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Have African leaders become addicted to power?

BBC Africa HYS Team | 14:23 UK time, Wednesday, 9 March 2011

In Libya, Colonel Muamar Gaddafi is refusing to give up power after more than four decades in charge of the north African country.

The revolt against his 42-year rule is now well into its third week.  It comes in the wake of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, whose presidents were forced from power after mass street demonstrations.

Meanwhile in Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo is caught up in a stalemate after he was sworn in as president, despite the country's UN-backed Electoral Commission declaring his rival as the winner of November's poll.  

So what makes some leaders cling on to power at all costs? Does power become an obsession? How can it be checked?

If you would like to debate this topic LIVE on air on Wednesday 9th of March at 1600 GMT, please include a telephone number. It will not be published. 


  • Comment number 1.

    african leaders are totally addicted to power and those like gbagbo will never give up because they know that they are going to be jailed if so.
    let them remind them that every thing is short and brief .what has a beginning willl have an end

  • Comment number 2.

    most african leaders have taken on presidency as a lifetime profession which a father passes on to his sons. all such leaders have positioned their sons as only viable successors. shame!

  • Comment number 3.

    Because they believe they own their countries - literally. Worse, we encourage them to think that way.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Most of the leaders never got there on merit. Some came in through armed rebellion and then after that started manipulating the constitution and rigging elections. Now cling to power by suppressing opposition
    They also surround themselves with opportunists who would do anything to please their masters. In the end you have a bunch of people in power who are merely thieves and looters of the country and hold it a ransom
    So sad for most of Africa. The west also likes to deal with some of these despots when they are useful geopoliticaly

  • Comment number 7.

    ''Power corrupts....absolute power corrupts absolutely''...Most government structures in Africa lack checks and balances for their leaders,even the so-called democracies like what we have here in Nigeria,so they delibrately create loop-holes to act with impunity.Most of the time,the populace is expendable with nobody to hold responsible.Even developed democracy face their own challenges but they are aware of the dangers and quickly correct them.

  • Comment number 8.

    Asking if African leaders are addicted to power is like asking if babies love their mothers' breast milk. Of course, the answer is a "resounding yes".Sadly, it is mostly in Africa and a handful developing countries around the globe that leaders remain in power for life. In fact, many of them through "sham" elections or shall I say selection stay in power year after. In fact, the former Nigerian president, Obasanjo proposed a constitutional change to allow him to run for a third term after serving his maximum two four-year terms. But, the Nigerian electorate was smart enough to reject that proposal. While enterpreneurs and private citizens are generally the best paid in developed countries, politicians are the best paid in Nigeria for example. No wonder politicians are addited to power.I pray that these leaders would one day soon,learn to have their countries' interest at heart, instead themselves.

  • Comment number 9.

    The refusal of most African leaders to hand over reflects a problem that is deeply rooted in how people conceive of politics. Indeed, rather than seeing politics as public service at has become an avenue for enriching oneself and building a career that is absent in other sectors of the economy. Hence, when successful the continuous flow of the trappings of political power drives these leaders to stay on. There is also an institutional problem. Because, many democratic institutions are dysfunctional or, best ignored, when there is a change in government, political leaders feel (and indeed) safe when they are in power. There have been so many instances where ex-leaders have become the target of witch-hunting and sometimes unnecessary humiliations following elections.

  • Comment number 10.

    It is more that addiction to power. Each sees his respective nation as his personal property.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Yes, the leaders are addicted to power and will remain addicted as long as the wide spread ignorance in the population persists. It is the unbelievable heightened fear of authority among the public that strengthens the power of the phony leaders and the military dictators. So, when the Egyptians finally picked up courage it inspired the Libyans which further push the wind of change moving in all directions. But if Gaddafi succeeds in crushing the Libyan revolution and the world failed to act, it will have the devastating consequence of putting fear back again in the minds of the Africans and the Arabs. These are some the longest oppressed people on earths and if they don't get help, they will feel they are still on their own and they know that their power alone is no match to the brutal force often use by their dictators to stay in power.

  • Comment number 13.

    Well, it's true that some African leaders are hungry for power.They became addicted.Special, when you take the Arab countries.They are the most corrupt leaders in Africa wanting to die in power.Now zimbabowe,Uganda and Ruwanda are putting in the same shoes.

  • Comment number 14.

    i do believe entirely that some African leaders are power drunk and i believe that they are because of the following reasons,poverty,family backgrounds, and lastly the need to show off their wealth.we need a orient the new generation of African children about the need to put nation first before family and persona.thank you

  • Comment number 15.

    Pride is a hob in African culture.People earn respect in various forms and once the respect is established,the fear of failure sets in, and they will do anything it takes to retain that position.That is typical African mentality not just the presidents.That is why African officials will rather absorb scandals to remain in office than resign.They always feel they understand their people and will always know how to deal with them.They have two strategies of violence or bribery to deal with the people to remain in power.There is also the fear of prosecution when they leave office.
    In general, greed is the summary of Africa's politics.

  • Comment number 16.

    It is a shame that some African leaders would cling onto power for decades. I believe african militaries should play a very professional role in situations where leaders dont want to leave powers. They should not take sides, but be patriotic enough for the good of their countries and do the right thing. In the case of Ivory Coast, the military should have step in and arrest Gbagbo and handover power to the rightful winner. However, the west too should be blamed because they are all calling for African countries to be democtaric, but they dont protect these countries when there is a crisis.

  • Comment number 17.

    The power, the money, the influence, but mostly the fear. The fear that any incoming president will order investigations into the corruption, violence and theft perpetrated by their predecessor, or the fear that a new president will do to them what they did to others.

  • Comment number 18.

    O' yes, African leaders are addicted of possessing power! Their slogan is power or death! But now, God is showing them that peoples' power is the ultimate one.
    God is also showing people that freedom, democracy and better life is achievable only when people stand against their dictator leaders in unity.
    If there are brave leaders in Africa, the current situation in the Arab World is a good lessen to learn!

  • Comment number 19.

    If this question is asked even to a kid of 10 years in his dream in Africa, he will say yes yes yes. Afrcan leaders are addicted to power.

    It is a mess. Gadhafi of over 4 decades, Paul Biya of Cameroon nearly 3 decades, Rober Mugabe of Zimbabwe over 3 decades, Senegal Abdoulaye Wade, Equitorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema .........................

    28 Nov 2010, Abdoulye wade of Senegal, 84, did endorse his candidacy for the presidential election in February 2012. In the same manner, Cameroon´s Paul Biya, rougly 79, did change the Cameroon constitution that had a limited mandate to the president, giving him an opportunity to run for the october 2011 presidential election.

    When Obama was elected, many of these leaders were sending him a message of congrat. I said to myself "if he was here in Africa would you have given him the chance" His victory would have been riged.

    I don´t like the type of leaders we have in Africa. Look at Egypt and Tunisia who started the revolution in North Africa that is turning into a civil war in Libya. The people had to revolt leading to the death of many citizens to bring down seat tighted presidents.

    Will there ever be a change on the continent? I pray for that to come. God help Afrca.

  • Comment number 20.

    I see the French have recognised the alternative government to Gaddafi. When are the British government going to be brave enough to stand up against this tyrant? By standing off for so long many innocent people are going to be killed. Is it not high time to help the opposition?

  • Comment number 21.

    In as much as people sometimes have good intentions when they get into power or some high position, politics does change a lot of us. I've see how it is like with all the power and what you can do with it. When it comes time to relinquish it, it becomes a rude awakening rather than say reality or just your time is up to pass the baton. Power does changes us, like it or not. Term limits are just the way to go. Even if an election is rigged, at some point, you are bound to hit the end. Term limit regardless of how good you have it going.
    With the revolution now going on in North Africa and Middle East, this should be a wake up call for the others who just won't leave by any means.

  • Comment number 22.

    I don't Only Think African Leaders' are Obssesed With Power But also excess wealth, Greed And Inhuman Characteristics. Libya, Ivory Coast, All 'CASH and CARRY' Political Ideal States' Need Only A Revolution!

  • Comment number 23.

    There is a generational gap in leadership in most of Africa at moment. Most of the leaders are from a different age and are too set in their ways - very much creatures of their time. A vast number of them should be in retirement. These octogenarians can only be dislodged from their positions through natural demise or through outrageous public outcries, civic institutions and military revolt as democratic principles are archaic to them. To make matters worse, they have established a culture, process and system of government that is corrupt, bereft of ideas and rotten to the core. Changing these octogenarians without changing the archaic institutions that they have created will be a meaningless change. Yes most African leaders have become addicted to power. Most of them have lost touch with reality. However, with the young and educated masses around and with the advent of technology, most of them will leave sooner rather than later as their countries are transformed by the new generation. There are several examples around Africa.

  • Comment number 24.

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is the situation in cases referred to. Why would leaders in democratic systems refuse to turn over leadership after election, unless they turn their countries into monarchs? The case of military dictatorships may be seen as different, addiction to power.
    All said, we also need to consider that the leaders do have their own kitchen cabinets who turn around to take control and use the leader's family members as tools to propagate their agenda of impunity and corruption. Why do people want to amass so much wealth and money yet when they die, the question is who cares and why bother?
    The countries that have poor leadership succession plans are inviting trouble and no legacy. Are the leaders refusing change not remembering events in Romania? Revolts from within a country may not be easy to calm, how ever long it takes.

  • Comment number 25.

    Often these African leaders come to power initially through violent means in the guise of removing a "dictator". Once in power they display the same tendencies they had opposed. Many believe than the people of the country they "liberated" owe them a favor, when in reality they are the ones who owe the people an apology for perpetuating an insane desire for power.
    There ought to be a world wide term limits for presidents and prime ministers, the world may just be able to avoid some of the unnecessary wars and suffering.

  • Comment number 26.

    Yes they have. Greed and power. Take Mr Mugabe for example. One of the richest men in the world now. He should have been relaxing 20 years ago enjoying retirement. But instead, at 87 years old, clinging to power through frail health. For what? Becoming more and more bitter at being despised by the world.

  • Comment number 27.

    Not sure why anyone is surprised that rulers are unwilling to step down peacefully. People have been willing to kill others for political power all over the world throughout recorded history.

    Every major parliamentary democracy in Europe - and the USA - was forged in a brutal civil war. Very often more than one. In England we had at least 3 - War of King Stephen's succession, Wars of the Roses, English Civil War. We were about to start a 4th in 1688 before everyone realised that this was a crazy way to conduct government and invited William of Orange over to help out. Ever since then, English politics has been done via the ballot box rather than the gun.

  • Comment number 28.

    Yes unfortunately. Except in few cases of former presidents of Tanzania, South Africa and few other places, the rest of the leaders did not do not leave their power peacefully. Instead of governing their respective countries, they focus on how they hold their power for ever which increases corruption, nepotism and mismanagement. The people of Africa do not have the luxery of electing whom they choose. This is the pattern. Leader A holds power by force, Leader B removes Leader A by force and install himself for life. Each leader focus on ways to keep their power. Although Africa has natural wealth, there is no progress, only poverty, exploitation and suffering but who cares.

  • Comment number 29.

    The African power situation has to be looked at from the following angles:1)Leaders who set out to liberate their countries from colonization. 2) Coup Leaders who are influenced by colonizers. 3) Second generation leaders from liberators and 4) Dictators /Puppet leaders who are encouraged by support of colonialists.

    The Leberators have a mandate to completely liberate the country from all kinds of bondages that are political and economic. Therefore their battle fronts are many and their objectives require meticulous planning and timing in order to win the battles. These leaders are subjected to a lot of Western pressure as the Western Governments want to continue to get cheap economic resources from these former colonies. These leaders have no choice but to go on until they achieve the objectives they set to achieve.
    The rest of the other leaders are in it for personal gains which why they are easily influenced to take up policies that do not benefit their subjects. If one looks at what was happening in Tunisia, Egypt and the Arab countries that are now experiencing revolts, were they not the ones whose inflation rates and growth rates were being praised by the western countries. The question is to whose benefit were these impressive rates. Obviously the leaders and their colonial backers while the rest of the population live in abject poverty.

    Until such time as the Western countries stop interfering in the internal affairs of African countries there will never be smooth transitions in most african countries. The battles will always be between the Pan Africanists and Western backed corrupt leaders.

    For example in Zimbabwe our Goverrnment observed the ten year period agreed at Lancaster House where the issue of land was not to be discussed our Prime Minister was the darling of the West. This was so because the West continued to plunder our mineral resources at the expense of us the indegenous people. After the ten year period when he started talking about the land reform he suddenly became the enemy of the West. Puppetry parties have been formed with the assistance of the Western governments to fight him givingthe impression that he is clinging to power. Robert Mugabe sacrificed to liberate this country and liberation is both political and economic and until that is achieved he has not achieved the object he et out to achieve.

    Western democracy is nothing but competition to continue to exploit other nations resources. Why dont western countries and America concentrate on their own resources and engage African countries on a win-win trading basis. Why should African countries be told who should be leading them by the West and America.

  • Comment number 30.

    There is no drug more addictive as political power. There is no cure and the addict literally gets mad and has to be forced out of power and killed in the process. There is nothing one can do about it. The addicts are helpless, lose their sanity. That is the case with all African leaders. But humans are political animals and power has to be excercisized by someone in order to run a nation. There are a number of vaccines for a it like division of power, tenure terms and rules of stepping down. I pity African leaders who are going crazy with this potent drug and destroying their nations and ultimately themselves.

  • Comment number 31.

    There are numerous causes for this phenomenon:
    1. Money. African leaders tend to be able to earn millions during their terms, while Western leaders know they will make the big bucks after stepping down.
    2. Fear of punishment. Presidents of superpowers can rig elections and promote torture with impunity, but African presidents have been put on trial for crimes against humanity for such things. (For example, there has been talk of trying Gbagbo for, among other things, "anti-French violence," but there is no talk of trying Chirac for ordering French soldiers to shoot and kill unarmed Ivorians in 2004.)
    3. Ideology. Winner-take-all politics can lead presidents to fear passing power to a successor who will derail their efforts.
    4. Paranoia. I think a lot of the Gbagbo-linked human rights abuses stem from paranoia on his part caused by years of efforts (clandestine and open) to remove him from office by certain parties. Throw his fanatically religious wife into the mix, and just imagine what's going on in his head!

  • Comment number 32.

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  • Comment number 33.

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  • Comment number 34.

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  • Comment number 35.

    The cases of Libya, Ivory Coast, and the rest are not different from West and Central African States.

    However, what makes them cling to power is simply greed and glutony.

    Unfortunately, only one captain can pilot a ship at a time. With this in mind, they have developed various skills and tactics to stay on and hand command to their sons or daughters when dying out.

    Some of their skills are the very high salaries of the millitary and the judiciary. Teachers and health personnel are given just sustainance packages, the reason many of them are being drained by the foreign employers.

    So what makes some leaders cling on to power at all costs, is the fact that their countries have enough food and their citizens are a peace loving people as is the case of Cameroon. In Cameroon, checking or seeking to check is tantamount to war, the reason why there are above 175 political parties (if these are really parties and not allies of the ruling party).

    To me, I wish our head of state stays as he likes, because the supposed October presidentials shall be only a scam. Besides all the Cameroonian people; from the local market seller's associations to the association of University lecturers have considered the head of state a natural leader. Thus it would be wise instead, the campaign funds should be used to increase the much talked 25,000 employment of the youths to even 100,000, as well as to improve farm to market roads, build more hospitals for the sick and many more schools for the growing population.


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