All the African presidents' relatives: A famous big man's surname doesn't always help get you into State House

Despite fond memories for founding fathers, the sentiment has not extended to their sons, daughters, or siblings.

TOGOLESE will vote in a presidential election on April 15, a ballot that is expected incumbent Faure Gnassingbe to a third term.

Among his seven hopeful challengers is businessman Alberto Olympio, whose great uncle Sylvanus Olympio was the country’s first president, until he was assassinated in 1963.

Alberto is essentially making up the numbers, buttressing a trend that shows the scions of African founding fathers have generally fared poorly at the ballot, unable to derive much brand-equity from their famous surnames.

There have been those who have managed to buck the trend—Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Botswana’s Ian Khama and Gabon’s Ali Ben Bongo. Bongo, though, is different from Khama in that he - like Faure Gnassingbe - inherited power directly from his father. Khama and Kenyatta had to wait for their fathers to die, and for other presidents to rule since them, to come to power in elections.

Then there are those who don’t count, having employed chicanery to lead: Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema assumed office in 1979, but he ousted his uncle and the country’s first president Macias Nguema in a coup.

There have also been rather unorthodox means of ascending to power. Navinchandra Ramgoolam, the son of Mauritius’ first prime minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, only got a clear path to power after the leadership of the Labour party was handed to him in 1991, six years after his father died, giving him the platform to become prime minister four years later. 

Curse of the presidential child

But for the vast majority of presidential relatives, electoral success stories have been had to come by, suggesting the general fondness for their family patriarchs have not been transferrable.    

Sylvanus Olympio’s son Gilchrist is the head of the country’s main opposition party, but his five stabs at the presidency have all floundered, suspiciously disqualified on either medical or residency grounds.  

His one substantive run in 1998 earned him a third of the vote.   

Tilyenji Kaunda, the son of former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, run in the 2001 general election, but could only place fourth, attracting less than 10% of the vote. He performed worse in 2011, gaining only 0.36% of the presidential ballot.

Philippe, the son of Philibert Tsiranana, Madagascar’s first president, also fared badly in the 2006 presidential election, bringing home just 0.02% of the vote, leaving him 12th in the field.

In the DR Congo, M’poyo Kasavubu, the daughter of the country’s first president Joseph Kasavubu, also tried her hand in the historic 2006 election—the first multiparty election in four decades. She barely registered.  

The sons of former long-term president Mobutu Sese Seko and first prime minister Patrice Lumumba also ran in that ballot, and failed, despite boasting major name recognition.

Another woman, Miria Obote, the wife of first Uganda executive president Milton Obote, vied in 2006 elections, but could only garner 0.6% of the vote on the ticket of her late husband’s party, losing to president Yoweri Museveni.

Ahmed Ould Daddah, the half-brother of Mauritania’s first president Moktar Daddah, came second in 2007 presidential elections, and went on to place third in the 2009 presidential election.

In Sierra Leone, Sir Albert Margai succeeded his more-respecetd brother Sir Milton Margai upon his death in 1964, but lost in the subsequent election of 1967. Sir Milton’s son Charles placed third in the 2007 presidential election, and looks unlikely to get a foot through in the door. 

Tanzania’s ruling CCM party has not deigned to front any of Julius Nyerere’s son for the presidency, while Kwame Nkrumah’s daughter Samia and son Sekou are active in politics, but are yet to make a stab for the presidency. 

The rejection trend appears to have deep roots—Tiéoulé Mamadou Konat?, the son of Mali’s revered pre-independence leader Mamadou Konat?, failed in his 1992 presidential bid, losing to Alpha Konare.  

Uninterested heirs

Then there are also those scions who despite having famous surnames have had little interest in contesting the presidency. They include Mohammadou Ahidjo, the son of Cameroon’s first president Ahmadou Ahidjo, and Francis-Arphang the only surviving son of Senegal’s erudite founding father Leopold Sedar Senghor. 

These two countries have a link: both their fathers resigned from the presidency, while Ahmadou remains buried in Dakar.

The sons of Cote d’Ivoire Felix Houphouet-Boigny by his first marriage—Francois, Augustin and Guillaume, have also not deigned to test the election waters, although the latter has been espied in past campaign rallies.

The children of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president, have also kept their distance from active politics, with first son Chukwuma preferring to act as a traditional leader and diplomat.

Other relatives were active in politics, but on the periphery or as kingmakers. Abdoulaye Hamani Diori, the son of Niger’s first president, was even elected as leader of his father’s party, but was largely a minister, and also a special advisor to president Mahamadou Issoufou.

Central African Republic’s Bruno Dacko has also served in government as minister.

Hermann Yaméogo, the son of Burkina Faso’s first president Maurice Yaméogo, boycotted the 2005 president election, but his name remained on the ballot. He came in 11th, with .076% of the vote.

Why have the relatives of that first class of 1960s performed so poorly? A pointer to note that is many of these scions came of age and ran in the post-Cold War period, when the political space had been prised open.

Their fathers, while fondly remembered, had tended to be autocratic, many delivering single party rules and dictatorships. Newly-liberated African voters were happier to explore their non-dynastic options, and the surname often tended to get in the way.

But it remains a mystery why African voters have been so unrewarding of “papa’s” relatives, but they may not be out for the count yet— discontent with fresh faces and “change” may leave may pining for years gone by. 

One pointer of success comes from Mauritius, Botswana, and Kenya, where scions have won in relatively open competitive elections. Their fathers didn’t impose state-controlled economies. This allowed for the most “capitalist” economies of Africa of the 1970s and 1980s.

It would seem that in these free market situations a large local business establishment that is grateful to the opportunities created by the founding fathers arises, and where it flourishes lends its infrastructure in gratitude to the scion, thus handing him a great electoral advantage.


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