The end of dynastic presidential politics in Africa?

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The political ambitions of Gamal Mubarak who is widely tipped to succeed his father Hosni, president of Egypt, is looking particularly grim following recent events in the north African country. In Senegal, another possible handover from President Wade to his son, Karim, has aroused strong criticism. A rejection that could be extended to other countries, including Congo and Equatorial Guinea. Since 2001, three sons of former African presidents have succeeded their fathers.

Have current events in Egypt, where millions of protesters are demanding the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, turned the northern African leader’s plan, to place his son at the helm of political affairs, upside down? According to many observers, the embattled president has been grooming his son, Gamal, to take over from him after his last term this year. The octogenarian president has nonetheless always denied this possibility, while those close to him suggest that he will be his own successor, despite his old age.

Notwithstanding those statements, many events from last year pointed to a gradual strategic positioning of Gamal. At 46, he was propelled into the enviable position of Secretary General of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Assembling under the slogan “Gamal: dream of the poor”, his supporters swarmed some of the country’s busy streets, last September, to collect five million signatures; The number of signatures needed to enable a person stand for presidential elections in Egypt. Away from his busy volunteer campaigners in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, his daddy, Hosni Mubarak, was tirelessly working to raise Gamal’s stature in international politics, especially by engaging him in direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with Washington.

Karim Wade in Gamal’s shadow

Egypt is not the only African country where a president’s son is working to take over — what is increasingly becoming a family business — from his father. Karim Wade, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s eldest son, has since last year been catapulted to political stardom. The 85 year-old Abdoulaye Wade, whose second and last term ends next year, has always denied trying to position his son to succeed him as head of state. But his continuous denial has not stopped him from transferring political power to Gamal.

Early October, 2010, Gamal was put in charge of a super ministry that controls almost all of the country’s strategic ministerial portfolios: energy, air transport, infrastructure and international cooperation. In February 2009, Karim’s candidacy for mayoral elections in Dakar, the country’s largest, was analyzed as a trial run for his future presidential candidacy.

“The enthronement of the Republic’s Prince [Karim Wade, Editor’s note] should by all means begin by first taking charge of the capital’s mayoral office. This step will be the trial phase of the electoral holdup that the authorities intend to implement for the 2012 [elections, Editor’s note]”, analyzed Sud Online, a Senegalese online journal.

The throne thirsty sons

Elsewhere on the continent, old presidents are busily positioning their offspring strategically. In the Republic of Congo, the media often describes Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, one of President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s sons, as the most likely successor. Unfortunately, the little prince has so far only made a name for himself as a spendthrift who is out to squander all the resources of his country on his most lavish lifestyle.

In the Central African Republic, Francois Bozize has dumped his son Francis Bozize into the Defense Minister’s seat. In Cameroon, Paul Biya, who has been in power for almost three decades, has made his eldest son, Franck, his special adviser. In the Obiang Nguema controlled Equatorial Guinea, the President is torn between his two sons. Teodorin Nguema Obiang, whose reputation as an international gambler precedes him, was accused by the U.S. Senate in a 2004 report which revealed that he had conducted shady transactions with a local bank. And then there is Gabriel Obiang Lima, the Secretary of State for Mines, Industry and Energy, who is believed to be cherished by both his family and oil companies.

Cases of succession

With the exception of constitutional monarchies as is the case in the kingdoms of Morocco, Lesotho and Swaziland, three sons of heads of state rose to power in the last decade. All under chaotic conditions.

A little over a week after Laurent-Desire Kabila was shot and killed by one of his bodyguards, his then 29 year old son, Joseph, succeeded him. February 2005, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe mounted the country’s presidential throne amid the power crisis that followed the death of his father and long-time dictator, Gnassingbe Eyadema. Two months later, he consolidated his power after a heavily contested election that was controlled by security forces with brutal force in Faure’s favour.

In Gabon in October 2009, Ali Bongo was sworn in as President after the death of his father Omar a few weeks earlier. A year after the presidential election, Andre Mba Obame, one of the most popular presidential candidates, continues to challenge the legality of Ali’s installment.

For future presidential heirs, the dynamics may be changing. The ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt could well have definitely affected Gamal’s chances to inherit his father’s position. The announcement of his possible candidacy last year aroused strong hostility among his opponents, who had earlier on marched through the streets of Cairo and Alexandria carrying placards that read: “We do not want a hereditary government! “And” no to Gamal! .

In Senegal, talks about a possible Karim Wade candidacy has ignited similar hostilities. In Libya, Gaddafi’s most politically committed son, Seif al-Islam, who wants to reform his country, is facing a clamorous rebellion from powerful politicians. But does this really mark the end of the trend of dynastic power transmissions?

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