Goodluck Jonathan is not the first leader to concede defeat in Africa!

Goodluck Jonathan

By Nurudeen Dauda

Let’s set the record straight on the highly celebrated “phone calls” at about 5:15pm Tuesday 31st May, 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan in order to concede defeat. One of the cardinal principles of “Democracy” is Free and fair election. Is there any justification for one not to concede defeat after losing in an election that is freely and fairly conducted? Is conceding a genuine defeat a heroic act? Was there any reason whatsoever for President Jonathan not to allow people’s will to be? Is there anything special in doing the right thing at the right time? What are the consequences of refusing to accept election defeat in a Democratic set up? Who gains between GEJ and GMB? Is there anything called good loser? Who is victorious between GMB (now PMB) and Nigerian Democracy? In my humble view the 2015 general election had come and gone as such, neither President Jonathan nor President Buhari is the “winner”, but “Nigerian Democracy” is.

Should one accept an election that is obviously rigged? For instance, Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in the second paragraph of his Inaugural Speech of May 29, 2007 said: “We acknowledge that our elections had some shortcomings. Thankfully, we have well established legal avenues of redress, and I urge anyone aggrieved to pursue them.” Should one accept such an election considering the fact that even the winner of the said election faulted the election? Is there anything with wrong in rejecting an election that widely flawed?

The act of conceding defeat by President Good luck Jonathan is not the first in “Africa” it may interest one to note that, many leaders in Africa did concede defeat before President Goodluck Jonathan.

When President Good luck Jonathan congratulated retired General Muhammadu Buhari, GMB (now President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB) over his victory and that of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the March 28, 2015 polls. The then incumbent President Goodluck “scored a first” in the political history of Nigeria, However, it is not the first of such gesture in the history of Africa. There were former leaders who conceded defeat in the continent.

Former African leaders like: Abdulrahman Mohamed Forole of the autonomous Somali region of Puntland who lost by just “one vote” to the opposition and accepted defeat. The first president in post-colonial Africa to transfer power peacefully and gracefully to an opposition candidate was Somalian president, late Aden Abdullah Osman Daar in 1968. He conceded defeat and handed over power to opposition candidate, Abdulrashid Ali Sharmarke, who incidentally served as prime Minister under him.

In 1991, pioneer Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) which had ruled Zambia for years (1964-1991) conceded defeat and handed over power to opposition candidate, Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multi- party Democracy (MMD). In 1994, Malawian president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) conceded defeat and handed over power to opposition candidate, Elson Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF).Mulizi has since become an African elder statesman and was among the leading international election observers who witnessed the March 28 elections in Nigeria.

The second Senegalese president Abdou Diouf of the Socialist Party of Senegal (SPS) in 2000 congratulated and handed over power to opposition candidate, Abdoulaye Wade of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) had contested and lost in four previous attempts. Also in 2000, Mauritanian Prime Minister, Navinchandra Ramgoolam of the Labour Party (LP) accepted defeat and handed over power to opposition candidate, Sir Anerood Jugnouth of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM).

In 2010, the third Somali-land president ,Dahir Riyale Kahin of the United peoples’ Democratic Party(UPDP) conceded defeat and handed over power to opposition candidate ,Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud of the peace, Unity, and Development Party(PUDP). Again in 2011, Zambian president, Rupiah Banda of the movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) which had ruled Zambia for 20 years(1991-2011)conceded defeat and handed over power to opposition candidate, Michael Sata of the Patriotic front (PF). South Africa and other international observers played prominent role in that election.

In 2012, Senegalese president, Abduoulaye Wade of the Senegalese   Democratic Party (PDS) publicly congratulated and handed over power to the opposition candidate ,incumbent Macky Sall of the Alliance for the Republic. This was however, after the elections went into re-run and the majority of the citizens clearly showing they have had enough of Wade. Again in Somalia in 2012, President Shariff Ahmed of the Alliance for the Re- liberation of Somalia conceded defeat and handed over power to the opposition candidate, Hassan Sheik Mohamud of the peace and Development Party (PDP). This was in spite of the widespread insurgency and insecurity in the country that could have been used as a smokescreen to truncate the process.

In one of the most dramatic scenarios of the modern world, the president of the Puntland, Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed Farole of the Horseed party in 2014, swiftly conceded defeat and handed over power to the opposition candidate, Harvard trained Prof. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali of the Ururka DadKA Puntland despite losing by just one vote. Nigeria thus joined the ranks of the few African countries where the central government was changed through the ballot box.

Life Presidency and third term are two dangerous ventures by African leaders. More so, “Seat-Tightism” has become one of the characteristics of “African politics”. African politics has a tradition of leaders who held or are still “Holding Power Tightly”. The ousted President Hosni Mubarak, of Egypt held sway for 30 years (from 1981-2011); President Mabutu Sese Seko of Congo Democratic Republic, DRC (Former Zaire) held sway for 32 years(from 1965-1997) before he was toppled by Mr Joseph Kabila. President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, held power until his death he was in power for 38 years (from 1967-2005).Late President Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, clung to power for 42years (1969-2011) before the “Arab Spring” of 2011 which led to his dethronement. Former President of Bulkina Faso, Mr Blaise Campaore held sway for 27years (1987-2014) before he was ousted. Late president Omar Bongo of Gabon was a president for 42years (from 1967-2009).Ousted President Zine El-Abidine Den Ali of Tunisia held sway for 22years before the “Arab Spring” of 2011 which led to his dethronement.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea came to power in August 3, 1979 (36years now).President Paul Biya of Cameroun has been on the saddle for 33years now (1981 to date).President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been in power for 31years now(1987 to date).President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda held on to power for 29years now(from 1986 to date). President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola held power firmly for 38years now (1979 to date). Omar Hassan Al-Bashir of Sudan has been in the saddle for 26years now (1989 to date). President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia has been reigning for 21years now (1994 to date). President Abdulaziz Boutefilka of Algeria spent 16years so far( from 1999 to date).

Democracy as system of government has some basic principles, namely: Rule of law, Freedom of Press, Respect for human right, active political participation and active political processes. Other essential features of Democracy in the advance Democracies are: Ideologically based political parties, Internal Democracy in party politics, political party supremacy and good governance.

However, African politics on the other hand, it is difficult to explain and analyze the nature and character of African politics without taking into account the encounter of these states with foreign influence, under colonial rule. What is now described as colonial legacy is an admission that this asymmetric colonial relation had a formative, if not disruptive or destructive influence on politics in Africa. Almost five decades after that threshold popularly referred to as the “African Year of Independence”, it would amount to self-delusion to claim that African states today are free from the corrosive effects of European values, systems and institutions. Indeed, the manner these foreign models were grafted into African indigenous structures, continue to have consequences for contemporary African politics.

The key issue here is whether an ex-colonial, new state in Africa, and a plural society, composed of old nations can evolve viable political systems, institutions and structures that can sustain political order. The reality today is that African post-colonial political setting is a confusing mixture of authoritarian and democratic parliamentary/liberal institutions. While the ideas of supremacy of the law and the structuring and organizations of a political community from which authority derives were consciously introduced by the colonial administration, corresponding consciousness that the ultimate control of government power play with the people was lacking. According to – Jordan (1978:60), the absence of these elements of modern constitutionalism added to the existing confusion due basically to the co-existence of elements belonging to three constitutional traditions: pre-colonial African constitutionalism, the constitutional system of indirect rule and authoritarian administration and the Western model of liberal democracy.

Features of African Politics are:

(1) Crises of Legitimacy the first major feature of African politics is the problem of leadership legitimacy. Legitimacy simply connotes wide acceptability of the government in power by the entire citizens. According to S.M. (1963) Lipset in his book “Political Man”, legitimacy of a government is determined by three factors: how power is acquired, the performance or efficiency of government, and the level of freedom and welfare enjoyed by the citizens. In Africa, rules governing electoral competition are not followed, elections, are not free and fair, the performance of most governments are poor, while the freedom and welfare of the people are not guaranteed. A government that lacks legitimacy is prone to have its policies misinterpreted, creates communication gaps between the government and the governed and may not enjoy the benefits of feedback on its policies.

(2) Corruption and Monetized Politics. Corruption has remained the bane of African politics. It has continued to undermine the effectiveness of political leadership. Awolowo (1966) defines corruption as abuse, misuse and disuse of power. Forms of corruption in African politics include bribery and manipulation of electoral process, nepotism in award of contracts and favouratism in dispensing patronage. While clientilism and patron-client relations are common in all societies, they define, and constitute the essence of African politics. Using Nigeria as a case study, Richard Joseph (2006) coined the word ‘prebendalism” to describe a situation “where an individual seeks a patron and leans on him in order to benefit from the privileges of the upper class” Joseph’s formulation is not too distinct from Karl Marx’s notion of “primitive accumulation” – acquiring wealth in excess of what is reasonably or economically justifiable. J.F. Bayart’s coinage of the term “politics of the belly” is understandable given the high level of poverty in most African states, but certainly was not intended to justify the massive corruption and looting of public treasury by some African leaders.

(3) Personalized Leadership. As a result of the dominance of a few individuals in the politics of African states, politics has always been based on personalized leadership. Ali Mazrui (1997:7) identified five leadership styles among African leaders:


  1. Intimidatory leader, who relies primarily on fear and instrument of coercion to assert his authority, and specialized in the use and/ or threat of use of force to extract compliance from his fellow countrymen;
  2. The patriarchal leader, basically one who commanded neo-filia reverence, a near father like figure like Jomo Kenyatta and Nelson Mandela;

iii.            The leader of Reconciliation, who relied for his effectiveness on qualities of tactical accommodation and capacity to discover areas of compromise between otherwise antagonistic view points; such leaders like Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria and Milton Obote of Uganda remained in control as long as he was successful in politics of compromise and synthesis;

  1. Mobilization leader, whose main drive was ideology, with a dose of charismatic qualities, which helped in mobilizing the populace in the direction of a particular social action, as effectively employed by Nyerere in Tanzania, and perhaps, Nkrumah, in Ghana; v. Bureaucratic leader; the low-key type who relied on efficiency rather than evocation, procedure rather than passion.

Mazru’s typologies are closely related to David Apter’s views on political leadership in Africa, except that he laid emphasis on the integrative role of leaders in a plural African setting, in order to cope with the turbulence of political modernization. Hesitant to repress, but anxious to dominate the political scene, African political leadership, especially in the first decade of independence created a personality cult around themselves. Kwame Nkrumah, for instance, preferred to be called Osagefor (The saviour) while Nyerere also admired being called Nwalimu (The Great Teacher). Rather than institutions driving the political process the personal attributes of African leaders, either to hold the state together, or cause crises, are more important than the form of government, or the institution of checks and balances. For Instance, the stability which Ivory Coast enjoyed under Felix Houphouet Boigny, disappeared after his death and exit from office. While laying claim to be democratic most African leaders behave in the manner of maximum- military rulers, in effectively demonstrating J.J. Rousseaus view that “the strongest is never strong enough to be master unless he transforms might into right and obedience into duty”.

(4) Sit-Tight Syndrome. Another feature of African politics is the sit-tight syndrome. This is the desire and consistent refusal of rulers and leaders in Africa to leave office at the end of their tenure; even when they had become unpopular. Whether elected into office, or they accede to power through a military coup such leaders begin to scheme and plot how to stay in power indefinitely. Obafemi Awolowo described this virus in African politics as “tenacity of office”, which in turn makes the opposition parties to develop the tactics of “pull him down syndrome”. For this reason in most African states the electorates have lost faith in the ballot box as the only legitimate means of changing a bad government. Until recently, military intervention is considered the only available option, lending credence to the axiom that “those who make peaceful change impossible makes violent change inevitable.” (France Fanon).

Beyond the lust for power, another cause of the sit-tight syndrome in Africa is corruption. There is the pervading fear that a succeeding government could call an ex-leader to account for his stewardship. Therefore, there is the tendency by incumbents to tinker with the constitution in order to secure for them an extended or elongated tenure.

In my modest opinion, 2015 general election witnessed the collapse of incumbency power politics, money politics, propaganda politics, divisive politics, and stomach infrastructure politics. Transparent election will put elected members to task. Elected leaders in an atmosphere of free and fair election will serve their electorates not their political Godfathers.

Nurudeen Dauda a Political commentator wrote this piece. Can be reached through

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