Africa's long-standing leaders look to secure their power after Mugabe's fall

President Mugabe's fall in Zimbabwe has shaken Africa's longest-serving leaders who are now looking for ways to shore up their power. Eyes turn to Uganda, where President Museveni, who has ruled for 31 years, promoted 300 Army officers to appease the military.

Stephen Wandera/AP/File
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (l.) and his wife Janet (r.) attend his 2016 inauguration in Kampala, Uganda, May 12. Mr. Museveni and other leaders in Africa are working to secure their positions and stay in power after Zimbabwe President Mugabe's fall from power.

After the stunning fall of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, attention has turned to other longtime African leaders accused of trying to extend their rule.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's sudden move last week to decorate more than 300 Army officers in a rare mass promotion suggested the jolt of realization across the continent: If Mugabe, who ruled for 37 years, could be forced from power by the military, perhaps anyone can.

With Mugabe's departure, Mr. Museveni is one of just four African leaders in power who have ruled for more than three decades. The group also includes Cameroon's Paul Biya, who has been head of government or president for 42 years; Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled since 1979; and Republic of Congo's Denis Sassou Nguesso, who during two spells in office has ruled for 33 years.

Museveni, a key US security ally, is the most visible of the four. He has ruled this East African nation for three decades and now seeks to extend his rule by removing a presidential age limit from the constitution. The opposition has loudly objected.

His mass promotions in the Ugandan army promotions signal that Museveni was startled by the sight of Zimbabwe's military takeover that ended the rule of Mugabe, who led his country since independence and had vowed to rule until death.

The promotions were meant to appease Army officers after Mugabe's ouster, said Gerald Bareebe, a Ugandan academic at the University of Toronto who is researching the role of African armies in regime consolidation. "Museveni knows that without the support of the Army he cannot survive longer in power," he said.

"There are fundamental similarities between Uganda and Zimbabwe. Both Mugabe and Museveni have been pushing fate," said Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, a Ugandan attorney who has represented Museveni's opponents. "What will cause a spark in Uganda, no one knows."

As in Zimbabwe, the military is seen as the most powerful institution in Uganda, and many people despair over Museveni's seemingly tight control of it. The newly promoted officers include the chief of military intelligence and the commander of the elite special forces, which is in charge of protecting the president and until recently was led by Museveni's son, Maj. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

Museveni over the years has boasted of his ability to "tame" the Army following violent coups that deposed past Ugandan leaders. Museveni himself took power by force in 1986 after toppling a military junta that had removed an elected president. He has since purged many peers who had become generals and replaced them with younger officers deemed loyal to the first family.

Still, some doubt that an aging Museveni can continue to wield firm control and are urging him to initiate democratic reforms.

"Zimbabwe's lesson for Africa is that an imperial presidency backed by the organizational ideology of militarism is not sustainable," said Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Uganda's Makerere University. "It has an end."

Over the years, Museveni has won four elections marred by allegations of vote fraud. Lawmakers are now working on a bill that seeks to remove a clause in the constitution that prevents anyone over 75 from running for president. At 73, Museveni is ineligible to run again if the barrier remains. The bill almost certainly will pass because the ruling party enjoys an overwhelming majority in the national assembly.

Uganda is on a "downward spiral of declining governance" as Museveni appears unwilling to retire, said the International Crisis Group in a Nov. 21 assessment that Uganda's government has disputed.

"Major violence is unlikely for now, but Uganda nonetheless faces the gradual fraying of order, security, and governance. Discontent is growing, particularly among youth," said the group. "The president cannot continue to rely on patronage and coercion by loyal security services instead of initiating the reforms necessary to reverse the decline of the economy."

As in Zimbabwe, where huge demonstrations after the military's takeover pressed for Mugabe to step down, leaders across Africa risk being swept from power with support from a popular uprising, especially one angry over economic stagnation or decline.

Early this year Gambia's longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh was forced to flee into exile in Equatorial Guinea after losing an election and refusing to step down in a political standoff that led to a threat of regional military intervention. In Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore was forced to step down in 2014 after 27 years after protests erupted when he tried to amend the constitution to seek another term in office.

Now the spotlight has turned to Uganda, according to Makau Mutua, a prominent Kenyan lawyer based in the United States, who said on Twitter after Mugabe's resignation last week: "Ugandans need to give Yoweri Museveni the Mugabe treatment. Strike while the iron is hot."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Africa's long-standing leaders look to secure their power after Mugabe's fall
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today