In 2018 the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) opined that less than 40 percent of countries in Africa have effected constitutional term limits. The ACSS said presidents in just 15 of the 55 states have relinquished power after two terms. In recent times, President Sirleaf (Liberia) and Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone) received the accolade of leaving power after the expiration of their two terms of service. The issue of constitution alteration is recurrent in French speaking Africa as compared to the English speaking countries of Africa.
Non-respects of term limits
After gaining independence more than 50 years ago, the African continent set its pace into achieving democracy, most importantly political democracy. Most of these autonomous nations have known only one or two presidents since then, presenting a big problematic of what political democracy is all about in the post-independence Africa. In present day Africa, a new study has revealed that the upsurge in the number of conflicts in Africa is directly related to non-respect of presidential term limits by serving African presidents. Thus, experts have warned that if African leaders respect the constitution clauses on term limits for presidents, they would be doing a great deal for their respective nations. The reawakening of the African mind especially among the young politicians have brought them to the realities of life. Why should a leader rule for 30 years? Why should a constitution be amended to permit one person stay in power?
All these questions and many more push Africans and the opposition to call for political reforms, and when governments undermine their plea, they become radical, hence public disturbance becomes the last resort. Joseph Siegle, director of research at Africa Center for Strategic Studies ACSS in an interview with the ‘Voice of America’ stated; “The lack of term limits has created systems where populations cannot change their leaders through constitutional and established political means.” “It leaves fewer options of using the political process to make those changes and leads to justification for violent alternative measures to be taken,” he reiterated. According to Siegle, the link between term limits and conflict mirrors the spring of political violence in Africa. The breach of constitution gives room for clashes in Africa stemming from non-respect of the will of the people.
Former presidents voice concern
Aware of the fact that most current heads of states are obscuring the dawn of democracy in Africa, some ex leaders recently raised their voices, calling for the respect of the constitution by the incumbents. These former leaders including Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-Liberia, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Nicéphore Soglo (Benin), Dr. Amos Sawyer (Liberia), Mahamane Ousmane (Niger), and Catherine Samba-Panza (Central African Republic) in conjuction with Niger’s serving leader Mahamadou Issoufou strongly bemoaned the violation of the constitution by leaders wanting to extend their reigns. This was echoed this month in Niamey-Niger during a summit on Constitutional term limit organized by the National Democratic Institute NDI in partnership with the Africa Forum; the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA); and the Kofi Annan Foundation. The summit presented an excellent avenue for stakeholders to discuss impediments of democratic processes on the continent, accentuating on the ‘’erosion of the constitutional rule of law by extending and amending presidential term limits’’. Host President Issoufou noted that there is high propensity for leaders to abuse power, which is evident in their long stay in power. Mahamadou Issoufou used this platform to decline seeking a third term after his mandate expires in 2021.
Effects of amending constitution
The grave effect of amending the constitution to keep a leader in power is civil disturbance. A case in time is Guinea Conakry that has seen tumultuous moments after President Alpha Conde is on the verge of amending the constitution in order to maintain his grip on power. This has met much resistance from the opposition. Conde’s final mandate ends in 2020, as spelt out by the country’s constitution. He ascended the chair in 2010. Youths have turned radical in recent times decrying all moves by the Conde regime to alter the laws governing the nation. Countries including Burundi, Comoros, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Uganda, Togo, and Egypt among other nations have altered their constitutions paving the way for long serving leaders to maintain their hold on power.
For example, Cameroon has known only two presidents since gaining independence in 1960. President Paul Biya served 37 years as president. All these moves have always met strong resistance from opposition parties and the populace decrying the hijacking of political power by a single political party.
It is no denying fact that Africa has recorded enormous strides in upholding the principles of political democracy and ensuring peaceful transition, however, more is still needed from political leaders if they want peace to prevail and open the continent for proper investment.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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