Amid ongoing unrest in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, not to mention the unsettling spread of the Ebola virus across the African continent, many African heads of state have maintained approval ratings north of 50%. A Gallup poll released in early August ranked presidents from more than half of the sub-Saharan African countries, asking respondents: do you approve or disapprove of the way [NAME] is handling his/her job as president? Here, we round up the winners, the losers, and the surprises…
Topping the list at 86% job approval is Malian President Ibrahim Boubecar Keita, commonly referred to as IBK, who took office a little over one year ago. Expectations were high – after eighteen months of political instability in Bamako and extremist violence in northern Mali, IBK was elected in a vote fast-tracked by Paris to get the country back in order (and facilitate the French military withdrawal.) But while his initial moves were promising – emphasizing national unity for example – reconciliation between north and south has faltered, as have peace talks with separatist rebels. What’s more, his administration has come under fire from for alleged misuse of international funds thanks to the government’s purchase of a $40 million private jet, thereby endangering the country’s much-needed influx of foreign cash. (The IMF suspended a $46 million loan pending an investigation into the purchase). Nonetheless, IBK remains a popular figure, both at home and abroad, and benefits from support from influential quarters – namely the military junta that still wields broad influence in Bamako and the Elysée in Paris.
IBK’s Cameroonian homologue Paul Biya isn’t far behind with 70% of favorable opinions. That President Biya has fostered such loyalty among his constituency is surprising; in power for over three decades — hence his inclusion in our 10,000 Days Dictator Club — Biya has not only perfected vote-rigging techniques, but presided over the spread of government corruption, nepotism, faulty education and health systems, and widespread human rights violations. His high approval ratings likely have more to do resignation with the long-standing leader than actual enthusiasm. According to Gallup, “relatively high job performance ratings may signal people’s tacit approval as they see no viable alternatives.” Indeed.
Near the bottom of the list is another member of the 10,000 Days Dictator Club: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who has been in office for a remarkable 12,000+ days. Thanks to his disastrous economic policies, the nation once referred to as Africa’s breadbasket has been overtaken by poverty, driving over a quarter of Zimbabwe’s population to flee. That said, Mugabe’s ratings have seen a slight jump over the past two years; in 2011, the Gallup poll rated the Zimbabwean leader third from the bottom, three slots lower than his current ranking.
Rounding out the bottom of the list are two African leaders grappling with serious security crises: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila, who are ranked second to last and last, respectively. Goodluck Jonathan’s low placement with a 43% approval rating is no doubt thanks to his disastrous management of the security situation in Nigeria where an incoherent government strategy has failed to contain the spread of Boko Haram, a radical Islamist insurgency, and alienated marginalized groups in the process. Namely Nigerians in the country’s impoverished north. (See our 2014 RED ZONE: Nigeria.) It’s worth noting that the Gallup poll was taken before the mass kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants and Jonathan’s inept response. One can safely presume that his ratings have sunk even lower since.
As for Joseph Kabila, his regime is responsible for countless alleged human rights violations, including the recruitment of child soldiers. Human rights groups report thousands of cases of rape, many by Kabila’s own security forces. Though he is the first Congolese president to be democratically elected in the wake of the country’s 1960 declaration of independence from Belgium, his subsequent re-elections have been plagued by rumors of vote fraud and corruption. Despite his blemished record, Kabila has managed to hold on to his office, even garnering an invitation this year to a summit of African leaders hosted by Washington on August 4-6. His attendance prompted a protest outside the State Department, where demonstrators chanted “President Obama, shame on you.”