More often than not, African leaders find ways to stay beyond their tenure using different ploys, including the amendment of the constitution or force, to remain in power. They contribute to conflicts on the continent. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has urged them to leave when their mandated time is up.
According to the Nobel laureate, although unconstitutional changes to government on the continent had reduced, exclusionary politics threatens to reverse the gains made.
“I think Africa has done well, by and large the coups have more or less ended, generals are remaining in their barracks, but we are creating situations which may bring them back,” the international diplomat said in an interview at the 5th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa.
“If a leader doesn’t want to leave office, if a leader stays on for too long, and elections are seen as being gamed to suit a leader and he stays term after term after term, the tendency may be the only way to get him out is through a coup or people taking to the streets.
“Neither approach can be seen as an alternative to democracy, to elections or to parliamentary rule. Constitutions and the rules of the game have to be respected,” Annan said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame earlier in the year made his intention to extend his 15-year rule known, after voters approved a change to the constitution to allow him to seek a third term.
Chad’s President Idriss Déby had also in 2005 saw to a constitutional reform that allowed him to extend his rule. However, he plans to reintroduce term limits. Déby has won every presidential election since 1996, with major opposition parties often boycotting.
Annan noted at the forum that winner-take-all approaches to elections on the continent had the effect of leaving out citizens for holding an opposing view, raising tensions around elections.
Attempts by other African leaders to extend their stays in office have sparked protests in recent years. In Burkina Faso, mass demonstrations forced Blaise Compaore to quit in 2014, after almost three decades in power. Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s disputed re-election in July spurred worsening violence in which at least 400 people have died.
Annan, who chairs the Africa Progress Panel also said that solutions to the problems of the continent must come from within. However, the continent must build up its ability to do so, including in financing its institutions.
“We cannot always pass a hat around and insist we want to be sovereign, we want to be independent. We should lead and get others to support us—that support will be much more forthcoming when they see how serious and committed we are.”
The forum, now in its fifth year, is an inspiration of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and is organised by the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of Addis Ababa University. It is chaired by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and seeks to provide a platform for current and former leaders to interact with key stakeholders in an informal setting to tackle contemporary issues facing the continent.