It happened immediately. Almost as soon as Pope Benedict XVI announced he was leaving his position- Africans including many Ugandans took to social media and radio stations to laud his example as something their leaders should emulate. Roman Catholicism is a majority religion in many parts of Africa- and black by association to Latin America. In this way it is a religion of “underdevelopment” or of the “underdeveloped”.
Thus the decision of the revered Pope to make history at the Papacy with his resignation, a first in modern times, has a special reverberation.
His decision, brave and heroic will be treated as a legacy worth following in Africa and will form part of the view now of what African leaders should do- could do.
One is reminded of that picture of Venezuela’s ailing President Hugo Chavez and the Pope. Chavez despite his health won another election recently but could not attend his own inauguration due to ill health. Venezuela titters on uncertainty as his larger than life personality, in that majority Catholic country, becomes a focus of how power is transitioned.
It will probably end up untidy and many Venezuelans who light a candle for Chavez as they pray with the Pope- must wonder how different the two examples are. A President that fights on and refuses to leave the stage and the most conservative Pontiff in recent times who sees the merit in handing over his responsibility in order that his charge continues and is not distracted by his own more private tribulations.
In understanding the reaction of African state houses which like Uganda may have such national motto’s as “For God and My Country” and often pray for their leaders to be “guided” into sensible decisions- one must appreciate that resignation is an alien practice.
It is in some ways part of the old “theology” of rule, which is associated with something godly and therefore uninterrupted by man-made decisions. When this issue comes up resignation is spoken of as part of the toolkit of modern governance- that supports a higher moral duty for public officers.
Supporters of many leaders , exceptional in their prime- like to also think of their role as divine and construct a divinity around their personality. If the Pontiff was alive to this fact most Africans are only awakened by his “modern” approach to his responsibilities as a Pope.
Resignation is man-made, save for the Bishop of Rome, who by commission is guided by a higher power. True the church is over “2000” years old and some may well say its lessons even one as shocking as a Pope’s resignation may take another 2000 to learn- but many will now ask that their secular leaders turn a page even as they receive prayers from their supporters.
There is something else about resigning- it’s a sacrifice. It means relinquishing privilege and yes power. Many Africans may recognize their leaders claims of sacrificing for a greater cause. However they also see resignation or demand it as a cure for incompetence not to advance competence by way of guaranteeing continuity. So the Pope’s resignation is a prudent and competent act but many African leaders called to resign are facing such pressure because many view that their good days are behind them and worse- it’s unclear who will replace them.
There is another more political utility of resignation in the way that it bridges controversial transitions of power. Alongside term limits, impeachment and death in office, a resignation is one way to hand over power to a trusted lieutenant and successor to run the government ahead of their succession. The one country, which comes to mind, is Botswana where the current President Ian Kharma was handed power [as a Vice President] by his predecessor Festus Mogae.
Granted there is no adult suffrage for President in that country but the continuity amongst others has made Botswana a less volatile place than say Zimbabwe where Robert Gabriel Mugabe was raised a devout Catholic. A resignation by President Mugabe [seen at the funeral of the last Pope above]would be as shocking as Pope Benedict’s but hardly something that Zimbabweans can expect.