The First Female President of Africa

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first freely elected female president of Liberia, and of many African nation beginning in 2005 at the age of 67. She was a popular president, not just because she was the first female president of the continent, but because her policies were effective, and they improved the lives of the citizens of Liberia.

In August 1985, She was placed under house arrest because she campaigned against Samuel Doe, who was the president at the time. She was sentenced to ten years in prison, but she was allowed to leave the country as an exile by September of the same year.

In 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work. She was the second African woman in to win a Nobel Peace Prize, after the previous one passed away.

In 2006, She vowed to make reduction of the national debt. At the time, Liberia had approximately US $4.9 billion of debt, which was about seven times the country’s annual national income. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf negotiated until the United States became the first country to grant debt relief to Liberia. In 2010, Liberia met the completion point of the HIPC, and made the country free from its entire external debt.

After she gained debt relief for the country, she could focus and spend more money on education for children. She launched a girls’ education national policy on 18 April 2006. Girls could have free and compulsory primary school and reduced secondary school fees by 50%. Female teachers were important, as they could understand girls better, so female teachers were trained more. Since abusing students by teachers often happened. Sirleaf made punishment, for teachers who committed sexual abuse and assault of students more severe, and their impunity would be ended. At the same time, School offered life skills to raise the self-esteem for girls, so they could resist sexual abuses.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf studied economics in the United States. She moved to Nairobi, Kenya in 1981, and served as a vice president of the African Regional Office of Citibank. While she was serving as the president of the country, she had improved the Liberian economy from a negative growth, which was caused by civil wars, to a rate of more than 8.7% in 2013.

During the civil wars, it was estimated around 70% of women were sexually assaulted. But after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came to power, she brought in new legislation to widen the definition of rape. The UN found only 2% of reported rape and sexual violence cases in 2015. She had also inspired other women to enter politics. In 2017, 16% of house of representatives candidates were female. It was the highest proportion in history of Liberia.

October 2017, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stepped down from being president after two six-year terms. It surprised a lot of people, because this doesn’t usually happen in Africa. After she has brought so much to the people of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf deserves all her awards and a rest.


He Puts the “Kenya” in Kenyatta

A populist leader is a leader who stands for the “people.” They aim to aid the common folk whom they see as the naturally good and intelligent. These leaders see the people as held back from their potential by both the political and economic elites. Sometimes a populist will be remembered for improving their already stable country and other times for wrecking it and implementing controversial policies that split the populous for the good of their supporters.

Many view the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta as a conservative populist with a strong sense of African nationalism. Kenyans elected him president of Kenya in 2013, making him the youngest to date. He is son of Jomo Kenyatta who was Kenya’s first ever president, serving for 14 years from 1964-1978 when he died. His father came to power with his nationalist pro-Kenyan policies. He wished for Kenya to be its own republic instead of just a colony, and he emphasized his goal to split from the British Empire. Rather than a Kenyan nationalist like his father Jomo, Uhuru is a conservative who sees great importance in pan-African nationalism.

To win his first election Uhuru had to take on Raila Odinga, an advocate for reform and democracy. Odinga’s father served as the first vice president of Kenya. Does this sound somewhat familiar? Well, interestingly enough, his father Jaramogi Odinga was vice president to Jomo Kenyatta. So, to say the least there is some history between the two. Uhuru won the 2013 election with just over 50% of the vote, while Odinga received slightly less at ~44%.

When he took office in 2013, Kenyatta’s set his aim on refocusing Kenya’s foreign policy to display an aggressive African-centered approach. This may seem an authoritarian-like action, however, it is simply due to Kenyatta’s strong African nationalistic beliefs. At his inauguration, to show his turn to a pan-African policy regarding Kenya’s region and the world, he had the anthem of the East-African community sung. He aims to strengthen ties between Kenya and the EAC member states – Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Kenyatta stated that the future of Kenya is inseparable from the future of the region around it.

A clear example of his populist style can be seen through his suspicion and disrespect for the media. He often insults newspapers, once actually saying their only purpose should be for wrapping meat. Also, his administration has passed laws aiming to increase the difficulty of being an independent reporter. The administration has abused journalists who ask questions that might wall in the person being asked. These journalists have reportedly been beaten and arrested, as well as having their reports pulled or even been fired.

Regarding terrorism, Kenyatta refers to Muslims and Muslim refugees in vague, villainizing terms. Kenya is involved in the African Union Mission in Somalia, aimed at halting the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, currently requiring an extra 28,000 troops to do so. The group has murdered nearly 800 Kenyans so far, with most of the violence occurring since Uhuru took office in 2013. Kenyatta’s opposition, Odinga, has continued to demand the withdrawal of troops, which would put the mission in severe danger. Kenyatta on the other hand has urged for more troops to be deployed and has even reached out internationally for help.

Kenyatta is a leader with a very colorful personality, and his supporters see him as very down to earth and approachable. He argued that the decision to annul his second consecutive win in the election for the Kenyan presidency was overthrowing the will of the Kenyan people. Kenyatta is truly a leader who claims to represent ‘The People,’ however, he then actively disregards those people who do not support him. Although this may not seem ideal, as he is not for every single Kenyan, he is a populist, for he is one for the common man.

The World Gets Ready to Say Goodbye to Jacob Zuma (Finally)

After almost 9 years of leading South Africa into the ground, the people, including government officials within Zuma’s own party, have finally spoken. Many prominent leaders within the African National Congress (A.N.C) have spoke against the rule of Zuma, and some members even suggested that he resign peacefully well early into his first term. His actions have forced South Africa into social, economic, and political devastation. But as Zuma approaches the conclusion of his second term, set to end in 2019, his past has finally caught up with him in what appears to be the breaking point for South Africa. Beginning his early career and commonly considered a populist, Zuma has transitioned into an authoritarian. Although South Africa is technically a democracy, Zuma’s endless political scandals and acts of self-interest have forced people to question their government closely. And who can blame them?
Jacob Zuma has been considered one of the world’s most corrupt leaders. Zuma began his political career as president – May 9, 2009 – by winning the sentiments of the people and promising to listen and base his decisions on the wishes of the people. The people soon learned that the intentions he voiced did not mirror his actions in office, yet Zuma is still president. Even though his second and final term ends just over a year away, many people want him out, and want him out now. Why?
Most commonly, critics look to Zuma’s use of government funds to remodel and luxurize his personal home, yet in total, Zuma has been charged with roughly 783 allegations of corruption. Such claims include rape and association in a multibillion dollar arms deal, but evidently there are many other claims. Zuma denies all allegations; however, Zuma was forced to pay back the money that he used to renovate his house with. But still, why has he not been ousted?
Zuma was born into poverty, which has allowed many people to attach themselves to him. His charisma and important role during the fight against apartheid worked, and apparently still work, as a significant backbone of his support. The people looked to him as a fighter, a person who would listen to their emotions and their wishes, but in large part, Zuma has failed the people. Zuma has a poor habit of appointing unequipped and ill-trained members, simply based on their loyalty, within his office. The second a member shows any action of disloyalty, Zuma finds a way to replace them. Such actions have brought South Africa under the rule of an uncredited and insufficient staff. Finally, from recent social uprisings and large dissent within the government, it appears that loyalty has begun to play a minimal role within the politics of South Africa.
One of the most devastating problems that have stemmed from Zuma’s presidency is the diminishing respect and approval of the A.N.C as a whole. Nelson Mandela was a key member of the party, but Zuma’s actions have created a lot of criticism for the entire party, both past and current members. Zuma actions have limited the right to freedom of speech, increased unemployment rate – to which explains South Africa’s current economic recession, diminished security machinery, and forced institutions to submit under his will. The A.N.C lost the support of major cities – Johannesburg and Pretoria – during the 2014 election, and the election results were the worst the party has seen since the fall of apartheid. It appears that Zuma, although, is not naive to his country’s disapproval. Aware that his term soon will come to an end either way, Zuma made a sly move to clear the road of competition for his successor in the firing of a well-liked and respected finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. A previous wife of Zuma, – Zuma is a proud polygamist, currently has four wives and fifteen kids – Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, currently works as a politician within the A.N.C and plans to succeed Zuma. Millions took to the streets earlier this year in April in protest after the scandal broke out, and it finally seems that others are listening.
Although he remains president for now, that is not to say that his presidency has not been contested. Amazingly, Zuma has survived a total of 8 ‘no confidence’ votes, barely winning the last one earlier this year by a margin of 21 votes. Zuma’s party has backed him throughout much of his presidency, but his support is dwindling to nothing. The A.N.C holds 249 of the 400 seats within the parliament, yet the opposition since Zuma’s election has begun to gain significant numbers in parliament due to Zuma’s controversial rule. In particular, as recent data shows, the opposition has gained so much support – especially from members within the A.N.C, that Zuma most likely would not survive the next vote, for the opposition only needs 50 A.N.C votes.

Many Sides of Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, has been persistent in continuing his authoritarian reign. Throughout his nearly 40 year presidency, he has shielded Uganda from the pressure to democratize and has enforced laws that persecute the people of Uganda. Museveni is one of the longest termed presidents in Africa. From supporting anti-homosexuality laws to actively placing citizens in jail for expressing any negative opinions about the government, maintaining a tight grip on the citizens of Uganda. The evidence of his manipulation of power is everywhere.
Lately Museveni has pushed for the rewriting of some of the Ugandan constitution, particularly the sections facing presidential age limits while he is about to exceed these age limits, now well into his 70s. The opponents spoke out vociferously. The discussion of this issue even caused the breakout of physical fighting in the country’s parliament. Museveni’s vast supporters quickly spoke up about the possible discrimination against old people and how the long time President is seen as one of the wisest people in all the land and the Ugandan population should not be orphaned from his wisdom.
Museveni’s supporters have little to go on in the sense of what their President has done to improve their country. While Museveni does little to keep from trampling on human rights, he makes the effort to visit the local leaders around his country and fix minor issues facing them. Land fragmentation is a problem that contributes to the overall drought, and dividing land based on heritage limits the possibility of more productive methods. Museveni Traveled to the town of Kityerela to show the farmers there a model farm, as the president called it, that shows the successful methods of farming used to help long term poverty. Museveni does a good job of making his supporters feel as though he is watching over them. The President shows he is aware of the larger issues facing his people and frequently comments on them in the form of suggestions. Museveni’s presence anywhere seems to be the greatest gift he can give.
Although some can argue that Museveni has done positive things for his country, much of the youth under 20 making up nearly 60% of the Ugandan people, say that the President has “done his part”, and it is now time for him to move on. The majority of young people in Uganda are unemployed and have been for a long time with no help from government organizations. The Ugandan government even refused to supply schools with feminine products to help young poverty stricken schoolgirls during menstruation. Anger towards this is what landed a Ugandan schoolteacher in jail and committed to a mental institution for ranting about the President in a post to her social media.
It’s easy to see that most of the strength exhibited by Museveni is towards the goal of keeping himself in power. The chance of a peaceful transfer of power doesn’t even appear possible at this point. A majority of the registered voters in Uganda fail to even show up to vote due to the widespread lack of faith in the electoral system electing their officials. His only opposition this past election dropped out at the last minute because of the suspicion that the election itself was corrupt, urging his own supporters to boycott the election entirely. It is highly possible that President Yoweri Museveni will be able to run for reelection in 2021, continuing his reign of authoritarian control and ensuring economic misery for many.

Rwanda: Success Story or Authoritarian State Horror Film?

Similar to President Trump, Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame, often tweets. In these tweets he congratulates neighboring country’s election winners, speaks in Swahili to his citizens and champions women’s rights by recognizing women’s day by tweeting, “Happy Women’s Day!!” . As of 2010, Rwandan women are permitted to own land. In reaction to this change, laws have been passed under Kagame’s leadership to allow the splitting of total marital assets if a couple divorces. The Rwandan parliamentary system is the only of its kind in Africa, having over fifty percent of its seats go to women. Richard Grant, writer for The Telegraph, describes how Kagame’s presence in the room is felt, “His eyes have a keen, piercing intelligence, and he radiates a quality of intense seriousness that is both impressive and intimidating.” On the surface, Paul Kagame appears to be a righteous leader who leads in favor of his people, but the recent political campaigns and constitutional referendum leave critics unable to sway in his favor.

His ability to turn situations around, like that of after the genocide of the moderate Hutus and Tutsi ethnic group, has made him recognized across the world as a successful leader. When just passing through towns like Kigali and Gisenyi, Rwanda roads are free of  potholes that usually haunt the entirety of Africa. In addition to skyrocketing primary school attendance, child mortality rates have halved and the opening of the country’s first public library has paved the way for more progressed learning. Plastic bags can’t be found floating around in Rwanda because Kagame banned them. He appeals to many people. Maybe it’s because he gives cattle to the poor. Perhaps what truly helped Rwanda to pick itself up was the one hundred twenty-eight million dollars that the United States gave them. Donor aid by mainly democratic countries has helped significantly rebuild the country, receiving 17.9 % of aid based off of Rwanda’s GDP (gross domestic product). Most importantly, he has erased the divisive terms Hutu and Tutsi, nowadays, the only accepted identity is Rwandan.

However, elections since the genocide have critics thinking that his constant occupation of the Presidency is simply just a way to keep the eighty-five percent population of Hutus out of power. In Kagame’s government there are Hutu ministers, but the inner circle of the Rwandan Patriotic Front contains all Tutsi. The election results in 2010 reflected Kagame’s solid support with 93% of the winning vote. It was hard for Kagame’s opponents Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana to even campaign to the general public, for the majority of radio stations and television stations only aired pro-Kagame information. They only showed his campaign commercials. His defeated opponent Habineza says,  “He failed on democracy and that is my role. He was a former rebel leader, so he has been ruling the country like a soldier.” In 2012, the NGO Amnesty International reported that scores of Rwanda civilians were arrested and held without trial or charges prior to being tortured into making false confessions. Subjected to electric shocks, severe beatings and sensory deprivation, captives were held from a range of nine days to nine months without outside world access. The acting African deputy for Amnesty International said, “The Rwandan military’s human rights record abroad is increasingly scrutinised, but their unlawful detention and torture of civilians in Rwanda is shrouded in secrecy. Donors funding military training must suspend financial support to security forces involved in human rights violations.” Rwanda held a constitutional referendum in December 2015, where 98 percent of voters backed the removal of term limits that would have barred Kagame from running in the 2017 elections. Call it what you please, but Rwanda is heading down a dark path where they may never see the end of the authoritarian Paul Kagame.


Old Dog, Old Tricks

In 1980, Robert Mugabe, champion of Zimbabwe’s independence movement, was elected as Zimbabwe’s first prime minister, promising to usher in a new era of democracy and freedom. After decades of subjugation and oppression under a white-minority government, Zimbabwe’s future seemed bright. Lauded as a revolutionary hero, Mugabe enjoyed his greatest popularity in the immediate aftermath of Zimbabwe’s independence. Mugabe’s glory days, however, are long past. Thirty-seven years later, it’s hard to imagine how Zimbabwe could look worse. Educated professionals are migrating out in droves, famine has ravaged its rural areas, about 73% of its population lives at or below poverty rates, and its economy has hovered at a state of near breakdown for years. Robert Mugabe, who has clung to leadership in Zimbabwe through this period, has driven the nation into this state of turmoil. His authoritarianism reveals a leader ready to cling to power at the expense of his nation, and unwilling to extricate himself from his country’s fraught colonial past.

Rather than promote a new, more democratic system of government, Mugabe has kept with the model established by his imperialist predecessors. Mugabe’s shift to authoritarianism was almost immediate. In 1983, three years after being elected Prime Minister, he created an elite group of soldiers, called the Fifth Brigade. Under Mugabe’s government, the Brigade led attacks against members of the Ndebele people, who were closely associated Mugabe’s largest opposition party, killing 20,000 people over four years. Mugabe has maintained power in Zimbabwe for 37 years, cultivating an environment of fear and intimidation. Despite living in a self-proclaimed democracy, the predominant mindset of Zimbabwe’s population is that of subject hood, deference to an absolute authority, rather than citizenship, assumed entitlement to certain rights. Ironically, Mugabe’s government bears a striking resemblance to the one he fought to overthrow.             

Mugabe has added a militaristic flavor reminiscent of his days as a guerilla-fighter to this time-worn authoritarian system. Since his beginning in office, Mugabe has militarized political conflicts, using force to intimidate and eliminate opposition. During the 2002 election cycles, 70,000 cases of torture and abuse were recorded. In 2008, after his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the first round of voting, Mugabe used Zimbabwe’s army and his own forces to intimidate Tsvangirai’s supporters and keep him from campaigning. This should come as no surprise. During the Rhodesian Bush War, Mugabe led a black majority force against the white minority government, using guerilla tactics to wage a brutal resistance. Military force cemented Mugabe’s rise to power. For a revolutionary conflict, this militarism was crucial. For a fledgling democracy, it was fatal.

Mugabe has exploited the racial legacy of colonialism in an often-unsuccessful effort to gain popularity. Following the defeat of a 2000 referendum to expand his powers, Mugabe, faced with a sharp reminder of his unpopularity, launched a campaign against white land-owning farmers. To justify taking around 800 plots of land, Mugabe cited the legacy of racial injustice under the colonial government. Experts believe that this still-potent history made a land redistribution movement in Zimbabwe inevitable. However, Mugabe’s violent, dramatic tactics made the transition devastating. The seizure of white farms threatened the livelihoods of the 400,000 black farm workers employed at those farms. The land seizures had a devastating effect on Zimbabwe’s economy, crippling its fertile agriculture industry. The decision itself also stood in sharp contrast to the promises “to join hands in a new amity”. made by Mugabe during his early days in office. In 1980, Mugabe championed reconciliation, but when faced with a challenge to his authority, he fell back on divisive, anti-colonialist rhetoric.

Despite his once revolutionary zeal, Mugabe is a man still entrenched in an authoritarian past, and willing to hold Zimbabwe back with him.