It was announced late last week that Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, has said he would run for re-election in October, in a bid to further extend his 36-year term of office. If re-elected, Biya would, like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, be well into his 90s as president.
Why, Africa, why? Why must your leaders treat you and your people so badly? Why must all too many of our leaders turn out to be so narcissistic—another word for egotistic or self-loving?
What is the purpose of Cameroon’s great colleges and universities? Is President Biya telling us that these institutions are training absolutely no leaders or people capable of running the country? Then what of the great universities of Europe and America that constantly churn out leaders of all kinds—in the arts, business, economics, law, literature, politics, science and technology. Take Harvard alone, which has produced so many United States Presidents, including some of the greats—Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
In Liberia, President William V.S. Tubman, to his credit, transformed Liberia College (1862) into the University of Liberia (1951). Yet he, too, never countenanced (tolerated, stomached) any of the great men and women UL graduated even dreaming of the presidency. He remained in power for 27 years and died in office at 75. By the time he was 75, he had already been reelected to a seventh term of office.
Had he not fallen gravely ill with prostate cancer in 1971 when he died, he may have continued with his seventh term, which he would have completed when he turned 79. Long before that time, would not his staunch True Whig partisans have been holding demonstrations throughout the country calling on him to “succeed your-self for another term of office”? That could have kept him in the Mansion well into his 80s, or even 90s.
It is unfortunate that Tubman learned nothing from President Edwin J. Barclay, whose voluntary retirement from the presidency in 1943 after only 13 years as President catapulted (projected) Tubman to the presidency. After his inauguration in January 1944, Tubman went on craftily and vigorously to frustrate every other politician who sought the presidency.
Some African political watchers have conjectured (presumed, supposed) that it was Tubman that so many long-serving African leaders tried to emulate.
Now Paul Biya, too? Already 85, is he determined to follow the ill-fated path of Robert Mugabe who, not satisfied with his own nearly 40 years in power, was determined to have his wife Grace succeed him! It was the Zimbabwean Army that saved the country from this narcissistic succession. They intervened and said No! Then got one of Mugabe’s own devotees and installed him as President.
Can we not see how great the USA has become, since the mid-1940s with its Presidents serving only two terms? The longest serving American President was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served from the early 1930s to 1945 when he suddenly died. Why had the Americans held on to him so long? Because he took the country from recession in 1934 (following the 1929 Wall Street crash) and led USA to become the world’s first super power—agriculturally, financially and militarily self-sufficient, rich and powerful. Since his successor, President Harry Truman, American Presidents have served only two terms. And look where the Americans are today, and have been since 1945—the world’s richest and most powerful and influential nation.
And where have Tubman and all the other African old men who held on to power for so long left their countries? In the hole. Look at Zimbabwe—a collapsed economy, once Africa’s leading food producer, now a net importer of food!
And where did Tubman, after 27 years as President, leave Liberia? In 1960 when he entered his fourth term of office, Liberia, South Korea and Singapore were on the same economic plane, but Liberia had a far faster growth rate than the other two. When he died in 1971, Liberia was still impoverished, illiterate, sick and starving—importing most of its food, including the staple, rice, meat, etc.; while both South Korea and Singapore were on their way to agricultural self-sufficiency, 100% literacy and industrialization.
Today, those two countries have a per capita income of over US$20,000—this means that the average Singaporean and South Korean makes that much a year; while Liberians are still wallowing in abject poverty and still importing most of their food. And aren’t we riding South Korean cars? And what are we exporting to South Korea—or anywhere else except gold, diamond, iron ore and other raw materials? Absolutely nothing.
And yet, guess what! Neither Singapore nor South Korea has any natural resources, except their PEOPLE—their only natural resource.
And what are we doing with our most important natural resource—our people? We are not even giving them a decent education. Last week the West African Examinations Council (WEAC) announced another dismal failure among our students. Of 600 senior high schools that sat the examination, there was a 65% failure! And in the junior high category, there were 63.42% failures.
So where, in our 171st year of independence, are we headed?
We pray that President Paul Biya of Cameroon will look seriously at the leadership landscape in his country and open the space for some of his talented compatriots to participate meaningfully and successfully in politics. Let him remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive. The country is being seriously threatened with civil war. Is this the time to hold fast to power?
What, then, is the point of presidential longevity?