This man Nkurunziza; but he is not unique

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

When, out of their outpouring love for their leader, officials of Burundi's ruling CNDD-FDD party bestowed the title of 'eternal supreme guide' on President Pierre Nkurunziza, they were just continuing in a long tradition of leaders- especially in Africa- to be bestowed with titles ‘commensurate’ with the high office they are hold.

In a move that was greeted with astonishment in some parts of the world and a knowing smile in the rest, a CNDD-FDD official told the media that there was no sinister motive behind the move, as they were only appreciating the service he had accorded the party.

It was interesting to note that days before the new role, officials of a football club in the country were arrested after their team allegedly ‘harassed’ the head of state. It later emerged that the players, who were said to be Congolese, did not show respect to the president and challenged him for the ball at will. It was also said that referees usually allow Nkurunziza, who turns up for a team called Alleluia FC, to score bogus goals.

It is still not clear what the new title the president got would mean in the day-to-day running of the country.

If there was one who was very clear on what his title accorded him, then that is former DR Congo President the late Mobutu Sese Seko. Born Joseph Desire Mobutu, the man accredited with the infamy of looting Congo (which he renamed Zaire) later changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga—meaning "the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake".

At the height of Mobutu’s power, the evening news on television was preceded by an image of him descending through clouds like a god from the heavens. Portraits of him adorned many public places, and government officials wore lapels bearing his portrait. He held such titles as "Father of the Nation", "Messiah", "Guide of the Revolution", "Helmsman", "Founder", "Savior of the People", and "Supreme Combatant".

Former benefactors

Round about the same time Mobutu was looming large in Zaire, another megalomaniac by the name of Jean Bedel Bokassa was running amok in the Central African Republic. The man was not only a dictator, but went ahead to eat his political opponents- he was accused of cannibalism.

He changed his fiefdom from a country to an empire and the coronation bill almost bankrupted the country. Tired of him, his former benefactors, the French, finally got rid of him in a coup.

In Gambia, the official title of the former citizen number one was His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa (Conqueror of Two Rivers) is a huge development. He too contributed to poor economic performance and was also known for his healing prayers where all diseases – including cancer and HIV/Aids- were cast out. Now, if the president rules that you are HIV/Aids free, I doubt if anyone would dare contradict him.

But eccentricity is not the exclusive preserve of African despots. In North Korea, the secretive dynasty that has been lording it over the citizenry run the state like some occult. The world watched mesmerised in 2011 when after the death of Kim Jong-Il secret service agents patrolled the streets of Pyongyang checking on people who did not look grieved enough with the death.

Coming in for a serious tongue lashing was their southern neighbour South Korea to which the Pyongyang government said: "We will surely force the group of traitors to pay for its hideous crimes committed at the time of the great national misfortune.”

In Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov died in 2016 after 27 years in power. His countrymen were shattered, at least according to what they told the state media. “When we found out about his death, all my family — my wife, my son’s wife, the children — were crying. We couldn’t believe it,” a 58-year-old resident was quoted as saying.

State broadcaster

In Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is described as the subject of one of the world’s most bloated personality cults. To boost his sporting CV- once again according to the hardworking state media- he engaged the golfing legend Jack Nicklaus to build a golf course outside the capital city, Ashgabat.

“Our nation’s leader hit the hole from 75 metres [246ft] despite windy conditions,” the state broadcaster gushed although it was careful not to show the president making the alleged good shot. Independent news sources later claimed that the good old president’s shot flew wide off the mark, probably landing on the head of a passer-by outside the golf course.

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