Faye presidency: Tempering optimism with caution

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In 1991, Mr Fredrick Chiluba, then 47 years old, led his party, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy, which was formed only a year earlier in 1990, to power with 75 per cent of total votes, ousting the veteran independence hero, Mr Kenneth Kaunda, in Zambia. Kaunda and his United National Independence Party had held power since the country’s independence in 1964, ruling for unbroken 27 years.

Therefore, when Chiluba and his then brand new party showed up, the Zambians rallied around, delivering not only the presidency but also an absolute majority in the parliament.

But the rule of Chiluba, later to be dubbed, “the Chilling Chiluba,” was controversial. Despite issues around his original birthplace, he made efforts to deport Kaunda, claiming the veteran independence hero was a Malawian. Following an attempted military coup in 1997, something unheard of, in the East African nation, Chiluba swooped on opposition politicians, especially those close to former President Kaunda and had them arrested.

To add spice to the eccentricity of his governance, he divorced his second wife, who had nine children for him and married his party’s women leader. At the end of his rule, which delivered very little to the over-expectant Zambians and showed no sign of shaking off poverty, he was charged along with his intelligence chief and other senior ministers with 168 counts of stealing public funds totalling more than $40m.

In May 2007, he was found guilty of embezzling $46m in a civil case in the United Kingdom. The presiding London Judge, Mr Peter Smith, accused Chiluba of shamelessly defrauding his people from which he acquired an expensive wardrobe of “stupendous proportions.”

The fairy story of Chiluba’s rise with his party gaining power just barely a year after it was founded, scooping 75 per cent of the total vote and gaining an absolute majority in parliamentary is even more historically momentous than the victory of President Bassirou Faye in Senegal, whose party, the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity, known by its French acronym PASTEF, formed in 2014, won with 54 per cent of the vote.

This is not in any way to downplay the historic significance of the momentous election in Senegal, not least because of the shenanigan of the outgone president, Mr Macky Sall, who did everything in order to stay put in office. When he grudgingly conceded to hold the election, he put forward a crony and backed him with state resources. That the opposition triumphed amidst several excruciating political landmines laid on its path is a crucial watershed.

Mr George Weah, a former international footballer, won the presidential election in Liberia, West Africa’s oldest Republic, amidst high expectations after the lacklustre rule of a former World Bank official and Africa’s first female president, Mrs Sirleaf Johnson. The woman electrified the whole of Africa when she was elected in 2006. Her victory was momentous because she took office after the civil war and lingering power struggles among former warlords.

But the governance record of Sirleaf was less than salutary. Her son, Mr Charles Sirleaf, was charged with economic sabotage after he unlawfully printed the local currency to the value of $75m. Earlier in October 2014, Sirleaf’s justice minister resigned in protest, accusing the president of interfering with the criminal investigation into the illegal seizure of money from Korean businessmen in a hotel raid.

In 2017, a review conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism cited Sirleaf among the list of politicians named in the Paradise Papers. Liberia under Sirleaf did not record any appreciable mileage in economic growth and overall social development. Currently, the country ranks among the poorest countries in the world despite having elected an international football celebrity and first African female president. Mr George Weah, whose party, the Congress for Democratic Change, swept to power in 2017, winning 60 per cent of the vote in the second run-off, was sworn in as President in 2018.

Having attained office at the age of 51 and promised to “weed out the menace of corruption”, it was greed and graft that became the hallmark of Weah’s presidency. Just months into his presidency, the country’s media reported the alleged disappearance of about $96m in banknotes, approximately five per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

However, an inquiry by Kroll, a US-based firm, discovered that banknotes had not gone missing but had been illegally printed and that another $16.5m which had been printed in excesses couldn’t be accounted for.

In 2020, four auditors who tried to uncover the spate of scandals and corruption that had besmirched Weah’s Presidency died within eight days in suspicious circumstances. The death of the auditors sparked an outrage. In 2024, when Liberians had a chance to interrogate the Weah’s Presidency, they gave him a cold electoral shoulder and elected former 79-year-old Vice President, Joseph Boakai; unceremoniously terminating the political career of Weah.

The structural constraints of modern states in Africa, largely from the consequence of historic origin, nature and structure cannot be easily overcome through the grandstanding of political bravado. It requires more than political affirmation and even determination.

The nature of modern African states and the structure of engagement with the rest of the world have played outsized roles, though considerably neglected or ignored in the current travails of the continent. There will be no need to reinvent the wheel or disband the existing state as that would be toil in absurdity. But clearly, Africa’s contemporary states can be realigned to the autonomous reality of the various states on the continent, taking into account the popular values through which people communicate, engage and address their concerns.

The historic inquiry and interrogation of the facts about the living realities of the various people would generate a harvest of outcomes that inform genuine reforms of existing institutions and realign them to true public service. Whether it’s President Faye’s Senegal or Bola Tinubu’s Nigeria, William Ruto’s Kenya, Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia, or the two generals tearing Sudan apart, or Mr Salva Kiir’s South Sudan or the three strongmen in the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, the crises of the modern states in Africa and the consequence of socio-economic lethargy are beyond the type of rule but rather in the structure and nature of the state itself. It would be unfair to wave aside the genuine determination and goodwill of the leaders in Africa to deliver on good governance and its expected outcome of a better society, but history has clearly and consistently shown that these efforts are more or less perpetually vitiated by the objective nature of the state and its existential constraints.

For the avoidance of doubts, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. Many states in Asia, especially South-East Asia, like Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, have made some appreciable progress despite starting from the same point as Africa; colonial domination.

The key to the modest and ongoing success is reinterpreting the inherited colonial state in the light of their then-new reality and retooling their institutions to reflect and address concerns of their rediscovered social reality, which proceeded from a total understanding of their respective unique national conditions. The process refined and redefined their engagement with the rest of the world, giving them a reasonable handle in defining and projecting their priorities. Africa has the intellectual wherewithal, a repository and pedigree of historical renaissance to chart her course in an increasing landscape of global disorder. The will to act could amount to sheer bravado and even the dissipation of energy in the wrong direction without adequate knowledge and understanding of what Amilcar Cabral, one of Africa’s foremost thinkers called our “weakness.” Therefore, the determination and the will to know are essential prerequisites to any meaningful and purposeful action.


  • Onunaiju sent in this piece from Abuja
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