Building systems beyond people

Politicians, selected or elected are believed to have what it takes to drive the state forward. But in situations when things aren’t getting better, and the presence of these leaders are taking a huge toll on the society, rather than take the blame for failure and step aside, many have chosen to cling to power.

George Kenney, the first United States Department official to resign has a counter opinion. According to him, “you’re not going to do anybody any good by leaving, nobody is going to listen to you.” Although he resigned from his position, he suggests that in certain situations, officials should stay in their jobs as long as possible and work as a machinery of bureaucracy to keep destructive policies from being implemented.

“There should be opportunities for people who are smart to act in a classic bureaucratic passive-aggressive manner and just be obstructionist. It’s a situation that lends itself to creative opposition from within.”

This is what Kenney and some African leaders have in common; they choose to hold on to power. However, Kenney’s reasons by far differ from those of some African leaders. Perceptive leaders know when to leave office, whether through resignation or retirement but they choose not to. In some African countries, presidents refuse to step down after their tenure and would rather amend the constitution to keep them in power.

For ministers and governors, despite being plagued with scandals, caught in the web of theft and corruption, clinging to the political position always seem to be the best option to them. But this should not be so. As a continent aspiring for growth and looking to move from being a third world country, systems that outlive the people in power should be put in place. Luckily, Ethiopia is taking the lead and setting standards for other African countries to emulate.

Ethiopia in recent times have had many of its top officials resign, both the Prime Minister and the President resigned within an eight-month period.

In February, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, submitted his letter of resignation amid protracted anti-government protests that killed hundreds of people between 2015 and 2016. After being in office for about six years, since 2012, Desalegn’s resignation was still seen as unprecedented, especially in Africa.

By October, Ethiopia’s President, Mulatu Teshome sent in his resignation letter after a cabinet reshuffle by the newly elected Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed.

Many consider resignation by top government officials as falling on their swords whenever the performance of their departments was found wanting, while some consider it an easy way out. However, such principled resignations should not be considered fatal to a politician’s ambitions because when it comes to abrupt exit of a public office, competence is a grey area that is outweighed by accountability. A public servant is accountable for the things happening in their department.

According to Patrick Dobel’s ethics of resigning, “resigning from office is a critical ethical decision for individuals. Resignation also remains one of the basic moral resources for individuals of integrity. The option to resign reinforces integrity, buttresses responsibility, supports accountability, and can provide leverage and boundary drawing. I argue that the moral reasons to resign flow from three related moral dimensions of integrity. Individuals in office promise to live up to the obligation of the office. This promise presumes that individuals have the capacity to make and keep promises, the competence to do the tasks of office, and the ability to be effective.”

 Do African leaders lack integrity?

Regardless of the conflicts and the increasing death toll in some African countries, many of the leaders have sworn to be presidents for life. Many have failed in their campaign promises but still, they do not see a need to exit for new entrants into power. Several African leaders, mostly presidents, have resigned from office. However, many of them were out of options when they did.

In the space of 5 months, three African presidents resigned, all out of compulsion. Mauritius President, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was forced to resign in March 2018 after being engulfed in a corruption scandal. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, was next in line as he submitted his resignation in February 2018 after a stern warning by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress that he would be ousted by Parliament if he did not resign. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe was also forced to resign in November 2017 after a military take-over.

Building systems that outlive people

There is a need to purge African leaders of the mentality that a political position is for life. In terms of country assessment; quality of life, economic potential, most forward-looking economies and livable cities, African governments should start building systems that work and would outlive a person or a ruling party.

Cameroon’s Paul Biya became president in 1982 and has remained ever since. After his 2004 re-election, Biya was not eligible to run for the position of President in Cameroon again, thanks to term limits. Unfortunately, his seeming obsession with power, despite his leadership not helping to ease the crises in Cameroon, drove him to revise the 1996 constitution. Meaning that Biya can be president for life with the removal of the term limit. According to The Nerve Africa, even if he loses an election before his death, Biya has a plan as he enjoys immunity from prosecution after leaving office.

In Uganda, election holds every five years and Yoweri Museveni has won every election since democratic rule began in 1996. Previously, the 1995 Ugandan constitution provided for a two-term limit on the tenure of the president, however, the constitution has been revised to suit the sitting president.

Rwanda’s President, Paul kagame has ruled for 23 years. For Kagame, the ultimate goal was to prevent a repeat of the genocide. He has done his bit and is very much appreciated for it, but it is high time he stepped aside. He once said, “if I am unable to groom a successor by 2017, it means that I have not created capacity for a post-me Rwanda. I see this as a personal failure.” In 2018, he is still the President of Rwanda.