If there are decades in which nothing happens, this will go down as a week in which decades happened.
In less than 17 hours, two of Africa’s most powerful nations, South Africa and Ethiopia were left looking for new leaders after President Jacob Zuma and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned following sustained pressure from their political parties.
The back-to-back resignations came barely three months after Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe was expelled from the ruling Zanu-PF party and forced to resign after ruling Zimbabwe for 37 years.
According to Dr Simba Kayunga Sali of Makerere University, the developments from southern to the eastern region of the continent do not bear a common string, but are unique from one another.
« With Zimbabwe, it was not a coup against Mr Mugabe, rather, it targeted First Lady Grace Mugabe. There was fear, especially among former Independence war comrades that in the event of Mugabe’s death, the First Lady was positioned to become president, and that, they were not ready to accept, » said Dr Sali.
Leadership in most African countries has been dominated by strong pre-Independence political parties which emerged from the fight for liberation from colonialism.
While most of them have remained strong and maintained a strong discipline system which allowed them to promote and demote members, punish rebels and even eject incumbents, some have been outgrown by their leaders, who have largely controlled the parties’ political decisions and direction.
Mr Zuma is not the first South African president to be hounded out of office through pressure from the ruling party. In 2008, the second black president Thabo Mbeki, resigned after the ANC party, then already under Zuma’s leadership, announced that it would remove him from office before the end of his term.
In Tanzania, opposition leader Edward Lowassa was a frontrunner to clinch the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi party’s ticket and the presidency in 2015 but was handed a one-year ban for allegedly starting his campaign for the presidency ahead of the authorised time.
The CCM committee later eliminated Lowassa from its list of presidential aspirants in July, forcing him to denounce the party and join the opposition.
In Uganda, after intelligence reports indicated that Ugandan Prime Minister and ruling National Resistance Movement secretary-general Amama Mbabazi was planning to challenge President Yoweri Museveni for the country’s top seat in the 2016 elections, the party began to trim Mbabazi’s powers in order to shatter his ambitions.
The longtime Museveni loyalist finally bowed out of his powerful party position in October 2014, a frustrated man.
Last year, NRM legislators went a step further and voted overwhelmingly to remove presidential age limits, paving the way for President Museveni to serve a sixth term in office in what political analysts said was more evidence that NRM was a one-man party.
By Victor Kiprop, in The East African, 17.02.18
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