Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Sit-tight leaders in Africa uncertain of their fate after office

Article from AFRIC Editorial
The democratization process in Africa which preceded decades of violent civil conflict in most African countries paved a way for competitive systems of government with a rise in multi-party politics. This notwithstanding most African leaders have failed to cede power at the end of their term limits, changing the constitutions to favour them in most cases. Very few countries have experienced a peaceful transition of power with the Democratic Republic of Congo being the most recent. Why these leaders cling to power is a point to ponder on especially in cases such as the recent crisis in Sudan where citizens have taken to the street and resorted to violence to demand that they step down from office.

Africa has faced several challenges among which is the peaceful transition as the continent has become home to several long-serving and sit-tight presidents who refuse to relinquish power. Paul Biya, Cameroon’s president came to power in 1982 and has since then put in maximum efforts to consolidate power. Same like Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo who has been in power for about four decades while Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has been in power since his 1989 coup that ousted Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi.

A good number of these leaders have demonstrated their capacity to go all out so as to prevent and quell down any attempt to dethrone them. Most of them in their effort to consolidate power have had to change the constitution either increasing age or term limit. In December 2018, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed a bill into law which eliminated presidential age limit from the constitution. The 1995 Constitution in Uganda previously prohibited anyone younger than 35 or older than 75 from serving as president. This is the second time Yoweri has amended the constitution giving him the leeway to occupy the country’s highest office. A similar amendment was done in 2005 which eventually increased his time in office.

In 2015 term limits was scraped from the Rwandan constitution allowing Paul Kagame who has been in power since 1994 to possibly rule until 2034. The Republic of Congo also experienced constitutional changes to allow Denis Sassou Nguesso to run for a third term which eventually led to his re-election in 2016.

Most former leaders have had a history of being forcefully removed and in some cases through a military coup. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe suffered this fate in 2017 after elements of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces seized control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and key areas of the city demanding his immediate resignation. In that same year, Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh was kicked out after he lost in an election to Adama Barrow.


It may be beyond a lay man’s understanding why these leaders glue to power, nonetheless, whatever may be their reasons, the wellbeing and interest of the nation is surely out of question. One thing which is very certain is that a dark cloud looms in the air regarding what will happen to these leaders if they have to quit.

Despite the fact that African leaders have different reasons for refusing to leave office? one which is common among all is the fear of what happens to them after they quit office. A good number of them have suffered unfortunate fates such as going on exile for fear of what may befall them should they remain in the country. Former Malawian president Joyce Banda has been in a self-imposed exile in South Africa since she lost the presidential election to Peter Mutharika in 2014. Likewise, Amadou Toumani Touré Mali’s former president left to Senegal since after his presidency in 2012.

However, the story has been different as other presidents such as Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki two former Kenyan presidents both handed power peacefully after their tenure of office ended. The same applies to John Kufuor from Ghana and of course Tanzania’s Benjamin Mkapa who are now leading at the continental level.  Similarly, Zambia, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi and, Tanzania also feature among some of the countries where a regular transfer of power has occurred.

Most of the long-serving African leaders are shielded and backed by the constitution which can however be uttered at their discretion. Unfortunately, the same constitution which gives them the leverage to hang on to power fails to make provision for a mechanism to guarantee the smooth transfer of power. This has however given some of the leaders the reason to believe that the nation may plunge into chaos given their departure. Hence they believe that staying in power is for the interest of the nation.

Though it is true that Africa has had a long history of defiant leaders who defile the odds to remain at the helm of the country’s politics, the wind of change is gradually blowing and some of the leaders are beginning to leave power without any rebellion. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson in 2018 democratically handed over power to George Weah after exhausting her term limit. Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone and the most recent case of Joseph Kabila are all cases of a peaceful transfer of power.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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