African leaders should learn to relinquish power.

The late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, once said, “I would love to be the African leader that steps down, that overthrows this idea of a “Big Man” ruler. I don’t want to stay in office forever.” (

Meles Zenawi was known for advocating for democratic governance and leadership transitions in Africa. His statement above reflects his belief in the importance of avoiding autocratic leadership and promoting democratic principles.

His rejection of the “Big Man” syndrome goes counter to what is prevalent in many African countries where there is a historical pattern of leaders clinging to power indefinitely, often becoming dictators who amass significant authority, wealth, and control. Meles Zenawi’s statement suggests his desire to break away from this pattern and promote leadership that is accountable and not centered around a single powerful individual (the “Big Man”).

His emphasis on leaders stepping down and not wanting to stay in office forever aligns with the principles of democratic governance. He believed that leaders should respect term limits, allow for regular elections, and ensure a peaceful transfer of power. This stance is crucial for fostering stability, fairness, and progress within a country.

By expressing his willingness to step down and reject the idea of indefinite rule, Zenawi aimed to set a positive example for other African leaders. His hope was to encourage a new generation of leaders (the example of Senegal), who prioritise democratic values and the well-being of their nations over personal power and longevity in office as is the case in Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, among others.

Overall, Meles Zenawi’s statement reflects his aspiration to see a shift towards more democratic and accountable governance in Africa, where leaders serve their terms and willingly transfer power to ensure the continuity of democratic institutions and the welfare of their citizens.


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