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Profile: Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, President of Nigeria

YarAdua cartoonOn 30 October 2008, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua finally began a long-awaited process of reshuffling his cabinet with the removal of 20 ministers. This first shake-up to his inaugural cabinet – appointed in 2007 – had been long awaited, and at least since the sudden dismissal in August of the secretary to the federal government, Babagana Kingibe, when the president returned from a 17-day trip to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.?


For Yar’Adua’s critics, the delay in appointing a new government was just more evidence that he seemed incapable of decisive action – something which has earned him the nickname ‘Mr Go Slow’ or, worse, ‘Mr Standstill’. Political pundits have attributed his indecisiveness to at least four factors: his ill-health, his ill-preparedness for the job, the self-aggrandisement of members of his ‘kitchen cabinet’ and the opposition parties’ case before the Supreme Court challenging the validity of his election in April 2007.??


When anointed presidential candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2006, Yar’Adua was governor of the conservative and overwhelmingly Hausa-Fulani and Muslim Katsina state and this was not much of a training ground for the complex job of presiding over the affairs of a multicultural and multi-religious country. Although he pioneered several successful agricultural projects, the eight years of his governorship was also overshadowed by ill-health. It is suggested his predecessor, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, picked him so that he could carry on ruling by proxy. As governor, Yar’Adua did not travel much, apart from trips abroad for medical treatment. He hardly attended meetings of the Governors’ Forum or the Council of State and, when he did, he spoke little.


?After more than 18 months in office, the reclusive president is still a mystery to his compatriots. However, he and his closest supporters have shown surprising independence from his predecessor, Obasanjo, and this could yet mark him out as a new, if unusual, kind of leader.?


Yar’Adua certainly has a political pedigree, not least through his famous elder brother, the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who served as deputy to Obasanjo in the military government of 1976-79 and helped establish the movement that eventually became the PDP. In 1979, the younger Yar’Adua was an activist in the left-leaning People’s Redemption Party and performed official duties for Kaduna state’s radical governor of the time, Balarabe Musa. However, even then, he had a reputation for the same tendency of being reclusive.??


If Nigerians are frustrated by their lack of knowledge of their president, they have to look to those closest to him for clues. These include his economic adviser Tanimu Yakubu (the two men have come a long way from the late 1970s when the president taught at the Kaduna College of Arts and Science where Yakubu was an activist student), Katsina businessman Dahiru Barau Mangal, governor Abubakar Bukola Saraki of Kwara state, governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina state, and a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori (one of the main financiers of his presidential campaign). But the first and foremost influence of those closest to him is his wife, Turai, described by one insider as his “alpha and omega”. The public has come to believe that she is not just the power behind the throne but the one sitting on the throne itself; the view gained so much currency that presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi was forced to write a lengthy article recently denouncing such belief as malicious.



Published in December 2008

Profile: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia

On 7 November 2008, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, at 72 years old, began his 22nd year in power, and is readying himself to win his fifth - and final- five-year mandate in the 2009 presidential elections.


A previous career in the army led to the post of head of the military security services (1964-1974), and then head of national security (1977-1980). Ben Ali was promoted to minister of the interior, then made prime minister in October 1987. He deposed President Habib Bourguiba, whose senility brought chaos to the end of his reign. Once head of state in November 1987, Ben Ali followed a reformist but prudent path, to avoid, in his words, "any slip-ups".


In politics, a mix of openness and authoritarianism has characterised his method in the democratic transition. On one hand, the presence in parliament of representatives of the 'moderate' opposition has been permitted, allowing them at present 20% of the seats, regardless of their election results. This does not prevent them being labelled as symbolic. The radical opposition and human rights defenders often complain of police harassment. The Islamist movement, created in 1981, turned out to have the largest popular support in the country after the ruling party in the parliamentary elections in 1989 - and since then has been outlawed.


As a sign of potential openness, for the 2009 presidential elections, any citizen can run, but on the conditions of having gained the support of at least 30 MPs or mayors, and not being over 75 years old. In fact, because of the weakness of the opposition and the monopoly held by the presidential party, these conditions are impossible to meet. The constitution, exceptionally, has been amended to allow the heads of legal opposition parties, even 'radical' ones, to become candidates.


Ben Ali has nevertheless drawn some lessons from two recent events that prove all is not well with Tunisia's youth. First, at the end of 2006, a small Salafist (hard-line Islamist) group, even though quickly neutralised, revealed the existence of a minority of youths who were drawn into violent protest. Then during the first quarter of 2008, in the mining region of Gafsa, in the south, several towns and villages were the theatre of conflict between the forces of order and young unemployed demonstrators. In response, the president shook up his ministerial team, bringing youth into the government and into his ruling party, the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique.


On the economic front, and despite the preoccupations caused by an unemployment rate of 14%, even higher among young graduates, the success of the Tunisian economy has been recognised by international bodies and ratings agencies. Ben Ali has been a liberal reformer with a taste for free entreprise, spending a large part of his time on economic development, particularly to attract foreign investment. The economic growth rate has been around 5% a year over the last 15 years. And for several years, Tunisia has been in the top 50 of the Davos competitiveness report, at 36th place in the 2008/09 edition.


Tunisia was also the first country of the south Mediterranean to sign a partnership agreement with the EU in 1995. This undertook to progressively reduce tariff barriers between the two, which culminated in the free trade zone agreement which came into force from 1 January 2008.


The only problem is that an open economy in which 80% of trade is with the EU makes Tunisia a hostage to the fortunes of Europe. If recession hits the EU in the wake of the financial crisis, it will no doubt have an impact on Tunisia, and may well aggravate unemployment. Another challenge for Ben Ali.

Banking: Kenya goes regional


Kenya banks map

As businesses look for financial institutions that can add value to their companies, Kenyan banks are diversifying their locations and services in the wider East African region in the hopes of becoming the lynchpin of the blossoming EAC’s financial sector



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