African leaders have chosen Equatorial Guinea’s coup plotter and dictator of 31 years to serve as their ceremonial leader this year, a move critics said on Monday could undermine the African Union’s (AU) attempt to confront other leaders who cling to power.
Human rights groups accuse Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang of violating the very rights that the AU is sworn to uphold. They say he has made himself, his family and some cronies fabulously wealthy while the majority of people in the oil-rich Central African nation struggle in deep poverty.
Obiang claimed to have won 95 percent of the vote after Equatorial Guinea’s elections in 2009, making him an unlikely critic of Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power two months after the international community said he lost the vote.
“Neither the African Union nor Africans deserve a leader whose regime is notorious for abuses, corruption and a total disregard for the welfare of its people,” Alioune Tine, president of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, said by phone from the summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Traditionally, the chairmanship is given to the leader of the country hosting the next summit, but an exception was made in 2005 when it was the turn of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and African leaders bowed to outside pressures in the uproar over killings in Darfur.
They passed over al-Bashir and instead kept former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo for a second year.
There was also dismay when the Africans appointed Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi as chairman in 2009. Qaddafi has ruled Libya since seizing power in a coup in 1969 and was seen as a poor example at a time when Africa’s democratic gains were being reversed, a trend that continues.
This week’s summit, which ended on Monday, was dominated by the crisis in Ivory Coast. How African leaders deal with it is important in a year when more than a dozen African countries are to hold elections.
Many polls, such as one planned for later this year in Zimbabwe, are likely to be violently contested.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980, despite 2008 elections that were violent and widely condemned as fraudulent, took part in a meeting to decide “a democratic solution” to the Ivory Coast stalemate.