By Paul Ndiho
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that democracy in Africa was threatened when presidents did not stand aside at the end of constitutional term limits — and no one should be president for life.
Since becoming president of the United States, Barack Obama has visited more than five African countries: most recently he traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia. Speaking to a large audience at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Mr. Obama used his podium to reiterate his broad and ambitious policy of engagement towards sub-Saharan Africa. ent Barack Obama, African Union, Ethiopia
“When I first came to Sub-Saharan Africa as president, I said that Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. One of those institutions can be the African Union. Here, you can come together, with a shared commitment to human dignity and development. Here, your 54 nations pursue a common vision of an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa.”
Millions of Africans and friends of Africa around the world had called on President Obama to use this opportunity to speak directly to African leaders who refuse to leave office once their constitutional mandates are over. On Tuesday, he did just that, speaking candidly about those leaders who over stay their mandates.
“Today, Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk from leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end. I have to be honest with you—I just don’t understand this. I am in my second term. Under our constitution, I cannot run again. There’s still so much I want to get done to keep America moving forward. But the law is the law and no one is above it, not even presidents. And, frankly, I’m looking forward to life after being President. It will mean more time with my family, new ways to serve, and more visits to Africa.
When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi. And it’s often just a first step down a perilous path. But if a leader thinks they’re the only person who can hold their nation together, then that leader has failed to truly build their country. In contrast, Nelson Mandela—like George Washington—forged a lasting legacy by being willing to leave office and transfer power peacefully. And just as the African Union has condemned coups and illegitimate transfers of power, the AU’s authority and strong voice can also help the people of Africa ensure that their leaders abide by term limits and their constitutions. No one should be president for life.”
Even though President Obama did not mention anybody by name there are multiple examples of leaders on the continent who have changed their constitutions to personally benefit from them.
For example, The Rwandan constitution allows only two terms. But, Rwandan lawmakers earlier this month approved a measure that would pave the way for President Paul Kagame to seek re-election when his second term ends in 2017.
In neighboring Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s recently won his bid for a controversial third term. Burundi’s constitution, like Rwanda’s, has a two-term limit for presidents.
Meanwhile, in Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s longtime leader set the precedent in 2005, when he secured a change to the constitution allowing him a third term. He’s now serving a fourth term and most likely to run again in 2016.
Other longtime rulers include: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe in power since 1980, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, in power since 1982, José Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola in power since 1979, and President Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea has also been in power since 1979.
However, there is some good news. The concession of defeat by former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, after elections in March. It marked the first time in the nation’s history that an incumbent leader had been ousted at the ballot box.
Among other African countries working to consolidate and deepen democracy include. Tanzania; Ghana; Liberia; Senegal; Botswana and few others with varying degrees of accountable governance.
Paul Ndiho is a Ugandan – American video journalist/ executive producer, Africa Innovations & Technology based in Washington D.C with interests in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in Africa. He is passionate about mentorship and developing the next generation of Africa’s young leaders. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: Paul Ndiho and Twitter: @pndiho