Constitutionalism remains a distant possibility in Africa because African presidents change the Constitutions whenever they want to suit their selfish needs for regime survival.
Respect for the Constitution in some African countries seems to be a remote possibility. The Constitutions would have been duly drafted, but at the whims of certain presidents, they are subject to change.
In many African countries, the provisions of the Constitution are just there on paper. The actual implementation on the ground is totally something else. One of the primary reasons why African presidents change their Constitutions is to ensure regime survival. They know that by changing the law to suit their parochial needs, it seemingly becomes legitimised. The truth is that such a penchant for clinging to power is in many cases an utterly despicable scenario that makes the citizens brim with anguish, but have nothing to do due to the heavy-handedness of the state machinery.
Constitutions are changed, and then people protest. They mount spirited fights in the genuine quest to safeguard their tenets of democracy. However, despite all the protests, the African president successfully pushes through any Constitutional amendment he wishes to. The state machinery, with sheer brutality and ruthlessness, sympathises with the regime and quell all the dissent and insurrections that arise. Others would make the processes seem fair, but the action behind the scenes reveals something sinister. People are coerced against their wills through strong intimidation and in other instances actual violence such that when referendums are held they simply vote "Yes."
In Zimbabwe, a new Constitution was adopted in 2013 to repeal the Lancaster House Conference one. Fast-forward to four years later, an amendment has been pushed through and only awaits presidential assent. Before the new one had been adopted, the old one had been amended an astonishing 19 times. The new amendment, in all its provisions is seeking to undo the major gains of democracy that had been achieved. The new amendment says that the President is the only one who has the sole discretion to choose a Chief Justice. Before being amended, Chief Justice selection was arrived at only after pubic interviews. With the incessant internecine squabbles in the ruling party, the move is seen as a factional one that would select a Chief Justice who sides with one of the factions. Ironically, this was pushed by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is now a beleagured figure following his fall-out with Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace Mugabe.
Africa is dealing with a precarious phenomenon that needs to be thoroughly addressed. A few weeks ago in Uganda a violent brawl depicting in-decorum behaviour erupted in the Parliament, over issues of Constitutional amendments. The presidential age-limit is set at 75. With Yoweri Museveni being 73, he now wants that to be changed so that he has another term in office. Never mind the inefficiencies of this government led by Museveni. Apparently he does not care about that, he is hell-bent on regime survival. It is simple; African presidents have been immensely gripped by the sit-tight syndrome that has even stunted development in some of the countries. The penchant for staying in power at times goes beyond the comprehension of our minds as to how reasonable people cannot see the harm they are creating around them.
In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame also altered the Constitution to provide for more terms. The people love it. There is not much contestations as to that in Rwanda. There are many other examples that reveal this phenomena. In Cameroon, the National Assembly voted in 2008 to change the 1996 constitution to remove the limit of two presidential terms, allowing President Paul Biya to run for re-election in 2011. Biya assumed the presidency upon the resignation of his predecessor in 1982 and was subsequently elected (as the sole candidate) in 1984 and 1988. He was re-elected again in 1992 in the country’s first multiparty presidential election, then re-elected in 1997 and 2004.
In Tunisia, after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed the presidency in 1987, the constitution was amended in 1988 to allow presidents no more than two terms. After Ali’s first two terms in office, a new amendment in 1998 allowed a third term. Finally, in 2002, term limits were abolished altogether and the age limit raised to 75 (Ben Ali will be 73 in September). Ben Ali assumed the presidency in 1987, was elected in 1989 and re-elected in 1994 as the only candidate. Alternative candidates were allowed for the first time in 1999, but Ben Ali won with 99.66% of the vote in 1999 and with 94.48% of the vote in 2004. Next elections are scheduled for October 25.
The list is endless, one could spend a century narrating the such a menace. The successful adherence to Constitutions in Africa must not remain a pipe dream. People need to hold their leaders accountable in light of such blatant theft of the will of the people.
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