Why are there still so many monarchies among the 193 states of the world? 44 countries have heads of state from a single family under a primogeniture system. But it is hard to find any common thread that explains their survival or revival. There are ten European monarchies including Britain and 16 other countries that recognise the monarch of the United Kingdom as head of state. In Asia there are Japan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand, some small Pacific islands and the mountain kingdoms of Bhutan and Nepal. The Arab world has six monarchies, all from the early or mid 20th century. They have oil money so not much pressure, internal or external, for democracy. The African monarchies are Lesotho, Swaziland (both small kingdoms that were British protectorates), and Morocco – does it count itself African these days? It is still not a member of the African Union.
Recently there has been a trend by African rulers to hand on their countries to their sons or brothers. Here is a list:
Gabon: Ali Bongo succeeded his father Omar in 2009
Congo: Joseph Kabila succeeded his father after his father, Laurent, was assassinated in 2001.
Botswana: Ian Khama is now President. His father Seretse was Botswana’s first president.
Togo: Faure Gnassingbé was installed when his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, died in 2005.
And some that are trying, or have tried, to engineer a family succession:
Uganda: Yoweri Museveni has been grooming his son, Muhoozi, for the presidency. Muhoozi is a brigadier in the army. The idea of his wife, Janet, succeeding him has also been floated but she does not have popular support.
Cameroon: there are reports that Paul Biya would like to hand over to his adopted son Franck Biya.
Equatorial Guinea: President Obiang Nguema would like to keep power in the family but his favoured son and one-time deputy president, Teodoro Obiang Mangue, faces corruption charges in the US.
Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta, is running for president, although it looks more likely that he will be on trial at The Hague rather than on the throne.
Ghana: Nana Akufo Addo is running for president in Ghana’s forthcoming election. His father was the second president of Ghana.
And some that tried but failed:
Senegal: Abdoulaye Wade tried to make his son Karim, his successor. The people of Senegal made it very clear they did not want him and he had to drop the idea.
Malawi: when Bingu wa Mutharika died suddenly earlier this year, his close associates tried to install his brother Peter Mutharika as president. They were thwarted by the army and the judges who stuck to the constitution, rescued Joyce Banda from house arrest and installed her.
If there are others let me know. It seems to me that in many cases a president has become so untrusting of his colleagues and peers, so removed from his people, so paranoid that the only people he can rely on are his own close family. This in turn suggests that such presidents have not built institutions, mechanisms of continuity. Indeed they may have deliberately destroyed them to ensure they stay in power. That implies they care little for their country, only for their own power and status. Apres moi, le deluge.
The model should be Switzerland. Current head of state: Eveline Widmer-Schumpf. Have you heard of her? It doesn’t matter if you haven’t because her term of office is just one year. A truly mature country runs itself without need of visionaries and bullies.
It will be interesting to see what happens in Ethiopia after Meles Zenawi’s death. His legacy depends on what preparation he made for succession and continuity after 21 years in power. If the country remains peaceful and continues to grow, then Meles will have been a good leader. If it falls apart then he was not. Let’s hope that his successor will at least release some of the dissidents and journalists who were jailed for just criticising his policies.
One last story about Meles. He was only 57 when he died but he was lucky to have survived that long. In an interview in November 1989 when the war against the Mengistu regime was still raging, I asked him if he had been in combat. Instead of answering he took my hand and pressed it to his temple. There was a hard lump there. “That’s an AK 47 bullet”, he said.