AT just 25 years of age Thuthukile Zuma has been appointed as the Telecommunications Chief of Staff for South Africa. Usually such a young appointment to a high state job would herald cries of “child progidy”, but not in this case. This is because Thuthukile is South African President Jacob Zuma’s daughter. Whilst some argue that she earned the position out of merit, others say it is political nepotism – she was after all a lowly public liaison officer with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and is now in a position that requires at least five to 10 years’ experience at senior management level.
But this news is old news on the African continent. The appointment of Africa’s First Children into high state positions has been happening for decades. Though some will have a portfolio of academic and professional accolades that support their promotion, others were either helped or groomed by their powerful parents.
But this need not be bad news.
The abhorrence of dynasty is healthy in a republic, but if we were to imagine African nations as a family business, it might well be logical that the “heir” be a member of that family. That individual would be specifically trained and moulded for the role, has a thorough understanding of the business, and is someone that the family can trust to keep the business afloat. In the case of many African nations, the personal interests of the first families are intricately linked with the economies of their country – they themselves have invested fortunes there and rely on the well-being of the nation to keep their economic interests intact.
It may also be a good thing, that the children have an important role in “the business” because they could help take things forward, a chance for political reform. After all, many have been well trained and the president may be less likely to reprimand or persecute their offspring for an opinion that may clash with their own. Another consideration is that having Africa’s first children at the forefront of national politics helps with international mediation - perhaps because the “business” will be take more seriously if it’s the son or daughter of an African president present.
Here we present some of Africa’s first children who either inherited or were groomed for state positions:
Liberia: Sirleaf Boys
In Liberia the three sons of President Sirleaf have all held state positions while she has been in power. Fomba Sirleaf is the head of the National Security Agency, Charles Sirleaf is the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Liberia and Robert Sirleaf is the former chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) and senior advisor to the president. It was Robert’s appointment that generated the most widespread criticism of the president with cries of corruption and nepotism, this despite the fact that he is an experienced and professional investment banker. Eventually Robert bowed out of both positions, stating that he had completed his “mission” to restructure NOCAL and draft a petroleum law, but he did resurface a few months later leading negotiations with the Kuwaiti government for cheap petroleum products for Liberia.
Togo: Faure Gnassingbé
Faure is the son of one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, ex-president Gnassingbé Eyadéma. From a young age it was clear that he was being groomed to succeed his father, which many seemed to accept given that dynastic succession is a characteristic of more conservative Francophone African countries and because his family have the fierce loyalty of the army. Faure has various business degrees, had attended numerous international diplomatic assignments, ran for a political post in 2002 that gave him a parliamentary seat, and was eventually appointed Minister of Equipment, Mines, Posts, and Telecommunications (a ministry that in typical Francophone fashion combined earthly and celestial affairs), serving in that position until becoming president in February 2005. When there were doubts regarding the constitutional legitimacy of the succession, he resigned and then won a controversial presidential election in April 24, 2005.
Gabon: the Bongos
The Bongo family has never shied away from running their country like their private property. Omar Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving head of state, had three children in particular who held prominent state positions while he was in power; Pascaline, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1991 to 1994 and Director of the Cabinet of the President from 1994 to 2009; Martin Bongo who was the foreign Minister of Gabon from 1976 to 1989; and Ali Bongo who eventually followed moved to head the “family business” and took the throne. This does not mean that Ali was not qualified for the position. He was educated in France from the age of nine and graduated from the Sorbonne with a PhD in law. Many welcomed his influence on his father’s politics because he was considered a reformist. He entered politics in 1981 and became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1989, but was forced to stand down in 1991 because he was too young. He later served as defence minister from 1999 to 2009. Following the death of his father he was the candidate for the Gabonese Democratic Party in the August 2009 presidential election, which he won with 42% of the vote.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila’s story is slightly different from those of the other First Children in that his succession was unexpected and less prepared for – he became president when his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001. That lack of preparation of frequently evident in how he runs the show. Though he was close to his father, fighting alongside him in a military campaign that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, his background is military, his succession possibly a way of maintaining the status quo during a sudden political vacuum.
Uganda: Muhoozi Kainerugaba
Muhoozi is a Brigadier in the Uganda People’s Defence Force and the Commander of the Special Forces Group which contains the unit known as the Presidential Guard Brigade - responsible for providing security to the President of Uganda, Muhoozi’s father Yoweri Museveni. There are some who say that Museveni is grooming the well-decorated military man as his successor.
Senegal: Karim Wade
Karim Wade is popularly known as the “the minister of the earth and the sky” courtesy of his extensive political portfolio. With his Abdoulaye Wade as president, Karim served in the government of Senegal as Minister of State for International Cooperation, Regional Development, Air Transport, and Infrastructure.
Karim was being groomed for the presidency by his father, but he failed to close the deal, as it were. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Management Science and a Master’s degree in Financial Engineering, he started off as the Personal Advisor in 2002. In a government where decision-making was already heavily dominated by President Wade, Karim was given vast responsibilities that far exceeded those assigned to regular ministers, and some argued that his portfolio covered 46% of the state’s budget. When his father lost presidential power in 2012, a year later Karim was charged with corruption following allegations that he illegally amassed about $1.4bn during his father’s 12-year rule. He has been in prison since his arrest about a year ago.
Libya: Gaddafi’s Clan
Ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had eight children, most of whom dabbled in politics at one point or another. Muatassim Gaddafi served as national security adviser, Ayesha Gaddafi was a Libyan mediator, but it was his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi who was the most widely-known and, though he rejected it, was mentioned as a possible successor. Though the circumstances surrounding Saif’s London School of Economics (LSE) PhD are a bit murky, his political experience was extensive. Allegedly, despite turning down official government positions, Saif was a part of his father’s inner circle, performing public relations and diplomatic roles on behalf of his strongman father. He was long touted as the man who would modernise the country, as a Western-educated English speaker who played a key role in Libya’s rapprochement with the West between 2000 and the 2011 uprising. Saif was arrested in November 2011, after the end of the Libyan civil war, in southern Libya and flown to Zintan by plane, where he remains detained and awaiting trial for crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the suppression of opposition protests.
Equatorial Guinea: the Mbasogo Boys
With a degree in economics Gabriel Nguema Lima has come a long way to controlling the vast energy industry in Equatorial Guinea. The son of authoritarian President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Gabriel was Secretary of State for Mines and Hydrocarbons and has been Vice Minister of Mines, Industry and Energy since 2003. He is the President of the Committee for the Monitoring of Petroleum Operations and a member of the boards of SONAGAS (Compañía Nacional de Gas de Guinea Ecuatorial), GEPetrol (Guinea Ecuatorial de Petróleo) and SEGESA (National Electricity Company). Gabriel is not Mbasogo’s only son in a position of prominence. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue is the brother with a more colourful playboy story – the US is trying to seize some $71 million worth of his assets alleging that they were obtained with corrupt funds taken from his country. However, this has not hampered his political career. He has been the Second Vice President of Equatorial Guinea since May 2012. Previously, he served for years as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in his father’s government.