If you have just started following events in Ivory Coast, you might be tempted to think that Ivory Coast is just like any other African country that has plied through the standard road from Independence. For many African states, the standard route from Independence to four or five decades down the road has been characterized by civil wars, coup de tats, guerilla war fares and many other political and economic catastrophes. I call this standard, because out of the fifty three African countries, at least three quarters of these have taken this very path upon descending into the magnanimity of self-government.
Ivory Coast taxied on a right note. Gaining independence in 1960 under the leadership of Papa Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the country quickly turned itself into the world's leading producer of cocoa, pineapples and palm oil. Unlike many countries, Ivory Coast used its foreign exchange earnings to develop first class infrastructure and also deliver high quality services to its people. For about twenty five years, President Houphouët-Boigny remained true to his vision of turning his country into a modern African state. The country established itself as a development reference and due to its exceptional high growth levels; it became known as, ‘the Ivorian Miracle’.
With all the anticipated administration successes coming his way, Boigny fell short of one undertaking – preparing his country for political transition and succession. And when a natural illness claimed him in 1993, Ivory Coast plunged into the most unprecedented political confusion which still manifests itself in the on-going political crisis eighteen years after his demise.
Boigny is not the only African leader who neglected issues of political succession. Omar Bongo who continuously mazzled any succession talks in Gabon sunk his own country into political and economic terrorism when he died in 2009 after ruling the country for fourty one years. Examples of such leaders and scenarios are inexhaustible on the African continent. Togo plunged into political turmoil in 2005 after the death of Gnassingbe Eyadema; who had ruled the country for thirty eight years. Whereas the Togolese army sought to install Eyadema’s son as a successor, the public vehemently contested the decision and this sparked the instability that we continue to see in Togo till today.
These and many more scenarios should implore those in leadership to always open up for discussions on successions. And while discussing succession, leaders should not feel inclined to pass on power to their family loyalists as has been observed in most states where there hasn’t been open discussions on succession.
A country that claims to be a democracy should be able to broaden openness in its institutions (political parties) and consequently encourage the enlistment of people’s efforts in the administration of the State. Political succession arrangements reflect the farsightedness of political leadership efforts to avoid a vacuum and uncertainty.
Maybe it's time to take a new perspective on the good succession practices of the west (America and Britain), where political parties have demonstrated relentless capacity to openly discuss, nurture and groom leadership talent and sacrifice certain interests in the name of socio-political harmony and long-term goals. This is not just about promoting the western form of governance as a perfect model of governance that should be emulated by all, but rather about understanding the succession challenge and drawing lessons on how to deal with it. For non-monarch societies, an orderly transfer of power continues to be a problem of all political orders.
It is time to break the ‘son succeeded the farther’ syndrome that has pervaded most of our societies. But I should note, it's no fault of the sons to be born to successful politicians. It's also not the fault of parents to indulge their children and do everything possible to secure them a small corner on a big political stage. And it's definitely not the fault of the electorate to dote upon the political sons, for successions, but let popular public participatory discussions and approaches make the casting vote on who becomes the next leader at any level.