Presidents are supposed to wield their power with as much grace and restraint as possible but sometimes, the commander-in-chief turns into the disciplinarian-in-chief. We’ve made a list of the African leaders who have put the fear of God into their subordinates with forced physical exercise, sackings and – no we’re not making this up – beatings.
Working under the African presidents on our list can’t be the easiest day job in the world. They have little patience for subordinates who won’t tow the line and they always make sure punishment is meted out swiftly. They are disciplinarians at heart and for them, the most important thing is that their orders are followed to the letter.
Yes, some of the presidents on our list are also widely perceived to be dictators and their record on human rights is at best spotty. But, for the purpose of this list, we’re concerned only with the way they have behaved towards their underlings in government. Thus, while not everyone on this list is a tyrant in the classic sense, what they do have in common is their disciplinarian streak. Here, in no particular order, are the leaders who made the cut for our list of Africa’s top four disciplinarian presidents.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda
President Paul Kagame has made no secret of his ambitions to transform Rwanda into an African success story within record time and he is making steady progress. Economically, Rwanda keeps recording impressive GDP growth figures and its ranking on the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness index is the envy of its larger East African neighbours.
Much of this is down to Kagame’s leadership and work ethic. The latter trait is underlined by the fact that, according to a New York Times profile, “he routinely stays up to 2 or 3 a.m. to thumb through back issues of The Economist or study progress reports from red-dirt villages across his country, constantly searching for better, more efficient ways to stretch the billion dollars his government gets each year from donor nations that hold him up as a shining example of what aid money can do in Africa”.
The New York Times profile by the paper’s East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman however also notes an uglier side to Kagame; his tendency to react to his underlings’ blunders with physical violence. The piece relates a disturbing incident witnessed by David Himbara, a former confidant of Kagame’s who now lives in exile in South Africa. Himbara relates how Kagame once called a finance director and army officer into his office in 2009, scolded them about where they had bought office curtains before proceeding to call two guards into his office with sticks. Kagame then told his two juniors to lie face down at which point he started canning them furiously. As per Himbara’s telling, once he was tired, Kagame gave the sticks to the guards to continue beating the men.
Kagame: “I can be very tough, I can make mistakes like that.”
Gettleman says he spoke to several of Kagame’s former subordinates who recalled their own stories of thrashings administered by the president in a furious rage including a former driver who said he was beaten after someone else drove into a pole. When pressed about the beatings by Gettleman, Kagame didn’t deny being physically abusive towards his subordinates. “It’s my nature,” he said. “I can be very tough, I can make mistakes like that.” The only thing the Rwandan leader said that hinted towards some remorse for his actions was that assaulting his subordinates wasn’t a “sustainable” approach. Make of that what you will.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria
It was during this first stint that he introduced what he called “War Against Indiscipline” in an effort to get Nigerians to adopt basic civility like queuing at bus stops. He achieved this by deploying soldiers with whips at the stations. But the “War Against Indiscipline” also targeted those who worked under Buhari. At the time, civil servants who turned up late for work were forced to do frog jumps to atone for their tardiness.
Now there is talk that Buhari’s current government wants to rejuvenat the “War Against Indiscipline” and introduce it anew. According to Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the new campaign will be branded “Change Begins With Me” and will aim at raising the level of integrity, work ethic and general civil discipline in the country.
If it’s anything like the first one, this new campaign by Buhari’s administration is sure to have more than a few civil servants shaking in their boots.
President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania
John Pombe Magufuli currently has, perhaps, the best approval ratings of any president in Africa. Since taking the oath of office in November last year, he has been on a one-man campaign to rid his government of corruption, incompetence, truancy and inefficiency. He cancelled the Independence Day celebrations and led a street cleaning drive on the day instead, cut the budget for the opulent dinner meant to celebrate the opening of parliament by 90% and named 11 less minister’s than were in his predecessor’s cabinet.
Tanzanians so love Magufuli’s ‘take no prisoners’ approach they have nicknamed him “The Bulldozer”. His exploits have also intrigued the Twitter community in East Africa which has come up with #WhatWouldMagufuliDo, a tongue-in-cheek hashtag inspired by his penny-pinching ways.