EVERY time a leader comes to power in Africa - be it through a democratic election, a coup, or a revolutionary war - his country and region either subsequently takes steps forward or backwards. Rarely does it stagnate.
So it will be with Tanzania’s president-elect John Magufuli. Shortly after being declared the victor in last Thursday, Magufuli called for unity following an election that had been billed the country’s tightest yet, but which in the end handed him a comfortable cushion of 18 percentage points over his nearest rival.
His most potent rival, ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, has rejected the result but few expect anything else other than a lot of grumpy faces in the opposition—legally once a result is declared in the country it cannot be challenged.
Also lost in the campaign heat was that Magufuli’s running mate, Samia Suluhu Hassan, becomes the east African country’s first ever female vice president.
But more significantly, perhaps it was fitting that Magufuli’s victory was confirmed on his birthday. Magufuli is due to be sworn in on November 5, but even this early reading there is some value in staring into the crystal ball for signs of what his presidency will bring - to his land and, inevitably, east and southern Africa.
This is because Tanzania is a member of both the five-member East African Community (EAC), and the 15-state Southern African Development Community, SADC—the only African country that has double-membership in the two blocs.
It’s immediately apparent that 56, Magufuli confirms a trend that hasn’t been much noted -the gradual rolling back of age in the continent’s leadership—half of the 18 countries in both SADC and EAC blocs are now led by presidents aged under 60 years. The five presidents of the EAC in a 2013 photo. Even by then, Uganda’s president Museveni (second right) was the elder. (Photo/AFP).
Seven of these—the presidents of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zambia are in their fifties, while two—Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Swaziland’s King Mswati III—come in in the forties (although the Swazi monarch has been in power for 29 years, or more than half of his 47 years.)
It is in a way the coming of age of Africa’s “baby boomers”—the generation born in the optimism following the end of the Second World War (in Africa the two decades after the war were a heady period of independence activism and the rise of pan-Africanism).
In the United States, which gave the world the term, this generation has been seen as among the most privileged and well off, having benefited from the resulting economic pro-investment and employment measures, such as subsidies and cheap loans such as for education, leading to a swell in among other areas the general stock of skill sets.
For Africa, the boom took the shape of families that were well-placed to take advantage of the new order following independence, many of whom had either served in the war or had been educated abroad, becoming the pioneer crop of civil servants and proceeding to position themselves at the top of the resulting food chain, carving a place for the social inequality cleavages that persist to this day in many African countries.
Of note is that four of the five East African countries now all have presidents in the fifties after Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete exits at the end of his two-term constitutional limit at the age of 65. Had Lowassa won, he would have kept the average age of the bloc up—he is aged 62.
The lone exception is Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, who is currently aged 71. There seems to be little prospect of generational change in his country: in power since 1986, he was in September nominated by the ruling party as its presidential candidate for elections set for early 2016.
He is essentially eyeing a fourth decade in power, and with the opposition in a little disarray, and his penchant for vote fiddling, will expect to easily romp back to power.
His contemporaries in the long-serving presidents’ EAC-SADC club are Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, in power since 1979 and currently aged 73; and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, now 91 and in office since 1980. Both are ailing, and owe their longevity in power to the stranglehold their sponsoring liberation movements have on power in their countries.
The leaders of Mauritius, Anerood Jugnauth, 85, and Seychelles’ James Michel (71) are also in the upper band of the continent’s leadership, but are the products of democratic elections in two of the continent’s more prosperous countries.
Namibia’s Hage Geingob took the reins of power earlier this year at the age of 73, and is also a candidate of the country’s liberationist SWAPO party, but the clock could be ticking on the anti-struggle romanticism—Mozambique’s current leader, Filipe Nyusi, is aged 56 despite coming from dominant liberation party Frelimo.
South Africa could also see a generational change after Jacob Zuma’s exit in 2019, but only in the long-shot event of an opposition party winning the election. The leader of the main opposition party, Mmusi Maimane is aged 35, while fast-rising populist Julius Malema is 34. As a strategy to retain power the ruling ANC might seek to prop up younger candidates as the numbers of the “Born Free” generation—those born after the formal end of apartheid—continue to stock up.
This shrinking age of the continent’s leaders in the two blocs, that together are considered the continent’s more democratic ones, could have seismic consequences on Africa. Dos Santos and Mugabe are not expected to be in power in five years—the Angola president has been hinting that he is mulling stepping down in 2017—with worsening economies in both countries expected to add a tailwind to exit decisions.
Changing is coming
While the resulting orders in both countries are not expected to be terribly reformist, it is reasonable to bet that they will not owe their liberation cronies the same amount of moral and economic debt, and could feasibly shake up the existing political and economic landscape in SADC—which earlier this year saw top-level political leadership pass from Mugabe to Botswana’s Ian Khama, who is aged 62.
Museveni, who has looked to style himself in the image of a regional godfather-cum-policeman to mixed results, could find himself increasingly lonelier as fellow EAC leaders become younger. There is continental precedence: Mugabe, who is the current AU chair, in August hit out at regional leaders—both at AU and SADC level—who had refused to recognise his leadership, at the time blaming French and British influence.
Privately, many admit the generational gap with many continental leaders is also a considerable hindrance.
But the shrinking of presidential age in the EAC bloc would be worth much note, if it didn’t herald the real possibility of difficult change for the Tanzania-headquartered bloc. Kenya has explicitly staked its foreign policy and regional ambitions on being dominant in the bloc, for which it accounts for about two-fifths of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
After President Uhuru Kenyatta was elected in 2013, he pushed a drive to supercharge the development of regional infrastructure like joint railways, pipelines, and continuing to improve Mombasa to ease business for landlocked countries like Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
“CoW” moos briefly
The result was a very enthusiastic informal group of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda that the media labelled the Coalition of the Willing (CoW). They achieved things like a common tourism visa, and the time to move goods from Mombasa to Uganda and Rwanda dramatically improved by nearly 75% - but then, it stalled.
Political paralysis and sharp national polarisation set in inside Kenya. Uganda got distracted by Museveni’s pursuit of a seventh term, and its oil dreams were knocked out by the sharp slump in crude prices. Rwanda looked still dazed with the remarkable level of international hostility its foes generated against for its alleged support of the DRC’s M23 rebels, then morosely became inward looking and starting investing its emotion in changing the constitution to allow for an extended stay in office for the president.
Magufuli comes in power against this canvas and on the back of what was seen an EAC-little-loving administration, with his rise to power orchestrated by the CCM Establishment who still hold those views.
The Ethiopian factor
If Magufuli had found an EAC where the “CoW” had delivered, he would have little option but to ride the East African wave. Instead, he and the region are faced with a situation where the strongest pull in the region is Ethiopia - it has Africa’s fastest growing economy, and has become a continental champion in infrastructure building. With Africa’s second biggest population of over 90 million, it is a coveted prize bull.
Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn (2nd right) and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame 2nd left) at the 40th anniversary of the dominant party in the ruling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)- Mekelle (Ethiopia), in February 2015. Ethiopia’s pull is out there and its forcing a rethink of how the Horn and East Africa trade. (Photo/PK/Flickr).
The other growth whizkid, especially long-term, is Mozambique to the south of Tanzania that, though it had to run to the IMF for a bail out, has the second fastest growing economy after Ethiopia.
The EAC had based its future business plan on adding in oil-rich South Sudan, the world’s newest nation. But South Sudan fell into a nightmare with a return to an unusually brutal civil barely two years after independence. And at the EAC’s central African flank, Burundi, also plunged into chaos after its president Pierre Nkurunziza made a third term grab.
Rwanda seemed to be on course to be an inspiration, especially for the region’s youth. However now its 58-year old leader Paul Kagame could feasibly be in power until 2034 on the back of changes to the country’s constitution, and its not clear whether he will still be able to galvanise this demographic.
Overall, then, it looks like the broader eastern African region could pivot toward Ethiopia, and southwards towards Tanzania-Mozambique, both having hit record gas finds, especially given that Kenya, notorious for always been on an election footing, has already put its boots on for the 2017 face-off and is saddled with ever-rising public debt.
The Magufuli-led Tanzania might therefore find a less compelling case to be East African, and to have even more reason to look south—it already is a major trading partner of South Africa.
That is only made likely by a new development; with technology and fibre optics connecting Africa, and increased regional movement of people, the traditional role of blocs like EAC and SADC are changing. Thus, for example, a liberal visa regime for Africans, and government policy, are turning Mauritius into the continent’s financial capital.
Similar positive visa rules for Africans by Rwanda, too, overnight made its capital Kigali a major transit point for Middle East-bound West Africans and East Africans headed to southern Africa.
Increasingly, then, who your neighbour is in Africa, and whether you are in the same economic bloc with them, could become less important than their internal policies towards on things like immigration, and also how seriously they are investing in infrastructure to make business work. It’s both an exciting, but also potentially risky, time to become a new president. Hopefully Magufuli got the memo.