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Why Bad African Leaders Sit Tight and Never Resign

By Caleb Onyeabor/Staff Writer

The news of Liz Truss resignation was broken to me by a professor of Political Science and International Relations in Nigeria. I was about having lunch when He called to announce the news of Liz Truss’ resignation as the Prime Minister of the Britain. Before this time, I was aware of the political and economic crisis going on in the United Kingdom. In fact, before my lunch, I had seen a news headline that read “Liz Truss has 12 hours to decide her future”.  When the professor broke the news of the resignation, I was flummoxed. Many thoughts raced through my mind. Was it not the same Liz Truss who was voted in the other day? This turn of events made Ms. Truss the shortest serving head of government in the history of Britain.

In retrospect, it dawned on me that the UK is fast becoming the country of volatile politics in all of the Western world. Between January 2019 and October 2022, the UK has had three prime ministers and all three have left the seat of leadership by resignation. It is probably possible that Liz Truss may have not been able to get a feel of the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street before waving it bye-bye.

Discussing over the phone about UK politics and its dynamics, the professor had suggested that the frequent changes of prime minister in the UK will make an interesting research thesis. On the contrary, I felt that the rarity of resignation among African leaders despite presiding over political and economic crisis is of more concern to me. The question to answer is why is it hard for African leaders to resign from office, no matter how egregious their missteps in office are? 

The UK has a robust democracy with an entrenched system of accountability and checks and balances. It has arguably, the oldest-modern democracy in the world. In recent times, the UK has become a nation that is trying to rediscover itself in the midst of a fast-changing and volatile International political and economic landscape. Having left the European Union(EU) after the success of the BREXIT movement, the country is obviously still in search of a leadership that will steady the ship. David Cameron, the last prime minister of the Pre-BREXIT United Kingdom resigned as a result of BREXIT. He was convinced he wasn’t the right person to lead the country in its new phase. Replaced by Theresa May in July 2016 who also resigned three years later in July 2019 after failing to achieve a way for the UK to leave the EU. She resigned in the midst of great political turmoil and was replaced by Boris Johnson who resigned in September 2022 after barely 3 years in office primarily as a result of revelations on his appointment of Chris Pincher as Deputy Chief Whip which led to mass resignation of ministers from his Government. Liz Truss took over in a time when the effects of the Russian-Ukraine war has led to inflation and other economic crisis and dug her own pit through a fiscal policy that caused economic and market chaos leading to a loss of confidence from the people and party members. In all these cases of resignation, one dominant and recurring theme is the sense of responsibility – perhaps a sense of guilt and truth – that these leaders display in demonstrating through resignation that the UK deserves better than they could offer. The political system of the UK has been built in such a way that it produces a political class with a sense of responsibility, guilt and truth. This is completely and irreconcilably parallel with what is obtainable in Africa.

For the majority of Africans, the news of Liz Truss resignation was greeted with the admittance that such a noble act is impossible in Africa. I have checked for a list of African leaders who voluntarily resigned from power over a scandal, a lack of confidence or perhaps a honest acceptance of incompetence and incapability and the result is none.

In the midst of political and economic turmoil, African leaders can never resign voluntarily until they are coerced and ousted from power through public unrest or uncivil means. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan after 30 years in power and 3 months of civil unrest had to be ousted by the military and placed in detention. In the same year, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to resign by civil unrest against his fifth term after spending 20 years in power. Jacob Zuma of South Africa had to be threatened and pressured by his party members to resign in 2018. The late Mugabe of Zimbabwe was in power for so long that he had to be abandoned in power and indirectly forced to resign. After 27 years, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso resigned after heavy public pressure. In Nigeria, there are only two cases which are the case of General Obasanjo who willingly left power and handed over to a democratically elected government in 1979 and General Abdulsalam who handed over to a democratically elected President in 1999. With the exception of these few cases of voluntary relinquishing and controversial resignation, the rest were forced out.

We have seen cases of a minister in the UK resigning as a result of sending an official email through a private email address. Such actions can hardly happen in African countries. The question is why?

The UK political system and state is designed in such a way that there are limits to political power and responsibilities bestowed on political leaders. On the contrary, the State and political system in Africa was designed in such a way that political power becomes a means to the wrong end. Political power in most African countries is a source of stupendous wealth to political leaders and their cronies. Assuming positions of power is tantamount to capturing the goose that lays the nation’s golden eggs for the purpose of eating the country’s golden eggs. The third world State, over the years, has become a means of primitive accumulation and rent seeking festivals. Political power for many in Africa is a job for a group of jobless persons who will return to their jobless states and unable to function in other facets of society if the jobs are taken away from them. Political power in most third world states is a source of acrimonious superiority for people who have penchant for lawlessness and oppression of others. Many years of practicing this anomalies has made it institutionalized and entrenched in their system. This is why they will hardly resign from office even when it is clear that their countries are hurting from their continued stay in public positions. They will never resign because positions of power are an avenue for enriching themselves and cronies and relatives. They will never resign because they are now used to ostentatious lifestyle funded by public money. They will never resign because their lives are meaningless outside power. Power gives them the invincibility to live recklessly rather than serve the people. Power makes them live criminally extraordinary lives that have become addictive to them. The struggle for power in this clime is a struggle to access the above incentives. African political systems have not produced African Leaders with that sense of responsibility, guilt and truth. It has failed to produce a class of political leaders that know anything about honor and service. Thus, resignation remains a foreign thing.

In the UK, most times, the vote of confidence comes from within the prime minister’s camp. Boris Johnson lost it when his ministers were resigning en-mass.  Parliaments hardly stand up to overbearing executives because they are an extension of the excesses of the executive.

The character of the state in Africa needs to be redefined. The system determining check and balances, limitations of political power and character of the kind of people elected to serve in government in African countries must be reworked.  Leaders must be compelled by institutional arrangements to serve in the interests of the people or be sacked!

Someone likened most Africans leaders in power to nursing baby clinging on to the breasts of the mother. Until power stops being an access to this milk, the Liz Truss, Boris Johnsons and Theresa Mays of this world will continue to be an unattainable goal in Africa.

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