Artwork by Shinji Ákhirah
While it remains unclear when National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams will announce his decision on former president Jacob Zuma’s charges, those hoping for them to be reinstated may draw some comfort from the rest of the continent.
Africa has seen its fair share of allegedly corrupt leaders and where they have been deposed, some have been brought to justice in a court of law.
But the continent’s track record is mixed, said political analyst for the Institute of Security Studies Liesl Louw.
“It is quite controversial because the accusation is always made that the new government in power is on a witch hunt and it is all politically motivated,” when leaders are held to account, she said.
In Zuma’s case the 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money-laundering were dropped about one month before his ascension to the presidency of the country in May 2009.
The courts have since ruled that the NPA’s decision to withdraw the charges was irrational and that the NPA must take a fresh decision regarding the charges. The NPA has reportedly reached a decision but Abrahams has been delayed in announcing it as his controversial appointment as NPA head is currently before the Constitutional Court.
If the NPA decides to reinstate Zuma’s charges it would not be the first time he will be dragged into the dock. In 2006 he was acquitted of rape.
On the rest of the continent where former presidents were at risk of facing the might of the law different regions have responded differently, with some leading to successful prosecutions.
Jean-Bedel Bokassa, former president and self-proclaimed emperor of the Central Africa Republic (CAR), was sentenced to death in 1980 in absentia for participating in the massacre of 100 pupils. Upon his return to the CAR in 1986 he was tried for treason and murder. He was found guilty of murder and began serving his prison sentence in 1987 before being freed six years later.
Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor is currently behind bars after being sentenced to a 50-year prison term in 2012. He was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and aiding rebel forces in crimes against humanity during the Sierra Leone civil war.
Zambia, Malawi, Egypt, Tunisia, Chad and Cote d’Ivoire have all seen charges brought against leaders but this does go against the grain. There are more cases in which the powers of corrupt leaders are not reined in, at the expense of democracy.
“The big problem on the continent at this point is in Central Africa where in Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, Gabon, Togo (West Africa) and Chad you have leaders change the Constitution to stay in power,” Louw said.
“In the DRC the president is still promising elections at the end of 2018 so we’ll see whether he sticks to that.”
The situation is exacerbated by weak institutions, rigged elections, the absence of an independent media and judiciary and neighbouring heads of state turning a blind eye, she added.
But in West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa institutions have pushed back against abuses of power, though some may argue that in Zuma’s case it took too long.
University of Johannesburg political analyst Professor Mzukisi Qobo said it was not enough for Zuma to merely be stripped of presidency.
“According to our constitution everyone is equal before the law,” said Qobo. “We don’t have constitutional provision or immunity against heads of state or politicians. So procedurally he should answer to the court and it should be the court that, on the basis of evidence determined before it, can decide to let him off or charge him.”