BY ANTONY WANYAMA-MAURITIUS
The African continent has three countries whose presidents have caught the attention of the global newsrooms all for one infamous reason in the last couple of months or more. Presidents Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Pierre Nkurunziza(Burundi) and Dennis Sassou Nguesso (Congo Brazzaville), have actively sought, and in one way or the other, acquired third terms of office.
Contrary to their countries having constitutions that limit the heads of state to at most two terms in power, these “leaders” have refused to relinquish power and have formed a tendency of undemocratically seeking a consequent term once one era ends.
For instance, Sassou Nguesso has already been in power for over thirty years. Someone who was borne when Sassou Nguesso was in power has now probably started his or her own family under the regime of one head of state. This makes Kagame’s 16 years in power appear like childsplay or Nkurunzinza’s 10 even much more of lightweight.
Rwanda’s Paul Kagame on the other hand has probably been the most astute about seeking prolongation of his tenure. He has gone to the extent of asking his country’s parliament to approve of a referendum on this third term bid while keeping the international community at bay with the narrative of his successful economic administration of his country. Just recently in a funny twist of events, one Kenyan on twitter (KOT) descended on Kagame when in his (Kagame’s) tweet, he thanked his team for what he called ‘the Unbreakable Rwandan spirit.” The Kenyan on twitter went on and tweeted “@PaulKagame I really hope sir, you will not ruin your legacy by being President for life.” In what seemed like survival for the fittest President Kagame, who has over 1 million followers on the social media platform, responded to the Kenyan, “worry more about your own legacy …if you got any at all to think about!”
Well, on the other side, his counterpart in Burundi has had a much more torrid time of it, including an attempted coup d’état that left hundreds dead and the condemnation of the African Union.
Denis Sassou Ngueso is beginning his “own” third term bid and has reportedly fired two cabinet ministers who have shown signs of opposing such a move.
The most common trend in all three is how they solicit to use some form of due process predicated on the fact that it is their citizens that must decide on these extensions to their stay in power.
This process initially takes the form of a new ‘democratic’ constitution being promulgated oftentimes during their first unlimited term. Then with growing confidence toward the end of a final second term in office, they invoke demonstrations of popular support for their intentions (referendums) or approach the judiciary in order to demonstrate that their intentions have been subjected to the scrutiny of an assumed independent legal process.
All this while retaining control of their ruling parties and ensuring a purging of their immediate rivals. This all makes for hard work to get this increasingly coveted third term in office.
This also raised President Obama’s eyebrows while addressing the African Union on his recent visit to the continent said he could not comprehend the preoccupation with power by some African leaders who refuse to step down at the end of their terms in office. And in this he cited only Nkurunziza though it is vivid he knew that his governments’ ally in the Great Lakes Region, Kagame, was definitely walking the same road.
Uganda’s, Yoweri Museveni, also did so in 2006 but managed to escape with limited international outcry. This year, he has again hinted of supporting another term in office by the time his country holds its presidential election in 2016.
As a matter of fact, we now have a new third term stereotype that has had different reactions from other African governments.
Their functional principle appears to be that of respecting ‘sovereignty’ particularly where ‘due legal process’ is followed. And South African President Jacob Zuma mentioned of this in his last question time session in his country’s Parliament. While replying to questions around African solutions to African problems, he said his government could not challenge a leader who has gone to a referendum to ask his people if he should get a third term in office and then gets the permission by a majority.
But perhaps it is the reasons why these leaders are keen on retaining office that are more worrying. And the key one is a sense of entitlement to power. Either by way of having been one of those leaders that led a war or liberation struggle and therefore having quasi messianic tendencies where and when it comes to politics.
Or in some cases, simply wanting to enjoy the trappings of power and the wealth it brings especially if ones country is rich in mineral resources or as in the case of Uganda, which recently discovered oil.
Also significant is the fact that global superpowers and international corporations are generally friendly toward ‘strongmen’ leaders who remain their key allies in international relations. Where these strongmen fall out of favor, the double standards quickly step in with calls for ‘democratization’ reaching selective strident levels.
But perhaps the biggest problem around Africa’s growing third term prototype is that it does not begin at state level. It always has its roots at political parties and their inherent lack of internal democratic processes including a lack of term limits for party leaders. Whether the parties claim revolutionary credentials or are long standing ones, it is this lack of internal democracy that finds its way in ugly fashion to state office.