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Monsieur President, Please Retire


Senegal's recent presidential election saw Abdoulaye Wade fighting for a third term in office despite prominent protests calling for  the 85-year-old to let go of his reign. The message heard around the African continent is that Africans have had enough - enough of leaders who don't want to leave their posts when it's time. Counting the number of African heads of state that have come into power, after independence, and have breached or amended policies to suit their megalomaniac quests for absolute power is far from a difficult task. Over half of the world’s top ten longest ruling non-royal leaders hail from Africa with almost no end in sight to their divine right-like presidencies. In a continent where at least 40% of the population is below the age of 15, it’s astounding to think that many citizens in various nations have never seen more than one president in their lifetime.

From the infamous and controversial 87-year-old Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe - who has been the president of that country since 1987, to the younger but just as outspoken leader of The Gambia - Yahya Jammeh - who was re-elected for the third time since 1996 and vowed to rule for another billion years (God willing). Over in the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Joseph Kabila was controversially re-elected last year for a second term, since 2001, as the country’s head of state, with the usual accusations of voter fraud and intimidation of opposition leaders and voters that have come to be part of the status quo surrounding elections in African nations.

Unfortunately, the competition of who can re-elect themselves the most or stay in power the longest doesn’t end there. Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré, who famously ousted preceding president Thomas Sankara in a coup, has spent a comfortable 24 years as the country’s President – with the exception of the 2011 Burkinabe Mutiny that forced the president to briefly flee from his presidential compound in the capital city. In February of last year, Ugandan incumbent President Yoweri Museveni once again sent the message that he was serious about abolishing a limit to presidential terms when he was re-elected to office after holding the post since the mid-80s. And let’s not forget Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos who hasn’t budged from his position since 1979.

But if ever there were an award for the longest-standing African leader, we’d have to give first place to the recently re-elected Paul Biya of Cameroon who assumed office in 1975 and doesn’t like the idea of anyone messing with his political world record of almost 37 years in office.

Yet, in all this political stagnation there is still hope to be found. Around this time last year, the world witnessed an unprecedented eruption of civilian-led protests that shook-up the political climate in much of the Middle East and North Africa. These revolutionary uprisings permanently transformed social media and gave a new understanding to the phrase ‘power to the people’. The citizens of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya all succeeded in ousting the long-standing leaders of their countries – a never before seen ripple effect. The Arab Spring has had an immense and transformative effect in several African countries with recent “occupy” protests occurring in Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana.We are yet to see more leaders forced out of their tainted and never-ending presidencies but the political landscape of Africa seems to finally be reflecting the brewing sentiments of its populations.

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Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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