Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni was sworn in on May 12. The prominent headline was that he was starting on the road to a record-shattering 40th year in power.
Museveni has now been in power longer than any previous East African president and is unlikely to be equalled by any in the future.
It was not only Museveni’s political profile that was peculiar. The 11 African presidents who attended the ceremony represented countries whose experiences are so different, it was a dramatic demonstration of just how varied and complex Africa is.
Burundi’s President Évariste Ndayishimiye was in the house. Ndayishimiye was sworn in weeks earlier because his predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza, who was stepping down, died on June 8, 2020. However, he was supposed to hand over power in August. The official cause of his death was a heart attack, but it was widely suspected that the coronavirus-denying Nkurunziza died of Covid-19.
Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu who’d been in Uganda days earlier, returned. Her predecessor John Magufuli, a Covid-denier like Nkurunziza, had officially died of a heart-related problem on March 17, but it was widely believed he too succumbed to the virus.
Burundi and Tanzania are the two neighbouring countries in Africa where their leaders were likely both taken by Covid-19. President Samia, however, also represented the country that has been ruled longest by a single party on the continent.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta also rocked up. Kenya was the only country there which hasn’t been ruled either by a soldier, a former guerrilla chief, or a leader claiming he was a socialist.
Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo recently became the first president who wangled a term extension from Parliament, and had it revoked days later in the face of threats of a total descent into chaos. Somalia is also the only African country that is on the path to have more than one breakaway nations.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, came to us from the most successful and democratic post-military rule African state.
Namibia’s Hage Geingob, represented the only country in Africa that was colonised by a neighbouring settler state, South Africa. Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was the only vice president who was chased by the Big Man, Robert Mugabe, but returned within days from the briefest of exiles to take power from him.
With his ever-present black fedora, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir represented the world’s newest nation, and also its most still-born.
Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, a typical presidential term limit breaker, was nevertheless the only leader on the platform who’d been in exile and prison and came to power in one of those military-to-civilian-rule transitions.
Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde pitched up from an ethnic federal republic, but which is under threat of unravelling with the war in its Tigray region.
Then there was President Félix Tshisekedi, the first DRC leader to come to power through an electoral transition, though be it one fraught with a lot of shenanigans.
Did we say it was a demonstration of just how varied and complex Africa is? Actually, no. It looks like one of those giant bird nests built from hundreds of different materials. But is still one whole nest.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]