African leaders in 2012

It has been a turbulent year in African politics. Three presidents and a prime minister died, an interim president was seized in a coup, Angola's president secured his fifth consecutive term, and 10 other leaders assumed office. Here’s a quick recap.

Macky Sall, Senegal

Geologist-turned-politician Macky Sall was sworn in as Senegal’s new president on April 2. He bagged 65.8% of votes in in a peaceful election to beat Abdoulaye Wade, the man he helped get re-elected for a second term five years ago. Sall is no stranger to politics, having served as mayor and prime minister previously. In 2008 he was removed from the National Assembly after falling out with Wade. He formed his own party and successfully contested the elections with the support of opposition candidates.


Joyce Banda, Malawi

Malawi’s first female vice-president made new history in April when she became the country’s first female leader. She was sworn in after the death of 78-year-old former president Bingu wa Mutharika. He led Malawi since 2004, surprising many by selecting a woman as his running mate. The two fell out when Banda refused to endorse Wa Mutharika’s brother to succeed him as president in 2014 when he was due to retire. Soon after she was sworn in, Banda devalued the Kwacha to unlock donor funding and has been applauded for leading by example in difficult economic times. She slashed her salary by 30% and announced that she would sell off the presidential jet and fleet of 60 luxury limousines accumulated by her predecessor. 

Thomas Thabane, Lesotho

Lesotho’s new prime minister was sworn in on June 8 after forming a coalition government that unseated former leader Pakalitha Mosisili. While Mosisili’s party won the majority of seats – 40 – in the parliamentary elections, Thabane’s All Basotho Convention teamed up with opposition parties to secure 65 seats between them. Mosisili promptly resigned, and the elections were hailed as a peaceful handover. Thabane has promised to focus on key issues such as economic growth and poverty during his term.

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt 

Sixteen months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, winning 51.7% of the vote in the June 24 elections. He beat his rival Ahmed Shafiq who was prime minister under Mubarak. An American-trained engineer, Morsi is Egypt’s fifth president and the first from outside the military. In a shock move in November that caused Egypt to re-erupt in protests, Morsi issued a decree that gave him immunity from judicial oversight. After weeks of bloody street clashes, he revoked most of the decree but protests continue in Cairo over Morsi’s push for a referendum on Egypt’s draft constitution. Opposition groups are against it, saying the Islamist-leaning document limits freedoms and fails to protect the rights of women. 

José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola

One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders secured another five-year term in September when his party, the MPLA, won nearly two-thirds of the vote in the Angolan elections. Seventy-year-old dos Santos has been in power since 1979. This was the third national election to be held in the country since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975. While an MPLA victory was widely anticipated due to the weak state of opposition parties, dos Santos faces growing discontent from them and ordinary Angolans over economic inequality and rampant corruption.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia 

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a university lecturer, was elected president of Somalia on September 10. He received the majority of the votes in a hotly contested election to defeat former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Two days later, Mohamud survived an assassination attempt by the anti-government group al-Shabab who have denounced the election as a foreign plot to control the country. He is actively involved in NGO work and is regarded as a political and civic activist.

Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Parliament installed Hailemariam Desalegn as the new prime minister in September. He succeeds Meles Zenawi who died of an undisclosed illness in August. Since 2010, Desalgen served a dual role as deputy prime minister and foreign minister in Zenawi’s cabinet. He was a close ally of the former leader and swore to maintain his legacy. “We will reinforce democracy and human rights in the country,” he  vowed when taking the oath of office.

Ali Zidan, Libya

Libya’s national congress elected former diplomat and human rights lawyer Ali Zidan as prime minister on October 14. He replaces Mustafa Abushagur, who was sacked after just a month in office for failing to gain parliamentary approval for his cabinet choices. Zidan is seen to have more political savvy that Abushagur in dealing with Libya’s ideological and political divisions. A defector from Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, he helped mobilise international support for the rebellion against the former leader. He has mammoth challenges to face in his new post, including the drafting of a new constitution, fractious lawmakers and militant groups that pose a threat to Libya’s security.

Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, Guinea-Bissau

Presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau were scheduled for April after president Malam Bacai Sanhá died in January. Two weeks before the polls opened, the interim President Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior were arrested in a coup. They were later released. In June, the junta and Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) mediators agreed on a new interim president to lead the transitional government: former parliamentary speaker Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who was also a presidential candidate in the April poll. Ecowas has deployed peacekeeping troops to secure the transition period which is expected to last two years. Since independence in 1974, no Guinea-Bissau leader has served a full term in office. 

Ernest Bai Karoma, Sierra Leone

Incumbent Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Karoma’s party won the majority of seats in Parliament in the November 17 election. Karoma secured his re-election with 57% of the vote, but the opposition, Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), claimed the results  were marred by fraud and announced a boycott at all levels of government. On December 4, SLPP leader Julius Maada Bio conceded defeat to Karoma. This was the country’s third election since the end of the civil war in 2002.

John Dramani Mahama, Ghana

Incumbent President John Dramani Mahama, who replaced former president John Atta Mills after his sudden death in July, snatched victory in the December elections with 50.7% of the vote. He faced tough competition from his main opposition rival Nana Akufo-Addo, who also lost the 2008 election by less than 1%. This year’s vote was marred by delays and allegations of tampering, and there are fears that unrest could erupt over the results.  Mahama has vowed to oversee annual economic growth and jumpstart development and job creation during his tenure.  

– Source: Sapa, BBC, Reuters, AFP, al-Jazeera

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