Toward a Succession of Power from “Father to Son” in Central Africa?

Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno (C) shakes hands with general of the Chadian contingent in Mali Oumar Bikimo (L) and second-in-command major and his son Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno (R) during a welcome ceremony, on May 13, 2013, in N'Djamena. Some 700 Chadian soldiers returned home to a heroes' welcome after a bloody campaign fighting Islamic insurgents in northern Mali. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The democratic principle of the devolution of power has a very particular destiny in Central Africa and specifically in the CEMAC zone. Indeed, this practice seems to be for direct transmission or for the indirect arrangement of mechanisms that facilitate the succession/transmission of power from father to son.

While the Central African Republic remains on the bangs of this trend for the moment, the other five states in the zone are not. In Gabon, for example, President Ali Bongo Ondimba succeeded his father in 2010, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who died in 2009. In Chad, the international community has literally endorsed Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno to ensure the political transition in Chad following the death of his father, Field Marshal Idriss Deby Itno on April 19, 2021.

In Equatorial Guinea, the meteoric rise of Teodorin Obiang Nguema Mangué to important positions in the sphere of power suggests, for some, a desire to “position” him in the supreme office after his father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has been in business for 42 years. The situation seems to be the same in Congo Brazzaville with the appointment on May 21, 2021, of Denis Christel Sassou Nguessou, son of President Sassou Nguessou, to the post of Minister of International Cooperation and Promotion of Public-Private Partnership.

In Cameroon, the idea of the succession of President Biya by his son, Franck Emmanuel Biya, is fuelled and supported by a movement called the “Franckists.” Taken together, these relevant facts invite reflection on the phenomenon of hereditary devolution of power in Central Africa.

Understanding the Phenomenon of Succession From “Father to Son”

The hereditary transmission of power from father to son generally appears to be an “anti-democratic reality” or even a “transitory anomaly” that can be understood in terms of the

desire to preserve or even protect the financial assets amassed by a family or clan that has been in power for several years.

It can also be explained by a clear desire to confiscate power to ensure to a certain extent, any accountability that might be required to protect the interests of the people. If there seems to be a correlation between the duration of power and the hereditary transmission of power, it is perhaps with a view to escaping, to a certain extent, any obligation of accountability that would fall to the father, reassured by the presence of the son in charge.

Beyond that, “parentocracy” is to be found in Neo-patrimonialism (Bayard, 1991) based on the privatization of the state by clan entities that ensure the reproduction of the sons of the ruling elite (Bourdieu, 1971). The logic behind these actions is that of sharing the “spoils” that the state constitutes while emasculating the people. In the meantime, power remains the property of an individual, and later of a family, which secures multiple allegiances through the redistribution of pretends.

It is also important to mention the troubled role of foreign powers in the dynastic transmission of power in Central Africa. Indeed, in the name of preserving their interests, certain powers that often claim to themselves the role of giving democratic lessons participate in the scuttling of these same principles on African soil by endorsing the succession of power from father to son. The role of France in Gabon and Chad after the death of Marshal Idriss Deby Itno is quite illustrative in this regard.

While the desire to “capture” the state by a family line is obvious, it can also be justified by the civilizational and cultural foundation of Africa. In fact, the advent of republics after independence was a profound break with the tradition of kingdoms and chieftaincies that had long been established in Africa. Here, succession to the throne from father to son was not seen as an anomaly, but as a normal way of transmitting power.

The shift to republicanism and democracy has meant that some African states have not really abandoned the logic of hereditary transmission of power. This clearly seems to be the antithesis of the principles of democracy and good governance.

Impacts of Hereditary Succession on the Principles of Democracy and Governance

The family transmission of power as a specific mode of political succession in Central Africa corresponds well to what some authors have called “African-style democracy”. This expression reflects the anachronisms and contradictions of democratic practice in Africa. It is

a paradoxical reflection of the gap that exists between the democracy practiced in certain African countries and democracy understood in its very essence (political pluralism, competitive conquest of power, organization of free, regular, and transparent elections, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, separation of powers, rule of law).

If the status of son of the president cannot be considered as a condition of ineligibility, it is obvious that the mere hereditary transmission of power contradicts the rules of free and democratic competition for power. Far from neutralizing political competition, it distorts the fair expression of the votes cast and calls into question the popular legitimacy of the political heir. Moreover, the transmission of power from father to son appears to be a considerable brake, an obstacle to the realization of democratic choice or the advent of a real alternative.

The transmission of power from “father to son” breaks with the principle of equality of citizens before the law, by consecrating a de facto imbalance, or an abnormal privilege to the son who benefits in his ascension to power from all the institutional apparatus and financial resources of the State. It follows, therefore, that the mechanism accompanying the hereditary transmission of power consecrates, in advance, the hegemony of a pretender to the throne by annihilating, in fact, any fair political competition.

It goes without saying, therefore, that the “dynasty” of republics in certain Central African countries can be seen as an outgrowth of poor governance characterized by corruption, the buying of consciences, predation, embezzlement of public property and the redistribution of rent.

Conjuring up the Dynasty of Republics

In order to guarantee the democratic devolution of power in Central Africa, it is essential to encourage the political commitment of the masses so that they reclaim the State and the role of true sovereign that is theirs in a democracy. This role falls largely to political parties, civil society, the mass media, etc.

It is also imperative to work towards strengthening the institutions of power control, because dynasties are established where institutional checks and balances are lacking or under the control of the governing political elite. On this path, the fight against the exacerbation of communitarianism and tribalism is of great interest.

In fact, the logic of the hereditary transmission of power finds fertile ground insofar as the continuity of the management of power by the son is a “prebend insurance” for his ethnic

community of origin, which devotes unwavering support to him and interprets any opposition to this plan as an attack on the community. Finally, the international powers must refrain from playing spoilsport in the construction of the democratic process in Africa.

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Steve TAMETONG is the Deputy Director of Democracy and Governance Division at the Nkafu Policy Institute of the Denis & Lenora Foundation. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Law from Dschang University. He also holds a Ph.D. in Governance and Regional Integration from the Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences of the Pan-African University (African Union).

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