Togo, Morocco, Senegal - where Africa's unloved leaders flee to, and how it 'measures' stability

Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore is in Morocco, as back new leader promises to look into the killing of Sankara.

TRANSITIONAL leaders in Burkina Faso have agreed on a new government to guide the country to elections next year, with several key cabinet posts allocated to the military.

The cabinet list was agreed less than one week after longtime diplomat Michel Kafando was officially sworn in as president. Kafando will also serve as minister of foreign affairs. Of the 26 posts available, the army claimed six, including mines, communications and the interior ministry. Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida, who initially took control of the west African country, will head the defence ministry in addition being Prime Minister. 

Events are moving so fast in Burkina Faso, it would seem the country is beginning to forget its deposed Blaise Compaore who ruled it for 27 year until he provoked an popular that led to his removal from office at the end of October with an attempt to amend the constitution and extend his rule. 

The one sign of trouble for Compaore came when the interim president said on Friday he will allow investigations to be conducted on the remains of  Captain Thomas Sankara, “the Che Guevara of Africa”, the country’s former president whose death nearly 30 years ago during a coup has never been fully explained, although Compaore has been linked to the plot that assassinated him.

Last week Compaore arrived in Morocco from Cote d’Ivoire, where he has been in exile since his ouster in a popular revolt last month, taking advantage of strong ties with the North African country to look for a new place to rest his weary soul.

Compaore, 63, arrived with five other people for a “fixed-term visit,” the Moroccan foreign ministry said in a statement via the official MAP news agency, but did  not mention any time-frame.

“The kingdom of Morocco, which has strong historic, human and political links with Burkina Faso, reiterated its support for the process of transition in the country,” the statement said.

Compaore fled to Cote d’Ivoire on October 31 at the invitation of close ally President Alassane Ouattara after he was ousted through a popular uprising.

But Compaore’s presence angered supporters of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who see him as being behind a failed 2002 coup seeking to depose him, and that plunged Cote d’Ivoire into nearly a decade of conflict.

He had been together with his entourage been staying in a walled villa in Yamoussoukro, the country’s political capital.

A source in the Ivorian president’s office said that on Thursday, Compaore, his wife Chantal and family members boarded a specially chartered plane for Morocco.

Compaore’s presence in Morocco continues along a beaten path popular with ousted leaders in sub-Saharan Africa, and yet again raised the question of which destinations on the continent are favourite with deposed strongmen.

Where they hide

North Africa’s most westerly country has in the past hosted deposed Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko who fled there in 1997, after a 31-year rule that has spawned volumes of books.

Known for his long fingers, Mobutu owned several properties in the kingdom but did not live to enjoy his forced retirement, dying there months later at the age of 66.  

The country also hosted Guinea coup maker Moussa Dadis Camara, who was flown there for treatment after an assassination attempt on him in 2009. 

Camara had seized power in 2008, following the sudden death of long-time leader Lansana Conte in December 2008.

He later left for Burkina Faso, and is believed to have never recovered from his injuries.

North Africa has been a preferred destination for leaders in distress.

Former Congolese prime minister Moïse Tshombe died in Algeria in 1969, having been hijacked off a jet aircraft he was travelling in from Spain in 1967, although that was not his original destination, having been reportedly on his way back to Africa to try and  unseat Mobutu. 

The family of another Congolese leader, Joseph Kasavubu, also found refuge in Algeria, after the patriarch died in 1969, having been deposed by Mobutu.

Uganda’s Idi Amin Dada spent a year in in Libya, before retiring to Saudi Arabia, where he died in 2003 and was buried in a simple grave in Jeddah, while Burundi’s Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, president for 11 years to 1987, also called Libya home, under the patronage of Muammar Gaddafi.   

The West African nations trio of Togo, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal have also been magnets for leaders on the run. 

Former authoritarian Chad ruler Hissène Habré fled to Senegal after he was overthrown in 1990, as did The Gambia’s Dawda Jawara after current rule Yahya Jammeh seized power in 1994.

Ousted Mali leader Amadou Toumani Toure is also in exile in Senegal, after soldiers disgruntled with his inability to rein in an insurgency in the north took power in March 2012.

The rather quiet country of Togo has also attracted Mobutu temporarily before he moved on to Morocco, while Cote d’Ivoire’s Henri Konan Bédié also took cover there in 1999 after Robert Guéï became leader in a military coup.

Former Central African Republic president Ange-Félix Patassé also found solace in Togo after Francois Bozize seized power in 2003, and brought his ten-year rule to a shuddering halt.

Another CAR leader, the notorious Jean-Bédel Bokassa, also found West Africa to his liking, fleeing to Cote d’Ivoire in 1981 after he was overthrown in 1981.

The country has also attracted Burkina Faso’s first president Maurice Yaméogo and its most recent one, Compaore.

Guinea found callers in Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Sierra Leone’s Joseph Momoh, after both were deposed. 

Another preferred destination in the region has been Nigeria, where Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Somalia’s Siad Barre took flight. The latter died there in 1995, while Taylor was apprehended for trial in 2006.

Eastern Africa has attracted fewer leaders on the run, including Barre and Uganda’s Milton Obote, both who stayed in Kenya and Tanzania on transit to other countries. 

For a region that has less dramatics, southern Africa has also seen few leaders look to recuperate from the hard work of government, including Obote, who ended up in Zambia, and Madagascar’s Marc Ravalomanana, who fled to South Africa after he was deposed in 1999 in a coup supported by the military.

Ethiopia’s much-feared Marxist leader Mengistu Haile Mariam resides in Zimbabwe, where he fled to in 1991. 

So what does all this cross border movement over the decades tell us about Africa? The interesting bit is that most of these leaders crossed several borders in search of a place to rest their tired heads. Few felt safe slipping across the border into a neighbouring or “frontline”  country, even if they had cultivated strong ties with its leaders.

Leaders on the run are also likely to head for a country which, while led by a friend or sympathisers, also has a history of stability. 

One could thus guess the continent’s better performers in terms of stability by checking out the destination of Africa’s deposed leaders - who themselves didn’t bother to bring stability when they were in power.

 This is true over the decades, leaders were more likely to head for stabler countries at the time of their misfortunes—you just did not want to be handed back in the middle of the night.

One can thus posit that the current hotspot destinations are among the continent’s more stable ones—Morocco, Togo, Senegal, South Africa and newcomer Benin remain “quiet” by African standards. 

Direct ideological relationships between the leader on the run and their final destination can also be discerned. Authoritarian leaders were more likely to head for controlled countries, while old boy networks rooted in Pan Africanist movements were also hastily reactivated in times of trouble.

The leftist leanings of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe are well documented, as are the warm ties between Nkrumah and his host Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, who even made him honorary co-president of the country.

Morocco has also for decades had strong ties with the the Francophone triumvirate of Senegal, Gabon and Burkina Faso based on a soft-power religious strategy, in part as a bulwark against regional rival Algeria, helping distil Compaore’s arrival.

But as democracy and human rights concerns become bigger issues on the continent, the options for leaders who find themselves suddenly out of work are narrowing, as Chad’s Habre will have found when Senegal agreed to try him for rights abuses.

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