In Africa, there are certain traits that have become seriously institutionalized and normalized, which should not be the case. Conflict is an everyday things in some African countries and a new study has revealed that at the heart of conflict lies an inherent disrespect for term limits which should be espoused by a fundamental acknowledgment of constitutionalism.
The study by Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) earlier this year found that constitutional term limits are not wholly enforced, and countries which have leaders stepping down after two terms are few. Less than 40 percent of countries have enforced constitutional term limits, and leaders in just 15 countries have stepped down after two terms. The analysis by ACSS shows a direct link between respect for term limits and conflict, press freedoms, stability and true democracy.
The director of research at ACSS Joseph Siegle who worked on the report told Voice of America (VOA) that consequences which stem from lack of term limits can be very severe. “The lack of term limits has created these systems where populations cannot change their leaders through constitutional and established political means.”
“It leaves fewer options of using the political process to make those changes and leads to justification for violent alternative measures to be taken,” he added. The connection between term limits and conflict reflects the source of political violence in Africa. “Most of the conflicts in Africa are the result of political crises,” Siegle said.
A quick survey at constitutional developments in Africa shows a very worrying trend of leaders who always make it a point to extend their stay in office. Recently in Chad, parliament voted to introduce a new constitution that will allow two more terms for President Idriss Deby, who has led the country since 1990. In Burundi, voters are getting ready for a poll on May 17 to a constitutional amendment which will allow President Museveni to stay in power for an additional sixteen years. And in DRC, President Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired nearly 18 months ago. The humanitarian crisis in DRC is worsening, conflict is becoming protracted and it would not be wrong to say the centre can no longer hold, except Kabila.
This is why Siegle says that if term limits are not respected people resort to violence in order to remove the leaders from power, and thus conflict becomes rife. Conflicts in DRC and the South Sudan are a direct result of political crises, and in the latter it is becoming tense with Salva Kiir staying put in the wake of violent and often ruthless uprisings.
And talk of the democratic wave that took Africa by surprise in the 90s. A global democratic reform by then did not spare Africa, one party states fell and the rise of multi-party politics with legal backing became the new norm. There are countries like Tanzania and South Africa which were at the forefront of peaceful transitions and led the race for the respect of term limits. In South Africa, Mandela set a good precedent when it comes to term limits, he did not even finish his two terms.
In countries that observe term limits, press freedoms are much greater, based on 2018 rankings by Reporters Without Borders. Countries with term limits have an average press freedom index of 28. For countries without term limits, with leaders who have not reached their limits, or with limits that have been modified or removed, the average index is 45. Higher scores are worse on RSF’s scale, with the worst-possible score being 100.
Siegle hopes that Africa will fully master the concept of adhering to constitutional term limits that uphold the principle of constitutionalism. It is senseless to preach the gospel of adhering to a constitution that allows a president to rule for so many years.