Peter Mutharika on Monday took up the instruments of state power from outgoing Malawi President Joyce Banda, breathing new life into the African power dynasty.
Mutharika, is the younger brother of Bingu wa Mutharika who died in office in 2012. His speedy ascent to the top—he only joined active politics in 2009—would appear to feed the narrative that proximity to power through kinship is a useful ingredient for the growing list of African dynastic standard bearers.
However, Mutharika is a highly qualified law professor; educated in the UK and the US and who has spent an inordinate time abroad, adding to the little-noticed trend that nearly all African leaders who are beneficiaries of dynasty politics have been educated abroad.
Kenya president Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, in March 2013 edged out rival Raila Odinga in a closely-contested election. Kenyatta studied political science at Amherst College at the United States before returning to Kenya where he would in 2002 launch his first unsuccessful stab at the presidency.
Odinga, the son of opposition luminary and the country’s first vice president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, holds a postgraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, attained during eight years of study in the former East Germany.
Democratic Republic of Congo president Joseph Kabila was in December 2011 re-elected for a second term, edging out veteran opposition candidate Étienne Tshisekedi, the first Congolese to obtain a doctorate diploma in law.
Kabila studied closer home at the renowned Makerere University in Uganda.
It is not a recent trend: the pioneer dynasty class that took over from the relatives, many of them founding fathers, also exhibited this appetite for foreign institutions. Gabon president Ali Bongo Ondimba, the son of Omar Bongo, who headed the country for 41 years, was educated in France from the age of nine, where he graduated from the Sorbonne with a PhD in law.
Another graduate of the famous University of Paris was Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, one of the many children of former Togo president Gnassingbé Eyadéma but who beat out his other siblings to succeed his father in February 2005. Faure was not content with his first degree, later obtaining an MBA from the George Washington University in the US.
Botswana President Ian Khama, a qualified pilot and the first-born son of independence leader Sir Seretse Khama, studied in Swaziland before going on to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which trains all British Army officers.
Even those seen as being prepped for presidency seem to have read the script.
Muhoozi Kaineraguba, the first born son of Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, is also an alumnus of Sandhurst, before adding stints in military colleges in Egypt, the US and South Africa. Kaineraguba has been heavily linked to succeed his father who has been in power since 1986.
Fiddle with constitution
Speculation has remained rife in Burkina Faso that François Compaoré, the younger brother of Blaise Compaoré, is being groomed to take over next year, should the veteran fail to amend the two-term constitutional limit. The younger Compaoré studied economics in Côte d’Ivoire and the United States, and has been the president’s powerful economic advisor since 1989.
Ex-Senegal president Abdoulaye Wade’s positioning of his son Karim as successor contributed to his ouster in 2012 elections, following a failed bid by the senior to fiddle the constitution. Karim, referred to caustically as “Minister of Heaven and Earth” for holding several ministerial dockets under his father (at one point he reportedly controlled nearly half of the state budget), did his secondary education in France, before attaining his degree from the University of Paris, from where he followed that up with a Masters degree.
Ex-Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was widely seen as preparing his younger son Gamal to succeed him before the 2011 revolution put paid to such plans. Gamal studied at the American University in Cairo, which offers an American-style curriculum and which has been a stop for many of Egypt’s and the Arab World’s foremost intellectuals and leaders.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was mentioned strongly as possible successor to his father, Muammar, and was said to be de facto prime minister. He earned his PhD from the London School of Economics.
The pattern has its roots in the colonial times. Despite the deep nationalism that accompanied the attainment of independence for many colonies, their leaders retained an admiration for many things western, including education, more for the prestige but also an indictment of the standards of existing institutions.
Many of this pan-Africanist generation were themselves western educated, from Jomo Kenyatta to Kwame Nkrumah and Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
The need to also “expose” their kin to the world in preparation for leadership roles cannot also be discounted, where as a bonus they see close up the workings of “finger-wagging” donor countries in preparation for future governance jousts.
The arrangement has also had beneficiaries for former colonial masters, such as France, who are able to count on the support of those of its graduates who attain power as they seek to retain the spheres of influence.
For others, mainly long-term veteran leaders, the idea of turning over power to outsiders is simply anathema. But aware of the potential backlash of simply hoisting their kin on voters, many have invested in educating them highly, to make them an easier sell.
Abdoulaye Wade offered up one explanation for his son’s super minister status as being due to his superior educational qualifications.
For many of Africa watchers and speculators, it would thus make their job easier if they looked at the educational background of the kin whispered to be lined up for succession.
•The author is deputy editor Mail & Guardian Africa: Twitter: @LMAfrican