Editorial: Presidential Prospects?
Thursday, 21 January 2010
Another year, another try! Full of the best intentions, I set out trying to find something positive, constructive, uplifting to write about for the start of the year – and then got completely distracted by Nigeria and the mystery of its missing president.

Lots of online speculation – is he merely quite sick, or braindead, or in a coma, or possibly dead? It wouldn’t be the first time that a dead president had been put on ice for a while to allow successors to work on succession arrangements (remember Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa and Gabon’s Omar Bongo, both adamantly undead for quite some time?). Eventually, Yar Adua resurfaced in a very brief radio interview with the BBC. Or did he? It left a lot of people unconvinced that it was really him (and many offended that he should talk to the BBC rather than a Nigerian media house).

In principle, Yar Adua’s hospitalisation or, worst case, succession, shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Nigeria’s laws allow him, should he not be able to take care of government business, to officially hand over to his deputy. That’s what a deputy is there for, after all. Yet there’s gap between the official procedures and the frantic shuffling in the background, and that’s where the real story lies. Never mind the legal niceties, when the chips are down, everyone will gun for the presidency. Sometimes literally.

It all sounds quite familiar, no? In early 2008, Kenyan’s warlords took that battle to the streets and the villages – what a contrast to 2002 when a seriously ill president was able to hold a coalition together, even if only temporarily. Right now, the constitutional debate is paralysed by everyone’s refusal to look beyond their own toes, and consider the clauses on merit and without the filter of their own political position or ambition. For the briefest second, I had been tempted last year to believe that Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga might have found some sort of productive co-existence at last. But when Mr Kibaki then gave Mr Odinga the responsibility for the Mau Forest, he just handed him the rope to hang himself with a sweet smile. In 2010, I think Kenya’s economy will continue to rally modestly, but despite and not because of how the country is run. Because it isn’t. Everyone will be too busy campaigning.

Presidentially speaking, our neighbourhood will stay interesting if a tad predictable: There is no doubt that Kagame will be re-elected in August. Rwanda’s government is Kagame, but it is just that intense concentration and control makes me worry about the country’s medium to long-term future. In Uganda, Museveni, also not a big fan of pesky succession debates, gears up to get himself re-elected in 2011, and ruling in his third decade, he will have to pay for it through his nose – in reputation, in hard cash, in land handouts, possibly also in aid funding. The homophobic witch hunt of the past months conveniently distracted everyone from electoral procedures, land, and oil revenues. Donors seem to have slapped his hand, but there might yet be more mileage in it if the next opposition candidate is suddenly accused of homosexuality – a variation of Kiizza Besigye’s arrest on rape and treason charges. And Tanzania? As usual, with the exception of Zanzibar, it seems to be coasting along fairly inconspicuously, priding itself on being inconspicuous, and not quite detangling itself from its de-facto one-party state yet.

Never a dull moment with these guys, hey? If you’re still reading, read on through our latest stories. Also, new year, new reminder: Check out the Business Diary with all business event and conference listings in the region, and if you’re looking for a new job, or looking to hire, toddle over to the Careers section: Plenty of new and interesting listings, and did I mention that we publish job ads for free?

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