In a perfect world, the constitution is the framework within which the governance of a country is anchored and is in many other ways supposed to provide protection against tyranny by guaranteeing freedoms and rights to citizens. Well, not anymore! At least not in some African countries whose leaders have found a way to manipulate the citizens into reviewing presidential terms to allow them to stay on and on even when they have become sterile.
Citizens have rebelled against and strongly opposed attempts to manipulate the law to satisfy the selfish interests of individuals. But it seems like African leaders are using a “borrowed” guidebook that has worked in oppressing citizens in neighboring countries to vandalize the law in their own states.
The establishment of Magna Carta —“The Great Charter”, — and affixing of a seal on the document by King John of England in 1215, detailed for the very first time the principle that everyone, including the king, was subject to the law. Magna Carta has influenced constitutional and legal development. Although this influence majorly was confined to England and the British Isles, over the last decades, with the growth of the British Empire, some principles of the charter have found their way into many political communities across the world.
"No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseized, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice," reads an excerpt from the Great Charter.
But many African autocrats have denied citizens their rights and freedoms despite the fact these articles are well detailed in their constitutions. Take for example the recent arrest and detainment of the chief opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, in the just concluded elections in Uganda. During the campaign period and after elections, Besigye found himself detained for several hours and was later released without charges.
The big question is exactly why African leaders feel that they have rights to bulldoze their way into power, even when citizens are against them? Why don’t they consider the suffering subjects whose power of the vote or lack of it, thereof placed them in the high-ranking position in the first place? Why are they not moved by the blood shed of these citizens as they fight for their rights and freedoms until their last breath?Why are they not moved by the blood shed of these citizens as they fight for their rights and freedoms until their last breath? Why are they ignorant of the suffering they cause people by staying put in a position that is neither respected nor praised by the citizenry?
Abusing the constitution and exploiting legal loopholes
At one point, many Africans believed in the power vested by the constitution; to guide and give power to the people who in turn gives power to their rulers in order for them (citizens) to enjoy the rights and freedoms ascribed in the book of law.
That is long gone especially in countries where the rulers have selfishly used the same document to manipulate its citizens to scrap off some articles or add others that will ensure they rule for eternity.
President Yoweri Museveni set the precedent for the current errant practice by rulers. When he first came into power in 1986, Museveni wrote in his book called ‘What Is Africa's Problem?’ that "the problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power." And he was right then and even now. But ironically he has become the “leader who wants to overstay in power”. In 2005, he went against his own words and secured a change to the constitution. This allowed him to run for a third term, then fourth term and most recently, he secured his fifth term, marking 30 years in leadership.
The 71-year old Museveni’s guide to leadership has been replicated in other African states including Cameroon where the fourth longest-serving president on the continent sits. President Paul Biya came into power in 1982. The 1996 constitution which introduced term-limits would have seen the leader stepping down. Rather, he overturned the constitution in 2008, eliminating the presidential term limits. The country is set to hold elections in 2018. Will the 83-year old Biya still run?
In Congo-Brazzaville, President Denis Sassou N'Guesso last year, (April 2015), declared that he also wanted to change the constitution. The leader who has been in power for all but five of the last 36 years had a massive win for a third term. Initially, the law prohibited Presidents who were over the age of 70 to run past two terms.
Burundi is not any different. Apart from going against the Arusha Peace Agreement of 2000, Pierre Nkurunziza exploited a legal loophole arguing that he wanted to run for a third-term since his first term was not an election by the people but by the parliament. Thus, he deserved another term. And so the Constitutional Court approved Nkurunzisa’s request but seemingly under pressure. Ever since the re-election of Nkurunziza on July 21, 2015, Burundi has been in turmoil with thousands of people fleeing to neighboring countries to seek refuge. Hundreds of people have since died due to the political wars going on in the country. The Arusha pact was thrown out of the window, with the country slowly going into civil war.
"Despite a facade of pluralism, this is an election with only one candidate, where Burundians already know the outcome," said Thierry Vircoulon from the International Crisis Group.
Key elections to watch in 2016/17
Among the key countries to watch for elections in 2016 is the DRC. Since 1998, more than 5 million people have been killed. After the assassination of Laurent Kabila in 2001, Joseph Kabila took over his father’s legacy.
Although he won a second five-year term in the disputed elections in 2011, Mr Kabila has attempted to change the constitution to upend the term limit. This was, however, met with resistance and riots. International NGOs urged Kabila to consider stepping down in the 2016 elections.
Also expected to go into polls this year is Benin. President Thomas Boni Yayi vowed to the world he would step down when his second term comes to an end this year.
Although he has not publicly declared to run for a third term, it remains to be seen what will happen. He has been pushing for constitutional reforms including the formation of a national electoral commission and state auditor to fight corruption and guarantee democratic elections. These actions have aroused suspicions among people who wonder if the President is preparing for another term in secret.
Lately, Rwanda has been in the limelight for all the right things. President Paul Kagame has ensured the economic growth of the state since he took over in 1994. Since the genocide that saw 800,000 people massacred in just three months, Kagame has brought notable and plausible change in the Eastern African nation.
According to the World Bank, Rwanda remains the best performing country in the East African region. It ranked as the 2nd easiest destination for doing business in Africa after Mauritius.
But a change of events happened in July 2015, when parliament voted in support of a motion to alter the constitution, allowed Kagame to run for another term.
Kagame, who is in his late 50s, has already served for two seven-year terms as enshrined in the constitution. The head of state argued that he supported the group that was against the change of the constitution. “But in a democratic society, debates are allowed and they are healthy. I’m open to going or not going depending on the interest and future of this country,” he said in April 2015.
The Signing of the International Criminal Court Agreement
Many African leaders acquired their leadership positions by overthrowing other leaders. The battle for leadership and “freedom” was marred by deaths and various atrocities in the name of fighting for liberations.
In 1980, Museveni contested for the presidential seat but Milton Obote won the widely rigged elections. This forced Museveni to wage a guerilla war against Obote’s regime. After the displacements of many people and the death of many other Ugandans, the resistance finally won and on January 26, 1986, Museveni declared himself president of Uganda. The next ten year years, Museveni remained mum on the formation of political parties blaming the parties for dividing the nation along religious and ethnic lines, which Museveni said led to civil war after independence.IN 1986, Museveni declared himself president of Uganda.
Kagame also fought brutally to attain his leadership position in Rwanda. Having worked and supported President Museveni’s military victories in the 1980’s, Kagame learned the tactics to use in his own country. He held a senior position in Uganda as acting chief of military intelligence to the ruling party. These positions and other military training he acquired in Cuba and the U.S. further propelled him to see the possibilities of replicating the same guerrilla tactics in Rwanda.
In the late 1980’s Kagame and other expatriate Rwandan military leaders formed the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriot Front (Front Patriotique Rwandais, FPR) and plotted an invasion of their homeland. Although at first this tactic did not work and led to the death of three FPR founding members, Kagame took control of the civil war whose peace agreement that promised to end the war failed to work. In 1994, the then Rwandan President. Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali. This led to the 1994 genocide as Hutu and Tutsi fought. In early July, FPR formed another government under Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu. The real power, however, rested with Kagame. He assumed the role of the vice president and minister of defense. In 2000, the National Assembly elected Kagame as president of Rwanda’s transitional government.
According to Pat Robert Larubi, founder of the Northernews wire, an independent media organization based in Northern Uganda, the atrocities committed by these leaders and many others across the continent in their quest to overthrow governments in the later 80s and 90s have forced them to grip on power lest they are summoned at The Hague to answer to cases of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
“The blind signing of ICC statute is a threat to many African leaders. Such leaders seem safe only when in power. But outside the presidential box all are criminals,” said Larubi.
However, the ICC does not necessary wait until the president is out of power. A case in point is the Sudanese President Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir whose first warrant of arrest was issued by pre-trial chamber 1, March 4, 2009. The second warrant of arrest was issued July 12, 2010. Most often than not, ruling presidents have some form of immunity and holding onto power seems like the only safe thing to do for now. Al-Bashir is wanted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Gluttonous leaders who cannot have enough of power
Why would a 92-year old president want to hold on to power when even walking has become a problem? Greed. Some leaders are selfish to pass on the mantle to other people and instead choose to stick with it to the last end.
President Robert Mugabe, who just turned 92 is argued to have said that he will leave power when he hits a hundred years. With eight years to go, the citizens can only wait and see what happens when he hits hundred if his health allows him.
At one time while addressing supporters at Murewa Business Centre in Mashonaland East, Grace Mugabe said: “We are going to create a special wheelchair for President Mugabe until he rules to 100 years because that is what we want.”“We are going to create a special wheelchair for President Mugabe until he rules to 100 years because that is what we want.”
“That is the people’s choice. We want a leader that respects us,” said Grace-the President’s wife.
When Joice Mujuru, 58, won sufficient support in provincial elections to be declared Mr Mugabe’s likely successor in case of death or early retirement- which is unlikely-, Didymus Mutasa, presidential affairs minister, told Zimbabweans and the world that the President was fit to run even for the next elections in 2018.
Ruling parties have the notion that national resources also belong to them just like the leadership.
Although the new Zimbabwean constitution limits presidents to two terms, Mugabe is eligible to run in 2018, because the adoption of the constitution in 2013, made his victory in the same year, his first under the new law.
During the February 2016, presidential debate Museveni said that “oil was discovered by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) under my leadership and direct command. I trained the scientists,” Museveni said. “The British looked for between 1920 and 1956 and wrote a report that there was no oil,” the Red Pepper reported.
The Monitor also reported a claim that the ruling NRM’s presidential candidate Museveni, while campaigning in the eastern District of Namutumba, repeated claims that oil in Uganda is his. “… You hear people say “Museveni should go”. But go and leave oil money? They want me to go so [that] they can come and spoil the oil money. These people want me to go back to the bush,” he said in a statement directed at his opponents.
Such tendencies of parties and governments claiming to own national resources also contribute to leaders desiring to hold on to power in order to control the resources.
Motivation for change – award to recognize presidents who step down from power
Mo-Ibrahim, a British-Sudanese businessman, established the award, The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in 2007, to reward presidents who step down at the end of their leadership term.
To win the award which comes with $5 million over the first 10 years and thereafter a yearly stipend of $200,000 for life, the candidate must have been legitimately elected and served only the constitutionally mandated terms.
But even as the lucrative award which rewards African leaders who have contributed to improving the lives of their people continues to nudge leaders to step down, there are not many leaders who have won the prize nine years since it was established.
Previous winners include: Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique (2007), Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana (2008), Pedro de Verona Rodrigues Pires of Cape Verde (2011), and the latest winner was Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2014. Between 2011 and 2014, the committee found no one to honor.Between 2011 and 2014, the committee found no one to honor.
“We have heroes in Africa. It is not only Mandela,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian diplomat, and a member of the selection committee referring to Pohamba’s win.
In future, the award might not get winners as witnessed in the past because some presidents like Museveni, Mugabe, and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema have ruled for decades. Others like Kagame, Nkurunziza, and Congo’s President N'Guesso have already made moves to extend their terms in leadership, further narrowing the number of potential winners in the coming years. Other countries like Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Equatorial Guinea, The Gambia, and Somalia have no term limits.
Header Image Credit: The Telegraph