Presidential term limits in Africa: The real story

In the last decade a number of African presidents their countries constitutions to extend their stay in stay in power.

While others succeeded, others were stopped in their tracks, but that has not discouraged more incumbents from trying their luck. Whenever and wherever attempts have been made to change the constitutions against the will of the people, a country’s stability has always been threatened. The most disconcerting thing though is how such potential for instability rarely moves some leaders. It must be pointed out that this should not be the case on a continent where several countries are still reeling from such acts of self-induced insecurity. But it clearly seems there is no learning. That a leader can willingly plunge a country into turmoil just to secure another term demonstrates the highest scale of irresponsible ambition.

One characteristic of ‘third termers’ is their knack for exploiting potential legal loopholes. For example Pierre Nkurunziza has been Burundi’s president since 2005, serving ten years. According to the spirit of the two terms principle that time in office should be enough. However Nkurunziza pursued a technicality by arguing he was elected by parliament for his first term, not by universal suffrage, and therefore entitled to run for a second directly elected term. The constitutional court seemingly under duress agreed with him. There were reports of the Vice President of the court fleeing the country amid death threats made against him  coercing him to find Nkurunziza eligible for a further mandate which he ultimately won in 21 June  controversial elections. There are third term noises in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Flaunted as a benevolent dictator, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has been praised for bringing his country back from the brink after the genocide. Rwanda is quoted in various development reports as a model for economic development in Africa. One might ask if Kagame is exploiting this to extend his stay at the helm.  Doesn’t this threaten to reverse the gains? In the Democratic Republic of Congo the constitution provides for two terms. President Kabila has been in power since 2001 ran in 2006 and 2011, but reports indicate he is intent on succeeding himself.

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