African viewpoint: Keeping it in the family

A banner bearing with portraits of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (Right) and his son Saif (Left) during a demonstration against the latter's decision to withdraw from politics in Tripoli on 20 October 2008

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer and politician Elizabeth Ohene ponders the pros and cons of handing on the family baton.

I suspect it should be the most natural thing to follow the profession or career of your parents.

You would probably inherit some of your musician or jeweller father's talents.

However I would say that as a rule - do not follow famous fathers.

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Sons of famous fathers and mothers seem to only dilute the brand”

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If you are Pele's son, don't go into football; if you are Bob Marley's son, don't try to make a career out of singing - and had Michelangelo had a son, believe me he would have not ended up as a great painter.

Now I have said it, just think of the number of sons of famous footballers, cricketers, lawyers, athletes who tried but never quite got there.

When we get into the world of politics, it seems it is the fathers - or sometimes mothers - who want their sons to inherit their positions.

It is a condition that tends to afflict all those who believe they are so special and so good at being leaders, only they can govern their countries properly.

Turning in his grave

According to former President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, the only reason he stood for elections in 1992 after having toiled for 11 years to set Ghana to rights, was to make sure his opponents, who he said were "thieves and rogues", did not win the election.

Cameroon's first family pictured in 2009 Paul Biya (L) now appears to be less enthusiastic about handing over to his son

But then sometimes even the best of them entertain the idea of their own mortality and therefore try to get a son to succeed them to ensure that the beloved nation does not fall into the hands of opponents who just might be thieves and rogues.

Unfortunately these sons that are born to rule often tend, like the royal princes of old, to have a difficult time growing up and get themselves into all sorts of scrapes.

And what is more, sons of famous fathers and mothers seem to only dilute the brand.

Poor Hosni Mubarak, if after having given 30 years of devoted service to Egypt, by his own accounting and taken only take a few months vacation throughout the period, he needed to have his son to protect his good works, I would have said: "You deserve whatever you get after me."

And there is Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo lying in his grave watching his son Faure in coalition with his lifetime foe Gilchrist Olympio.

The late Omar Bongo must be smiling since his son Ali is making sure Gabon remains true to his legacy.

Too many sons?

Paul Biya of Cameroon - only one year junior to Mr Mubarak in longevity - is, according to rumours, losing the appetite to promote his son Frank to succeed him and protect Cameroon from falling into the hands of his opponents.

I wonder if it has anything to do with all that footage from Egypt he has been watching on television.

I have not heard of a junior Yoweri Museveni who can step into his father's shoes and so the Ugandans simply have to accept that the man himself has to stay on to protect his achievements. After all, the constitution has been changed to scrap the two-term limit for presidents.

But what on earth would a junior Museveni's claim to fame be? He could not claim to have fought a bush war against Idi Amin or Milton Obote.

Spare a thought for Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's deposed president.

He has all these daughters and one son who was not old enough. Somehow daughters do not seem to fit the bill.

The problem with Muammar Gaddafi is that we have not just a son, but many sons and I do not think he knows which of them could step into his non-existent position and protect his 42-year Libyan legacy.

But really, can any one of them possibly out-Gaddafi the leader?

And just how do you top cockroaches and rats for compatriots?

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's latest column, please use the form below. A selection of views will be published.

Nice and wonderful article by my fellow countrywoman, I say well done. The issues at hand in northern Africa are very disturbing. Why should a credible leader pass power over to his son? Is the country for that family alone and are they the only credible people to handle power in that state? They should all step down so there can be peace in Africa.

Roland Marvin Mills, Accra, Ghana

I consider it quite prudent for all nations both in the Arab world and Africa to enact laws in their constitutions so that any leader can only serve two four year terms. The inheritance of state power by siblings should be made illegal and unconstitutional. Such provisions should be immune to any amendment.

Hashim Daboh, London , UK

Politics of the sons taking over from their fathers sounds interesting and perplexing at the same time. Yes, it may be true and a right practice in the feudal system, but in the modern-day democratic societies the practice is misplaced. Mainly, the sons are proxies and fronts of the sycophants of the parent. They have no clout or merits because of growing up spoiled.

George Oyeho, St Paul, Minnesota, US

All this you will see on the African continent. African leaders are selfish and greedy. They take leadership as their family and children's right. I urge Africans to rise up against dictators - let us say no to power-drunk leaders.

Paul Chibuzor Anyaorah, Amaokpala Town, Nigeria

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