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‘Dethroned’ African presidents
November 26, 2017, 3:28 pm

As the recent political turmoil in Zimbabwe dies down following the resignation of long-term president Robert Mugabe, we take a look at how democracy is unfolding across the continent and reflect on some of the African presidents who were forced out of power in recent years.

The political narrative is changing across much of Africa as more and more states throw out long-term serving presidents from power and elect new leaders. Tellingly, this change is coming about mainly through the ballot box with a little coaxing from different quarters.

But the power transition has not always been smooth. In some cases, as in Libya, the desired changeover did not materialize and instead it has left a lacuna that continues to embroil the country in chaos and violence. In some other places, armed conflict or democratic pressure were needed to oust long-ruling leaders from power.

West Africa leads the pack in the number of leaders ousted from power and here we look at three of them. However, we start off with the most recent entrant into this list, Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe: After 37 years in power, the 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who is reported to have once said that, “only God can remove me”, finally, tendered his resignation to Parliament. The resignation letter was read out by the Parliament Speaker even as impeachment proceedings against the former president got underway in Parliament on Tuesday, 21 November.

In the letter, delivered exactly a week after the military staged a coup against him, Mugabe who had until then resisted pressure from the public, the army and his own party to step aside, said he was resigning to allow a smooth and peaceful transfer of power, and that his decision was voluntary.

Apparently, the army stepping in to remove elected presidents is now an accepted democratic norm, especially if the ousted leader is an outspoken critic of the West.

The Gambia: After more than two decades of ‘bossing, the Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh was finally forced out of the country through diplomatic pressure from neighboring countries.

Since taking power from the country’s first president, Dawda Jawara, in a bloodless coup in 1994, Jammeh has led his country, winning three presidential elections. With no term-limits for President, he was believed to be on his way for a fourth consecutive poll victory in the 2016 election. The shock came on 2 December when the election commission announced that opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow had defeated the incumbent. After initially conceding defeat, Jammeh reversed his own decision, cancelled the election results and called on the country’s Supreme Court to annul the elections.

The regional bloc, Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations then stepped in and issued a joint statement calling for Jammeh to step down, as did the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Pressure from these quarters, along with mediation by Guinea’s Alpha Conde and Mauritania’s Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, finally convinced Jammeh to fly out to Conakry, the capital of Guinea and onwards to his current base, Malabo in Equatorial Guinea. When last seen, Jammeh was working on his farm clearing weeds.

Burkina Faso: Following the murder of his predecessor Thomas Sankara in 1987, Blaise Compaoré took over as President of Burkina Faso and continued to be elected back to office in 1991, 1998 and 2005. His attempt to call for a referendum to scrap term limits ahead of 2015 polls back-fired and led to a youth uprising that eventually toppled him in October 2014.

Compaoré went into exile in neighboring Ivory Coast and Michel Kafando subsequently became the transitional President of the country. A coup attempt in September 2015, by troops loyal to Compaoré, was thwarted by pressure from the AU and ECOWAS and Kafando was reinstated. Following general elections in November 2015, the country has returned to stability under democratically elected President Roch Marc Kabore.

Ivory Coast: Former colonial-ruler France had to send its troops to ensure the ouster of former Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo and his escort to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague where he currently faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Much like the story of Yahya Jammeh, losing an election cost Laurent Gbagbo his presidency. In 2010, he lost the election to incumbent President Alassane Ouattara and refused to accept the verdict.

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution recognizing Ouattara as winner of the elections, based on the position of the ECOWAS and AU, both of which suspended Ivory Coast from all its decision-making bodies and membership.

The country plunged into a civil war and atrocities and human rights violations were allegedly committed by both sides in the conflict. In 2011, local rebel forces along with French troops arrested Gbagbo, along with his wife and other top aides. His wife is currently facing charges back home while Gbagbo battles it out in The Hague.

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