Sunday, April 17, 2011

Africa: Why presidents' sons are Africa's new crop of pariahs (opinion)

The East African (Kenya), by Christine Mungai / Monday, 11 April 2011

Nairobi (Kenya) -Recent upheavals in North Africa have created a new pariah on the African continent: The Son of an African Dictator.
Africa: AU absent from Libya meeting in London

In both Tunisia and Egypt, one of the major grievances of the population was the attempt by the long serving leaders to position their sons to take over leadership after them.

In the case of Egypt, there had been widespread speculation that Hosni Mubarak had been grooming his second son Gamal to succeed him.

The ouster of Tunisia's Zine Ben Ali dashed the hopes of his son-in-law Sakhr el-Matri taking over the mantle.

In the face of ongoing airstrikes against Libya, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi remains one of his father's right hand men and an online video released on February 28 shows Saif appearing to spur on a crowd of followers to protect his father's regime and promising weapons to them, while brandishing a G36 assault rifle.

In 2008, Saif was awarded a PhD from the London School of Economics whose title, The role of civil society in the democratisation of global governance institutions: from 'soft power' to collective decision-making?, is now ironic, considering the current events in Libya.

Here in East Africa, speculation is rife that 36-year old Lt-Col Muhoozi Kainerugaba, son of President Yoweri Museveni, has joined the growing list of African "First Sons" being groomed for succession following his meteoric rise through the army ranks.

According to Angelo Izama, a Uganda expert at Stanford University, Kainerugaba's succession is inevitable because potential challengers have either been tainted by scandals or marginalised by Museveni.

Gamal, El-Matri and Saif had hoped to join the club of sons who have succeeded their fathers, whose ranks include Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé, son of Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who at his death was the longest serving ruler in Africa.

When Eyadéma died on February 5, 2005, his son Gnassingbé -- propped up by the army -- was immediately installed as president.

Doubts regarding the constitutional legitimacy of the succession led to strong regional pressure against Gnassingbé, leading to his resignation.

He then won a controversial presidential election in April that year and was sworn in as president again.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba also benefitted from his father's (Omar Bongo) grooming and eventually took over leadership of the country, following Bongo's death in June 2009.

Bongo had ruled Gabon for 42 years, making him the world's longest serving non-monarch ruler.

Both Gnassingbé and Ali Bongo had served as ministers in their fathers' respective governments, before succeeding them.

One current minister whose lavish lifestyle has been the source of controversy is 39 year-old Teodoro Nguema Obiang, son of long serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin, as he is known, is the minister for agriculture and forestry in his father's government, though it appears that he spends little time at home, instead shuttling between South Africa, France and the US.

A legal battle in South Africa in 2006 cast a spotlight on Teodorin's wealth and extravagance.

Although he has homes in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and Paris, according to reports, Teodorin descended on Cape Town in 2004 and in the course of a weekend spent nearly $1.7 million on two Bentleys -- an Arnage T and a Mulliner -- and a Lamborghini Murcielago as well as two luxury houses worth $6 million.

Teodorin also bought a 15,000 sq ft mansion worth $35 million in the luxurious Florida suburb of Malibu, US, with eight bathrooms, a pool and several tennis courts.

The 16-acre estate includes a designer golf course and sprawling gardens speckled with fountains, despite the fact that his official salary is only about $6,700.

A $3 billion annual oil revenue gives Equatorial Guinea's 520,000 citizens the second highest per capita income in the world at about $42,000, but this hardly trickles down to ordinary citizens.

The country is ranked at the bottom of the United Nations' Human Development Index, measuring quality of life.

According to corruption watchdog Global Witness, in 2009, Teodorin commissioned a luxury super yacht costing $380 million, making it the world's second most expensive yacht after the $1.2 billion worth "Eclipse" owned by Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich.

In 2006 Obiang Jr. justified his wealth in a sworn affidavit to a South African court questioning his ownership of luxury mansions and cars.

He said officials in his country were allowed to join with foreign companies bidding for government contracts and this means "a Cabinet minister ends up with a sizable part of the contract price in his bank account."

In a similar vein, government contracts of a dubious nature have also catapulted President Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane, into the ranks of South Africa's richest.

Apparently eager to gain political connections with his father, companies which list him as a director have secured stakes in controversial business contracts worth billions of rands.

The 28-year-old businessman, who is set to become one of the country's youngest billionaires, has repeatedly criticised the media for exposing his lucrative deals, arguing that people with a political agenda wanted to get to his father through him.

South African newspaper The Sunday Times reported that Duduzane and his business partner, Rajesh Gupta, were directors and shareholders in a R500-billion ($) deal with China Railway Construction Corporation, placing them at the forefront to cash in on the government's rail project, an estimated 2,200km highspeed train link between Johannesburg and Durban, Cape Town and Musina.

One project that seems likely to fail, however, is that of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade grooming his son Karim to succeed him.

Karim's appointment as Minister for Energy in October 2010 is fuelling speculation that if the 85-year-old president wins the next election, he could simply hand over power to Karim before the term's expiry on account of his age, in the manner that President Léopold Sedar Senghor did with his successor Abdou Diouf.

However, Karim's lack of political experience and his average academic achievements, coupled with his defeat in Dakar's mayoral election in 2009, are seriously jeopardising his chances. The 42-year old also returned to the country in 2002 after a long absence.

Interestingly, the harshest of the criticism from the public is the fact that Karim, like his French mother, neither speaks a word of the national language - Wolof - nor does he seem to have plans to wed a Senegalese woman in a country where virtually all the first ladies have been foreigners.

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Source: The East African (Kenya), by Christine Mungai

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