As it stands, 2020 has been defined by many as an election year in Africa as several nations will be conducting presidential elections. However, it has remained problematic and chaotic for some countries as the population cannot attest to the fact that some presidents have violated the rule by amending the constitution, which gives them eligibility to stay in power or seek another mandate. This aspect is at the center of anti–government protests in Africa. A case in hand is the Republic of Guinea where outgoing president Alpha Conde is at the verge of changing the country’s governing laws or constitution to permit him to seek a third term in office upon expiry of this tenure in office.
The Mid-October declaration
In mid-October 2019, 81-year-old President Alpha Conde revealed plans of drafting a new constitution. The nationals, however, received this with mixed feelings. His critics feared he was at the verge of seeking a third term. Though, he has not publicly declared his intention to do so. Conakry [the capital city] and elsewhere in the country have witnessed anti–conde protests. The opposition sees this move as an attempt to breach the constitution that only allows a sitting leader to serve two terms. Thus, running in the upcoming election stands in contravention of the governing laws of Guinea.
In November 2019, Amnesty International, in its report, warned of a more chaotic than the stable political atmosphere in the country, should Alpha Conde contest the 2020 poll. In Guinea today, the buoyancy in the political arena has died as the opposition continues to express discontent over the leadership of Prof Alpha Conde.
In The Gambia, the Presidency of Adama Barrow has been badly shaken recently as thousands of Gambians have challenged the incumbent to quit as president following an election promise he made when he ascended the throne of leadership. Unlike in other countries where citizens protest constitutional amendment, Gambians are manifesting over a non-respect of an election promise. In December 2019, Gambians urged President Barrow to respect his election vow and leave power. It would be recalled that President Adama Barrow in 2016 took engagement with a coalition of opposition parties that culminated the reign of then–President Yaha Jammeh, promising to step down just after three years of control, undermining the country’s binding law which stipulates a five–year term for a sitting president.
As per a coalition agreement, President Barrow was to serve as a provisional president for just three years (transitional period) and organize new elections thereafter. They, however, failed to accentuate on what the Gambian constitution stipulates. According to Barrow and his coalition, it was the beginning of a new era for the Gambia without Yaya Jammeh. Even as protests persist, President Adama Barrow has vowed to serve for five years, as defined in the Gambian constitution. Barrow promised to rule for three years before stepping down, but he has since said he will govern until 2021, serving a full presidential term.
In March 2019, Barrow was quoted by local media saying: “we will go to the elections in 2021 and I will hand over power with dignity to whoever wins. By end of September 2019, part of Barrow’s coalition agreement to support a five-year term suffered a major blow as the United Democratic Party, Gambia’s largest party, rejected the proposal. The West African nation has remained divided between two camps; “Operation Three-Years JOTNA” and “Five-Years JOTAGUL.”
The Republic of Togo
The streets of Togo have witnessed massive protests in recent times as parliament unanimously gave a green light for changes to be made in the constitution to permit President Faure Gnassingbe rule till 2030, a move strongly condemned by the opposition and other critics. There have been widespread protests calling for the end to Gnassingbe’s reign in the West African nation. President Faure has been chosen as the flagbearer of the ‘Union for the Republic’ party in the February 22, 2020, presidential elections. He has ruled the country since 2005.
Cognizance of the fact that undermining the constitution automatically challenges the quest for democracy on the continent, some African leaders have publicly revealed their intentions not to seek reelection in their respective nations, a move that many people have applauded.
President Paul Kagame
The leadership of one of Africa’s most bourgeoning economies has categorically stated that he won’t be seeking reelection in 2024, despite him being eligible. Paul Kagame noted that it was high time Rwandans start dreaming of a country beyond Kagame. The slow and soft–spoken Kagame made the announcement at the Global Leaders Forum in Doha-Qatar. He was quoted saying “Most likely no. I want to have some breathing space but given how things are and how they have been in the past, I have made up my mind where I am personally concerned, that it is not going to happen next time.” Paul Kagame won an absolute majority in 2017 after a 2015 referendum that gave him more eligibility. He came to the helm of Rwanda’s presidency in the year 2000. However, Kagame’s eligibility culminates in 2034. Kagame has always challenged his counterparts to respect the will of the people. The Rwandan head of state reiterated that some leaders who have ruled for long have turned their countries to an Eldorado, while others who have overstayed have brought nothing but misery to their respective nations. That notwithstanding, what is important is the respect of the constitution. Laws are made to be respected.
President Mahamadou Issoufou
Like his Rwandan counterpart, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou in the last quarter of 2019 made public his intention not to seek reelection when his current term of office culminates in 2021. “My greatest legacy will be to become the first president in the history of Niger who will hand over power to a democratically elected successor.” These were the clear words of President Mahamadou at the launch of a presidential term limit summit, which he played host. Niger’s constitution stipulates two five– year terms, which the incumbent has fulfilled.
Issoufou ascended the helm of leadership in 2011 and was reelected in the 2016 presidential elections. His party for Democracy and Socialism–PNDS has already chosen a frontrunner candidate, interior minister, Mohamed Bazoum to represent the ruling party in 2021 as the country heads to the polls. Like Nigerien president, other head of states including Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Liberia’s Sirleaf Johnson, feel that term limit is more imperative in safeguarding democracy and endorsing credible and violence-free elections in Africa.
Just like the president of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio challenged the African union in 2018 to translate their cajoling words into actions, if politicians and presidents can as well respect their election promises and constitutions, the continent would be hailed for its peace, stability and democracy in all spheres. It would equally avoid the chaotic and turbulent transfer of power. Former US president, Barack Obama once quoted saying, “Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions”. Limits on presidential mandates reinforce institutions and put pressure on leaders to leave a good legacy of leadership.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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