Want to become president in Africa? Well, how about starting out as a guerilla leader first? A recent survey by The Economist magazine of 5,000 politicians in the International Who’s Who to determine why some professions are so well represented in politics and why different countries favour different professions for choice of their political leaders turns out some interesting findings. In Africa, the findings are perhaps not that surprising considering that several presidents in Africa started out as guerilla leaders. Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda , Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso are all sitting heads of state who started out as guerilla chiefs. Jacob Zuma of South Africa is a fresh entrant to the club. Two decades ago, the rule rather than the exception in Africa was that you started out in the military or as a guerilla chief before becoming president. Think here of Samora Machel,Sam Nojuma ,Robert Mugabe,Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela, Muamar Gaddaffi etc.
In the west, the picture is starkly different. An amazing a third of all members of the German parliament are lawyers. We all know that a certain Barrack Obama, Clinton (Bill and Hillary) are all lawyers and so is current Vice President, Joe Biden. Obama’s inner circle is said to be filled with old boys from Harvard Law. And if that wont do it for you consider that over a half of the entire United States Senate is made up of lawyers.
In China, the current and previous presidents are engineers. Chinese President Hu Jintao is a hydraulic engineer. The immediate past president Jiang Zemin was a soviet-trained electrical engineer. The current Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao is a geological engineer and eight out of the nine-member elite Chinese politburo is made up of engineers.
In Britain, the selection bias is said to be more dynastic than professional and the political class network there is formed at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
The United States too is no stranger to political dynasties if you think of the Kennedy Clan or more recently, the Bush Clan. In France, the elite Ecole Nationale Administration or ENA has trained most of the ‘super-civil servants’ who run the French civil service- a favoured route to politics. Seven out of the last 11 prime ministers of France have been alumni of the ENA. Lawyers still dominate in France as well and nine out of the Nicholas Sarkozy’ s first cabinet of 16 was made up of lawyers who included the President, Finance Minister and Prime Minister. Businessmen are said to be the second most important players in politics in Europe represented by two-time Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi ,the proprietor of AC Milan foot ball club. Business men’s foray into politics is clearly out of self-interest.
The Economist ‘s survey further shows that certain professions dominate politics in some countries. It’s shown for example that in Egypt academics are favoured, in South Korea, civil servants and in Brazil its doctors.
Politics itself has emerged as a profession on its own with many of the politicians in Britain and the United States jumping straight from university to party politics without getting a ‘real job’ first. Here we can cite the examples of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron and to a certain extent, Barrack Obama and Bill Clinton.
Going back to a country’s preferences for political office based on profession, interesting explanations which range from history, culture and stage of development are offered. For instance it is suggested that that lawyers are favored for political office in western democracies because they are given to ‘marshaling evidence, appealing to juries, command of procedure’ and that engineers are favoured in China because they know ‘how to build physical structures and keep them intact’ a preoccupation of communist regimes. Former Russian President, Boris Yelstin was an engineer-turned politician.
In Africa, the guerilla leader has been the most favoured occupational pathway to the presidency owing to the historic struggles for independence but also because of the political economy of armed violence in Africa.
So, next time that little kid asks you what it takes to become president of a country in Africa you know what to say.