As founding fathers, the first generation of nationalist leaders—Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, Jomo Kenyatta and Leopold Senghor — all enjoyed great prestige and high honor.
The Gambia Journal (Gambia), by Alagi Yoro Jallow / Monday, 08 September 2008
They were seen to personify the states they led and swiftly took advantage of their positions to consolidate their control. From the outset, most sought a monopoly of power, and most established a system of personal rule and encouraged personality cults. They saw themselves as the “elected of God through the people.” Conversely, Sir Seretse Khama, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, and Nelson Mandela led their nations democratically when they could have aggregated personal power.
Apart from Mandela, Khama and Ramgoolam, African leaders and elites did not establish political systems that bore any resemblance to indigenous systems. They inherited an authoritarian colonial state at independence, and though they could have dismantled it and returned Africa to its roots, they did not. Instead, these leaders strengthened the unitary colonial state apparatus and expanded its scope–especially the military.
By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office. Out of some 150 heads of state who had trodden the African stage, only six had managed to voluntarily relinquish power. Among these were Senegal’s Leopold Senghor,after twenty years in office,Cameroon’s Ahmadu Ahidjo,after twenty years in office,and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere,after twenty-three years in office. The Gambia’s Sir Dawda Jawara was in power for 30 years and was then booted out by the military. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela served only one term in the presidency, whereas some African leaders clung to power until death and others declared themselves presidents for life.
One of the greatest common characteristics of the founding fathers of Africa is that all of them attended prestigious universities in Africa, America, Europe or the Soviet Union and attained advanced degrees.
Most African political systems have exhibited various shades of the “Big Man” patrimonial rule. Three distinct types of leadership surfaced in the post-colonial era.
The first type was the charismatic leadership style, which was associated with such leaders as Nkrumah, Nyerere, Jawara, Kaunda, Khama and Kenyatta.Their support was based largely on popular appeal of their appeal of their role in the decolonization struggle. Leaders of this sort chose to dominate rather than compromise, to dictate rather than to reconcile. Charismatic leaders in Africa therefore bore the external trappings of omnipotence. In the case of Nkrumah of Ghana, it was exaggerated to the point of endowing the leader with godlike attributes.
The second type of political leadership was the patriarchal, exemplified in such leaders as Jomo Kenyatta, Nyerere, Kaunda, Khama,Senghor Jawara and Nkrumah.They acted as the “father of the nation,” and their style was that of adjudicator, conciliator, instigator and peacemaker. As fatherly figures, they expected to be revered.
The third type of leader, revolutionary or populist prophetic, also emerged as near-perfect clones of earlier-day charismatic leaders. They were impatient and angry at the appalling social misery, economic mismanagement and flagrant injustices in their countries. Examples of this type of leader are,Nkrumah,Nyerere,Kenyatta,Kaunda, Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia and John Rawlings of Ghana.
In one country after another, African leaders acted in contempt of constitutional rules and agreements they had sworn to uphold to enhance their own power. Constitutions were either amended or rewritten or simply ignored. Kwame Nkrumah’s first amendment to the constitution—the abolishing regional assemblies—was introduced only two years after the country had gained independence.
In these African leaders’ quest for greater control, the device they commonly favored was the one-party system. In some cases, one-party systems were achieved by popular vote. There were many other examples, however, of instances where one-party systems were imposed simply by suppressing opposition parties. Institutional failure of stable and genuine multi-party systems to take root presents one of the most serious challenges to democratic politics in Africa. The forces which favor authoritarianism and one-party domination are very strong.