Vol.23 No.75

Monday 22 May 2006    

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Opinion/Letters
Democratic Forces Must Safeguard Presidential Term Limits

GUEST COLUMN
BOTSALO NTUANE

5/22/2006 4:11:31 PM (GMT +2)

In early February this year, the press secretary, Dr Jeff Ramsay went on record stating that President Festus Mogae would not be seeking a third term upon expiry of his statutory tenure in 2008. Ramsay's statement did not provoke any debate and was simply accepted on its face value. That the statement did not elicit excitement is remarkable.


The nonchalance of the citizenry demonstrated that as far as they were concerned, a two-term presidency is fait accompli. Seen from another perspective, the reaction affirmed Botswana's democratic credentials and the confidence of the polity in the constitution. The clause restricting presidential term limits was introduced in 1997. It was a move consistent with the prevailing convention of that period when term limits became an integral feature of what some scholars defined as the third wave of democracy. The reforms in Botswana were part of a tidal wave sweeping across the continent. But subsequent to that euphoric period of hope and optimism, term limits have come under sustained assault from some leaders seeking extensions of tenure when the exit signs start flashing. Just this week, senators in Nigeria shot down attempts by Olusugen Obasanjo to prolong his stay in office. Obasanjo's case is sad because of his role as a leading light in the African renaissance. He has also been at the forefront of the NEPAD initiative to consolidate democracy and good governance on the continent. But Obasanjo is not the sole occupant of the rogues' gallery. In our part of the continent, Frederick Chiluba is notable for his shameful manoeuvres at having a third bite at the cherry. Having assumed office on the back of agitation for democracy and change in Zambia, Chiluba initially portrayed himself as a genuine democrat. In fact in his remarks at the valedictory banquet for Sir Ketumile on March 31, 1998 at Boipuso Hall, Chiluba paid fulsome tribute to the departing president. He spoke in passionate tones about the need for African leaders to borrow a leaf from the likes of Sir Ketumile by passing the baton to others. Three years down the line, with his term drawing to a close, the self-same Chiluba went to obscene lengths to secure himself another term. His machinations were only thwarted by the spirited resistance of Zambian civil society, opposition parties and a section of the ruling Movement for Multi Party Democracy (MMD). Today a man who exhibited so much promise when he assumed power is mortally discredited and faces corruption charges. As if Chiluba were not a good enough lesson, next with the shenanigans was Bakili Muluzi. His passage to the presidency bore similarities to Chiluba. He was seen as the ideal replacement for another lifetime president who had accepted multi-party democracy only on account of international pressure and the force of the winds of reform sweeping the continent. Again it took the resistance of principled citizens to scupper attempts for a third term in Malawi. Tragically, the aftermath of the abortive third term agenda still reverberates in Malawi as the country contends with political instability. In Namibia, the third term agenda did not precipitate acrimony and widespread resistance because of the peculiar circumstances of that country as a new nation and the status of Sam Nujoma as the founding father. But what the resistance in Zambia, Malawi and Nigeria revealed is that countries which had experienced lengthy one party or military rule would no longer countenance rule in perpetuity by one individual. Even more significantly the resistance accentuated the commitment of civil society movements to democratic ethics, good governance and the rule of law. It is mainly civil society organisations that have mobilised the citizenry to reject term extensions. The role of civil society in safeguarding term limits has been both heroic and immense. Proponents of perpetual rule have posed the question why the lifting of term restrictions is found objectionable. After all, they argue, amendment of the clause conforms to democratic practice because it is approved by a national assembly, which represents the views of the body politic of the nation. Furthermore, they point to some countries in the West where there are no term limits and as a result apologists view restrictions of tenure as an imposition and a display of double standards by donors. The simple answer is that democracy is a relatively new phenomenon on the continent. So in order for democracy to consolidate itself, there must be experiences in leadership renewal as has been the case in the more developed democracies. In turn, leadership renewal demonstrates to the citizenry that the fortunes of a country are not tied to any one individual. In a continent with a tradition of personality cults, term limits make the statement that no one is indispensable. Ruling in perpetuity is unacceptable because it promotes patronage as state policy and by extension institutionalises corruption. Having term limits, also provides space for able citizens to aspire to leadership without it being deemed the exclusive preserve of any one individual. Without term limits, these valuable lessons are lost, hence the need for democratic-minded Africans to safeguard presidential two term limits. Send us your comments about Mmegi newspaper Search For Old Newspaper Editions To advertise contact us through email

 
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