From Bozizé to Zuma, the African leaders' children in the hotseat over graft allegations

Seyllou, AFP | A portrait of former Senegal minister Karim Wade, son of ex-president Abdoulaye Wade, is held up during an opposition protest in Dakar in February 2015.
Text by: Florence RICHARD
7 min

Is being the son or daughter of a president the best way to get rich in Africa? You could try asking Duduzane Zuma, Teodorin Obiang or Julienne Sassou-Nguesso. But the justice system and public opinion are poised to have their say, too.


Over the past year, Duduzane Zuma, South African leader Jacob Zuma’s son and one of 21 Zuma children, has been fighting accusations of corruption and collusion with the Guptas, a wealthy and controversial Indian-born business family. The junior Zuma told the BBC last week that there was “nothing untoward” about his business ties with the Gupta family. “I don’t think they wanted anything from me. They liked me. As I liked them,” Duduzane said, calling himself “a likeable guy”. He added, “I’ve not involved myself in any corrupt practice, in any corrupt business.”

The younger Zuma joins a circle of sons and daughters of African leaders, often apparently destined for high office, who have been hampered by scandal. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look.

South Africa: Duduzane Zuma, dogged by scandal

Jacob Zuma survived a no-confidence vote in parliament in August – only the latest in a long series. But his 35-year-old son, too, is taking heat from the country’s opposition and part of South African civil society for alleged corruption. Outa, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, a non-profit anti-corruption group, filed a complaint against Duduzane last month accusing him and three Gupta brothers of treason, racketeering, extortion, fraud and forgery.

“It is difficult to imagine an innocent explanation for Duduzane Zuma’s meteoric rise within the [Gupta’s] Sahara organisation,” Outa’s August affidavit states. “He was first appointed to Sahara’s board of directors on 13 August 2008. At the time, he was only 26 years old and could boast no obvious qualifications.” The document goes on to note the 35-year-old has today “amassed a vast fortune” and “has multiple business interests many of which involve the Gupta family”, while Outa maintains that the younger Zuma “provides access to his father”. The period in question coincides, as it happens, with the rise to power of Jacob Zuma, who became president of the ruling African National Congress in 2007 and South Africa’s president in 2009.

A 355-page report by the nation’s anti-graft watchdog last year catalogued accusations of influence peddling and detailed the president’s potentially problematic ties to the Guptas in an explosive addition to a long saga of corruption allegations against South Africa’s leader.

On Tuesday, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) failed in its latest attempt to oust Zuma before the 2019 elections, losing a motion to have parliament dissolved and see a general election called. The DA has cited a Zuma tenure marred by sleaze and corruption allegations. “South Africa deserves a fresh start and the constitution makes provision for early elections in instances such as these, where there is a legitimacy crisis,” John Steenhuisen, the party’s chief whip, said shortly before a vote that ended with only 83 lawmakers in favour and 229 against.

Equatorial Guinea: Teodorin Obiang, the big spender

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Teodorin Obiang was at the heart of one of the most hotly anticipated trials of the summer, part of France’s vast so-called “ill-gotten assets” probe. The broad and lengthy investigation also concerns purchases made on French soil by longtime African leaders and their relatives in countries including Gabon and the Republic of Congo.

The eldest son of Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang was tried in absentia. The former Agriculture and Forestry Minister – who was promoted to vice president by his father – denied the charges against him, including laundering embezzled public funds.

A big-spending playboy born in 1969, Teodorin built up a lavish collection of assets in France, including art pieces, luxury cars and a building on Paris’s posh Avenue Foch, a property that alone is valued at €107 million. The crux of his trial was to determine whether the junior Obiang’s assets were obtained legally or fraudulently. The public prosecutor is calling for three years in prison, a €30 million fine and the seizure of the assets in question. The verdict is due on October 27.

Republic of Congo: Julienne Sassou-Nguesso, a daughter under investigation

Julienne Sassou-Nguesso, daughter of Republic of Congo leader Denis Sassou-Nguesso, was placed under formal investigation alongside her husband at the end of June in another component of France’s ill-gotten assets trial. The French justice system is particularly interested in learning the provenance of funds that allowed the couple to buy a €3 million seven-room mansion with an indoor pool in the affluent Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine in 2006. They subsequently added €5.34 million in large-scale renovation work to the property. A number of the Sassou-Nguesso family’s properties have already been seized, alongside an array of luxury cars.

Senegal: Karim Wade, the pardoned successor

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In March 2015, Karim Wade, son of Senegalese ex-president Abdoulaye Wade, was sentenced to six years in prison and handed a €210 million fine by a special Senegalese court charged with reining in ill-gotten gains. He had been accused of illegally acquiring assets valued at €178 million during the time that he was an advisor, and then a cabinet minister, under his father. In June 2016, current Senegalese President Macky Sall pardoned the junior Wade after he had served three years behind bars in Dakar. After his release, he moved to Qatar, where he lives today.

Wade’s 91-year-old father, who led Senegal between 2000 and 2012, failed in his bid for a comeback in legislative elections in July. Observers believe Wade sought to return to power largely as a means of obtaining amnesty for his son Karim, whom the senior Wade had always pegged as a natural successor.

Central African Republic: Jean-Francis Bozizé, the return home

The son of former CAR President François Bozizé – who was ousted by Seleka rebels in a 2013 coup d’état – had been subject to an international arrest warrant issued by the Central African Republic accusing him of torture, embezzlement of public funds and complicity in murder. Until his surprise return to Central African soil last month, the junior Bozizé had taken refuge in France. Back home, he was quickly taken into custody by the MINUSCA, the United Nations peacekeeping force in CAR, then released under court supervision. The younger Bozizé remains in Central African Republic, while his father, in exile, is subject to his own international arrest warrant, issued by CAR in July 2013.

Egypt: Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, the free prodigal sons

Sons of former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, Gamal and Alaa were accused, like their father, of having diverted €10 million in public funds for the maintenance of presidential palaces. In January 2016, an appeals court confirmed three-year prison sentences for all three men. They were also handed a fine of 125 million Egyptian pounds (about €15 million) and made to reimburse 21 million pounds (€2.5 million) to the state. Both sons, who are in their fifties, were freed for time served taking into account the years they spent in provisional detention after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ousted their father. Mubarak père, for his part, was cleared of murder charges in another trial in March over protesters killed during that uprising. The 89-year-old Mubarak was later released from the Cairo military hospital where he had been detained for the better part of six years.

This article has been translated and adapted from the original in French.

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