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Dictatorship and a system of perpetuating oneself in power by African leaders has been the bane of Africa’s development and has characterized most of African countries’ so called democracies. Africa presidents are notoriously known for their ‘stick to power’ syndrome when given the privilege to pilot the affairs of their nations. This phenomenon has been witnessed in the past in some African nations, and is still thriving in some today. Few African leaders are peacefully voted out of office without some form of violence after the elections. A good example is Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2015 when he lost to his opponent Muhammadu Buhari in a violent-free election. And in Gambia just recently, Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat to the President-elect Adama Barrow, after 22 years of holding on to power. This new trend in the political landscape of Africa clearly indicates that Africans has now woken up to the fact that no one can be President forever.
The norm in the past usually is that African leaders change their country’s constitution for the purpose of extending their presidential terms. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to try this before he met a stiff resistance from the members of the national assembly. Both the chambers of the National Assembly, in an historic vote rejected the proposed amendment of the constitution to extend presidential tenure from 8 to 12 years. Mr. Museveni once wrote “the problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power”. The same Museveni, who took office in 1986, is currently one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. By the time his current term elapses in 2021, he will have been in power for 35 years. Most African leaders would rather choose power before the people. The basic tenets of government that places the ultimate power in the people has been subsumed by the will of some African leaders to perpetuate themselves in power.
Several African countries including Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, Egypt during Hosni Mubarak, Senegal and Burkina Faso have witnessed popular uprisings forcing long time leaders to relinquish power. Blaise Compaore had ruled Burkina Faso for 27 years when he attempted to change the constitution in 2014, which would have allowed him to run again in 2015 if successful. While the parliament was debating a bill to utter the constitution for the president’s bid, thousands of angry protesters stormed the parliament, the ruling party’s headquarters and the presidential palace. Compaore eventually resigned after four days of riots, paving way for a transitional government. Even former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade managed to run for a third term despite Senegal’s constitution limit of two terms for the office of the president. This is the context in which the outgoing US president Barack Obama have appealed to Africa’s leaders to respect term limits.
It is undemocratic for African leaders to want to hold on to power in perpetuity. This has been the reason Africa has remained underdeveloped, and also the foundation of violence being experienced in most African nations today. Term limits is actually a machinery that ensures equal opportunity to serve in government. It plays a steadying role by leveling the political playing field and have been proven to facilitate democratic development. Because term limits guarantee leadership change, newcomers entering into government can also bring their experience to bear in moving the nation forward, thereby developing an equitable and egalitarian society. Illegal constitutional amendments should henceforth stop and African leaders must truthfully obey the law as even presidents are not above the law.
Presidential lawlessness in Africa must stop. Some African countries are already setting the examples. Transition of power in Nigeria in 2015 was successful, the Gambia also is a success story. Uganda, Zimbabwe, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Algeria and Djibouti are some of the African countries whose leaders have served at least fifteen years. This trend should be totally discouraged. African leaders must have the consciousness that they are only part of a team and that the leadership baton must be handed down to another person in a peaceful manner at the set and appropriate time. The belief by some African leaders that “it is not about how long you stay in power, but how good you are whilst in power that matters” should no longer be the trend. All of us in Africa must ensure that our constitutions are properly written and also obeyed to the latter. God bless Africa.