deputy Minister of Finance. This though is not unusual in Zambia: former president Levy Mwanawasa’s government was even dubbed ‘the family tree’.
Sometimes, democracy itself is instrumental in creating political dynasties, and this also happens outside Africa. Nevertheless, the electoral value of a famous name is probably higher in this continent because some candidates are sons (or daughters) of late ‘fathers of the nation’. Uhuru Kenyatta, a frontrunner in the upcoming presidential elections, is one. His main opponent, the incumbent PM Raila Odinga is, in turn, the son of a late prominent figure of Kenyan politics. His father Oginga – before forming an opposition party and being put in custody by the government – was Kenya’s vice-president. Instead, Uhuru is the son of the first Kenyan president (the late Jomo Kenyatta) and he has already served as Minister of Finance and Deputy PM in a national unity government. Nonetheless, the charges set against him by the International Criminal Court for the violent aftermath of the 2007 elections cast a shadow on his political future.
Conversely, no legal problems impede the possible political future of Samia Nkrumah. Her father, Kwame, was the first leader in Sub Saharan Africa to gain independence for his country, Ghana. After having spent many years abroad, the 52-year-old Samia returned to her home uhuru Kenyattacountry and held the only parliamentary seat won by her late father’s Party, the CPP. However, the CPP’s poor results in the 2012 presidential vote (a meagre 0.18%) and the failure of Samia’s bid for re-election in Jomoro left the party without a parliamentary representation. The blame was put mainly on Kwame Nkrumah’s daughter, the CPP chairman. According to some analysts, Samia has not given up hope for a national political career, even if the experts who described her as a possible candidate for the presidency in 2016 are now reconsidering.
A different story was the great ballot box result achieved by Botswana’s Ian Khama in 2009. Khama, son of Seretse Khama, the founder of the state, was already in office after the resignation of president Festus Mogae, having held the post of vice-president. Khama jr. leads the country and the Democratic Party (that has been in power since independence) with a populist style and is among the fiercest critics of Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. His party holds a firm majority in parliament but his internal opponents label him as authoritarian. The South African daily Mail & Guardian recently published a long list of Khama’s friends and relatives who hold top posts in the administration, and of the president’s conflicts of interests. Only time will tell if Botswana is another country bound to have a ‘king without a crown’.


Davide Maggiore


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