France’s Le Pen style family political feud is one mistake few party leaders in Africa have made

His daughter suspended him from the party, and his granddaughter is running against him in his constituency - can an African strongman stomach that?

LEADERS across the board in Africa, those in power and the opposition alike, may groom their children to succeed them but few have stepped aside for the same children or close relatives to take charge.

Only when they die in office or can’t continue governing for one reason or another do the children or close relatives have a go.

It is an example Jean-Marie Le Pen, the rightwing 86-year-old French politician must be wishing he had followed instead of handing over leadership of the National Front (FN) Party, which he founded in 1972 to his youngest daughter, Marine Le Pen.

Father and daughter have been working together for years, with Marine having joined the party as an 18-year-old and rising through the ranks to serve as vice president from 2003 to 2011 before being handed the party reins in January 2011.

Father suspended

Their relationship has since soured after Marine and other senior party executives suspended the old man on May 4, after he refused to turn up for his disciplinary hearing following offensive remarks he had made trivialising the Holocaust.

As Le Pen says he is taking the battle to court, the FN Party is trying to clean up its image ahead of the 2017 presidential election, damaged in large part by the founder himself (according to a June 2014 survey, 91% of French people have a negative opinion of Le Pen).

The FNP’s troubles are not surprising given the founder’s homophobic, anti-Islam and anti-immigration stance (once saying the French National Football Squad has too many non-white players and so is not an accurate reflection of French society), and it will decide in a few weeks whether Le Pen Senior should be stripped of honorary life membership.

As expected, Le Pen fought back; apart from threatening to drag his daughter to court and to disown her, he even asking her to get married so she could drop his name.

The very public fallout is certainly not what he imagined his political life would. And perhaps more challenging for him must be his 25-year-old granddaughter Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s decision to contest the south-east Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regional seat, previously the veteran politician’s stronghold.

Dos Santos and Museveni

Many African leaders have been in power nearly as long as Le Pen was but none have been stabbed in the back by their own children, so to speak. 

Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos for example assumed power in 1979 and reportedly has up to 10 children from three marriages, including Isabel dos Santos, his 42 year-old daughter considered the most powerful and richest woman in her country thanks in part to her $3 billion fortune.

However in 2010, rather than appoint one of his children prime minister, the president abolished the post altogether although he had earlier appointed his cousin Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos to serve as PM between 2002 and 2008, before appointing him vice president from February 2010 to September 2012. The children are not complaining though, seeing as a couple of them are in charge of big telecom and energy corporations.

In Uganda, there’s a lot of talk about President Yoweri Museveni grooming his 41-year-old son Muhozi Kainerugaba to succeed him.

It’s probably because of Muhozi’s quick rise through the ranks, starting out as a Second Lieutenant assigned to the Presidential Protection Unit in 2000 before being promoted to Major a year later. 

Not too long after that, it was Brigadier Commander in the Presidential Guard Brigade and then Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the Special Forces Group in the country’s Uganda People’s Defence Force. It’s therefore easy to assume that all that is to ready him for leadership.

Sirleaf and Mugabe

It could be but many Ugandans also know that Museveni is not about to step aside for his son and, come the next presidential elections scheduled for February 2016, he will still be in charge of the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), and not his son or other close family members including his brother General Salim Saleh and wife, Janet, both of whom have been actively involved in politics.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may have appointed her son Robert Senior advisor, but he ran as an independent candidate while contesting the Montserrado County seat which he eventually lost to former footballer George Weah last December.

Sirleaf reportedly said she will not seek a third a term and, so far, there’s no indication any of her other three sons will take charge of the Unity Party on whose ticket she ran for both presidential campaigns.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila only took office after his father was assassinated in January 2001.

Libya’s former leader, Muammar Gaddafi would probably still be in power if he hadn’t been killed during the 2011 revolution against his regime, as would Egypt’s former ruler Hosni Mubarak, both of whom had multiple sons groomed for years to “inherit” their fathers’ empires, except that they were never allowed to get too close to the throne.

What would pass as the exception would be Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema who ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema in a coup in 1979 and has remained in power ever since. He backs his son who goes by the same name to succeed him, so much that he appointed him Second Vice President in 2012.

However, like many privileged first kids, the younger Teodoro clearly prefers the perks his father’s regime accords him to plotting a coup against him. 

Even the one president who has the audacity to hand over power to his wife, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, while seen as sympathetic to her presidential ambitions, has said she is still not ready, because she is “raw”. His daughter Bona and son Robert Junior, are as far away from politics as one can ever be.

So yes, many African leaders who in most cases also happen to be the heads of their respective political parties may let their family members into the inner circle, but they never ever let them forget who’s in charge.

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