Containment of Africa’s Leaders and Despots Continues – Now in Mainstream

Containment of Africa’s Leaders and Despots Continues – Now in Mainstream

Stephen Cook: We’ve seen several ‘powerful’ African leaders literally disappear off the radar lately, as they have been moved into Containment.

First up, former Egyptian Vice President, Omar Suleiman ‘moved on’ in a Cleveland hospital in July: there has been a number of Congolese and other ‘rebel’ leaders who’ve been tried, jailed or simply removed from their posts.

But what is most interesting this week is that, in a nation where it is often said that ‘leaders rule  for life’, the ‘disappearances’ of Africa’s many rogue powerbrokers are increasingly being covered or noted by mainstream media.

And even more intriguing – as seen in the first of the two stories below, regarding Ethiopia’s Prime Minister who has been ‘missing’ for seven weeks now after a long reign of fear – is that what we know of as containment, is suddenly being described by mainstream journalists as an “information blackout”. Which, I suppose, is a ‘containment’ of sorts, isn’t it?

This first story, and the second story below from Associated Press, both include an overview of other newly ‘missing’ African leaders. I have posted them both to show how wide and necessary the reach of containment is across the African continent – and how mainstream media outlets are finally ‘on to it’. Thanks to sage for research help.

Story 1: Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Not Seen for Seven Weeks

Addis Ababa mute on whereabouts of PM – latest African leader believed to be unwell but subject of information blackout

By Afua Hirsch, The Guardian -0 August 8, 2012

He hasn’t been seen in public since the G8 summit in Mexico, and since then Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has even missed the African Union summit held in his own capital city, Addis Ababa.

Zenawi, 57, usually a conspicuous figure at meetings of African and international heads of state, has now been missing for more than seven weeks, amid growing incredulity.

Government sources in the secretive African nation say that Meles – who was seen looking frail before his disappearance – is resting but well, but more than one eyebrow has been raised at the reasons for his absence. “The Prime Minister is on vacation recovering from illness,” an Ethiopian government source told the Guardian. “There has been a lot of ill-meant speculation about his health.”

But there have been numerous reports that Meles traveled to Europe for medical treatment, prompting debate about its success as his recovery period continues unabated. Some media reports have claimed Meles visited the Saint-Luc hospital in Belgium, while the Egyptian state information service reported that Meles underwent surgery in Germany, prompting a cable of good wishes from President Mohamed Morsi.

The Ethiopian press – regarded as one of the least free in Africa – has also reported that Meles is recovering from medical treatment. Experts say there is widespread confusion as to the fate of the prime minister, even within the secretive ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

“It is a mystery what has happened to Meles and not even his own ministers know his fate,” an exiled Ethiopian source said. “Media in Ethiopia have been getting it wrong and have now dropped the story altogether.” Some analysts have claimed that Meles will not return to power at all, after a senior member of the TPLF, Sibhat Nega, stated that the party was working on a power succession and that the regime could continue in the event of “individuals” dying or leaving the government.

The death of president John Atta Mills in Ghana last month led to a rare broadcast on Ethiopian state TV on how to mourn the death of a leader, which has also fuelled speculation that Meles’s health may be further deteriorating. It is not the first time that an African government has failed to confirm the illness or death of a leader in office, prompting periods of mysterious absence.

A century ago Emperor Menelik II, the founder of modern imperial Ethiopia, was buried in 1913 without any public announcement after he had been incapacitated by a stroke for several years, leaving the administration of the country in the hands of a specially appointed council.

More recently, the late Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua was neither seen nor heard from for almost six months – apart from one phone interview with the BBC – between travelling to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, and his eventual death in May 2010.

Earlier this year news of president Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi’s death was leaked to the press, but not confirmed by the government for 24 hours, prompting fears of a power struggle and nearly triggering a constitutional crisis before he was eventually succeeded by the current president, Joyce Banda.

The tendency to shroud the sickness and deaths of leaders has been repeatedly criticised for destabilising often fragile democracies and triggering secretive succession crises. There have been a flurry of searches and social media interactions on the fate of Meles by Ethiopians – including a popular #WhereIsMeles hashtag on twitter, but his absence from government is of concern to donors, who pump almost $4bn (£2.6bn) of aid into Ethiopia every year.

It is thought that deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, is temporarily in charge, alongside other members of the ruling party. But one diplomatic source in Addis Ababa said that no western government was sure as to the whereabouts or fate of the Ethiopian leader.

Meles, who came to power in 1991 following a 30-year war that toppled the Soviet-backed regime of former president Mengistu Haile Mariam, has long been popular with donors for his record of delivering growth to Ethiopia, whose economy has been growing at an estimated 9% per year for almost a decade.

Ethiopia receives hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support from the US, which welcomes its peacekeeping and military intervention in neighbouring conflicts in Somalia and Sudan. But Meles is viewed by many as a dictator who has stifled democracy and used draconian methods to silence dissent. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which regularly condemns the trial and imprisonment of journalists in Ethiopia, says that one newspaper – the weekly Feteh – was ordered by the government to block dissemination of 30,000 copies reporting on the prime minister’s whereabouts.

“The ban on Feteh’s latest issue illustrates the depth of repression in Ethiopia today and authorities’ determination to suppress independent coverage of the prime minister,” said Tom Rhodes of the CPJ. “Every citizen has a right to be informed about the wellbeing of their leader and the conduct of their government.”

Background story link: Meles Zenawi: Ethiopia’s pragmatic philosopher-king or cruel despot?

Story 2: Sick African Leaders Tout Health Until the End

Stephen: Obviously, judging by the last quote at the end of this story, the power of the Light will always win. Even if  these leaders don’t want to ‘give’ it away.

Photo: Ghana’s John Atta Mills

By Krists Larson and other Associated Press writers -Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal and Laura Burke in Accra, Ghana – August 8, 2012

DAKAR, Senegal August 8, 2012 (AP) – The rumors started to swirl around Ghana in June: President John Atta Mills was ill, maybe too sick to seek re-election, and he was going abroad to seek medical treatment. Some radio stations went so far as to prematurely report his death.

Eager to deny the speculation, Atta Mills jogged at the airport upon his return in a display of his vigor. The following month, though, the 68-year-old was dead. Many lined up in the capital, Accra, where his body was laid in a casket draped in the national colors of red, yellow and green on Wednesday to pay their respects before his burial Friday.

In a part of the world where presidents traditionally have ruled for life, Atta Mills is only the latest West African leader to show that “routine checkup” can be the code word for much graver troubles.

Many longtime rulers in the region have feared coups or power grabs if they were perceived as vulnerable. Though even in a mature democracy like Ghana, those around Atta Mills still tried to protect his image of strength until the very end.

“I think it’s a little bit about power — when you taste it and you really don’t want to give it up whether you’re sick or healthy,” says Kwame Tufour, 36, who owns an energy company in Ghana. “I think it kind of got to his head.”

Political calculation certainly plays a part in an election year, as there can be repercussions if a party’s standard bearer is seen as weak, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

While Ghana is an exception as a stable democracy, Pham said earlier strongmen in the region tended to concentrate power in their own hands until their deaths.

“You didn’t vote for a party with a platform if you voted at all,” he said. “Leadership was viewed and functioned as the figure that you followed.”

Speculation on leaders’ health isn’t unique to West Africa — 88-year-old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe insists he’s “fit as a fiddle” despite reports he’s battling prostate cancer. Few regions, though, can cite as many examples.

Only hours before the death of Gabon President Omar Bongo — at one time the world’s longest-serving president — his prime minister described him as “alive and well.”

And Nigeria’s late President Umaru Yar’Adua grew so weak while in office he once had to be carried off a runway by a soldier during a state visit to Togo, according to a book by his former spokesman. The military officer assigned to Yar’Adua apparently draped traditional robes over his arm to conceal what was happening.

State-run television was told to only film one side of his face when the other side was swollen, according to the book by Olusegun Adeniyi.

The National Assembly ultimately voted extra-constitutionally to empower then-Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to serve as acting president for Nigeria.

The health and undisclosed illness of late Guinean strongman Lansana Conte also was a topic of national debate for years before his 2008 death. Rumors of his death surfaced periodically, including in 2003 when he was forced to go on TV to deny them.

The week before he died, the editor of a local paper was arrested after publishing a picture of the frail leader struggling to stand up. A spokesman for the president went on TV to assure the nation that Conte was not ill.

The newspaper was ordered to print a photograph of Conte, showing him in good health.

In Ghana, opposition newspapers in the weeks before Atta Mills’ death had started questioning whether the president was healthy enough to seek a second term in December.

The late Ghanaian leader was apparently in a coma for at least a day — possibly two — before he died, said a government official in neighboring Ivory Coast who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The official said the Ghanaians did such a good job hiding it that even the intelligence services of Ghana’s closest allies were not aware of his state of health.

Eugene Oppong, 40, a driving instructor, said Ghanaians had started to notice recently that Atta Mills had grown lean, spoke with a raspy voice, and frequently took sips of water while giving speeches.

Still, Oppong said Atta Mills was right to stay in office until his death, and he called speculation about the president’s health before his death disrespectful.

“So far as you still have your power and you’re alive, you don’t need to give your power to someone else,” he said.

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2 comments on “Containment of Africa’s Leaders and Despots Continues – Now in Mainstream

  1. lilium789 says:

    Thank you,Wes! shared.

  2. x says:

    Why in Africa and not US?why not Rockafeller or Bush? This sucks

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