THE imminent departure of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, after completing his two five-year terms, has once again cast the spotlight on nonagenarian Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe whose stubborn clinging onto power has become untenable given the relatively smooth succession in other African countries which have seen many younger generation leaders pass the baton.
John Magufuli of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is widely expected to take over from Kikwete after opening a wide lead over his rival, Edward Lowassa of Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo’s (Chadema) in the country’s presidential elections this week.
Kikwete assumed office in December 2005, when Mugabe was already 25 years into his rule, but he is leaving office at a time the veteran leader, also African Union chairperson, is still in power.
At the age of 65, Kikwete is a spring chicken compared to the 91-year old Mugabe whose frailties have been made all too clear by the frequent medical trips to the Far East. His fall at the Harare International Airport in January, which went viral on the social media, highlighted the extent to which age has taken its toll on the veteran leader.
In September, he made international headlines when he read the wrong speech during the official opening of Third Session of the Eighth Parliament. He read the same speech he had read while presenting his State of the Nation Address three weeks earlier, without realising his mistake.
To dramatise how frail Mugabe has become, his close security team has been beefed up and instructed to be very tight to him so as to prop him up should he lose balance.
In contrast, Kikwete has never had to endure any of these frailties but is departing all the same.
This week, the internet was awash with pictures of a beaming and casually dressed Kikwete humbly standing in a queue with other voters at his Msoga home village in Bagamoyo District to cast his vote. The vote signals the end of his decade-long tenure at the helm of Tanzanian politics.
Magufuli will become the fifth president since the unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1964.
Mugabe assumed leadership of Zimbabwe at independence in 1980 at a time Tanzania was ruled by its founding president Julius Nyerere who voluntarily gave up power five years later. Nyerere ruled for 21 years, but after his voluntary departure, Tanzania has been regularly changing presidents. Since then Ali Hassan Mwinyi (November 1985-November 1995), Benjamin Mkapa (November 1995-December 2005) and Kikwete (December 2005-2015), have been in power.
In Southern Africa, only José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Mugabe stand out when it comes to leaders who have stubbornly clung onto power for over three decades.
Eastern neighbour Mozambique has had Samora Machel, Joaquim Chissano, Armando Guebuza and Filipe Nyussi who won last year’s elections.
South Africa which became Independent in 1994, has had Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma, who is serving his last term, as presidents.
Malawi held elections in May last year where Peter Mutharika replaced Joyce Banda to become the fourth leader since the fall of dictator Kamuzu Banda in 1993.
In November last year, Namibia held elections which resulted in Hage Geingob replacing Hifikepunye Pohamba to become that country’s third leader since 1990.
However, in Zimbabwe, Mugabe is hanging on despite running down the country, exposing people to joblessness, destitution, poverty, disease and hunger.