Emma Emeozor, e[email protected]
After six weeks of failed diplomacy to cling to power, ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika surrendered on Tuesday to the will of Algerians and submitted his letter of resignation to the Constitutional Council.
Bouteflika is the second sit-tight African leader to be booted out of office within six months. Robert Mugabe suffered similar fate in November, 2018, when Zimbabweans stood their ground, insisting he must go.
The forced exit of the two veteran presidents following peaceful protests is not only a victory for the people but it is also a clear signal that Africans can no longer tolerate leaders who turn their countries to empires. But more importantly, it shows that Africans are beginning to realise that they (the people) have enormous power over their leaders and can wield the hammer on strong headed leaders if it becomes necessary.
The culture of tenure elongation has become deep rooted in Africa, to the extent that some leaders consider themselves as God anointed even as they claim to be democrats. They cling to power even when they have outlived their usefulness as leaders. But will the sit-tight leaders learn from the experience of Bouteflika and Mugabe and have a rethink over the temptation of clinging to power for life.
Members of Africa Sit-Tight Club include: Paul Biya (Cameroon), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Teodoro, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan), Isaias Afewerki (Eritrea), Denis Sassou Ngueso (Republic of Congo), Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi), Ismail Omar Guelleh (Djibouti), Idriss Deby (Chad), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Faure Gnassingbe (Togo).
The ignoble exit of Bouteflika and Mugabe should serve as an eye opener to politicians aspiring to become presidents to respect the provisions of the constitution and the rule of law. The constitution of a country is a supreme instrument that must be respected by all. Indeed, the president is the chief custodian of the constitution.
The frequency with which African leaders assault the constitution of their countries to enable them extend their tenure is worrisome. Power obsessed presidents are quick to suspend and amend their constitutions without following due process.
Interestingly, they get the backing of parliamentarians who are supposed to check any fraudulent act to undermine the provisions of the constitution. Thus, it has become the trend in Africa for presidents and their allies in parliament to hold their countries to ransom even as they claim to derive their power from the people.
One of the pledges often made by political parties is that of upholding the constitution of the country if they win. But how can a political party that is not able to uphold its constitution be able to respect the nation’s constitution?
Political parties in Africa often split shortly after their formation because of the inability of the leaders to adhere to vital clauses of the party’s constitution, particularly those that deal with tenure in office and qualification of candidates for elective posts. Wealth and might plays a role in determining who among the leaders have the final say.
It is with this attitude many elected leaders assume office, believing that they can manipulate the nation’s constitution at will and without challenge, as long as they can ‘buy’ the conscious of those whose support is required.
Though it was obvious that Bouteflika was not fit to continue in office, the ruling National Liberation Front (NLF) and its main coalition ally, the Rally for Democracy (RND) ignored the voice of reason and bluff the protesters, insisting the ailing president was agile enough to rule. The party went on to file nomination papers on behalf of the president even as he was still in Switzerland where he had gone for medical check.
It was the same tale in with Mugabe. Apparently, Mugabe was disgraced out of office because he allowed himself to be used by the leadership of the ruling ZANU-PF. Mugabe had earlier announced he would not contest election but had to succumb to the remote control of the leadership of the party who felt Mugabe was the force required to fend off any internal opposition to their anointed candidate.
But why would political parties encourage tenure elongation for presidents in a democratic setting and even when they have qualified candidates to contest elections? The reason is obvious. Political parties in Africa, particularly in post-Cold War Africa lack good leadership. The hierarchy of the parties lack knowledge of the obligation they owe the people.
Government is seen as an extension of the political parties. Politicians regard both the government and the parties as channels for making quick money and attaining power and fame. Party leaders are major beneficiaries from the elongation of the president as it enables the continuity of the process of siphoning public funds. Tenure elongation gives ‘cover’ to thieving allies of the president.
Algerian protesters were right when they declared that the exit of Bouteflika was not enough for them to end street protests. They have called for a total clean up of the system. They want all ‘expired’ leaders to quit the corridors of power and allow fresh hands to take over, new leaders who can breathe fresh life into the country.
The demand for sweeping changes by Algerian protesters should be seen as a clarion call on all progressive Africans to rise up against sit-tight leaders. Certainly, the time has come for the Africans to take their destiny in their hands and reject veteran leaders and their political parties.
Currently, the continent can best be described as an Aegean stable.
The poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment diverstating the continent will continue as long as bad leaders are allowed to reign. The continent will remain a producer of raw materials only except people with vision are given the chance to lead.
Africans in the Diaspora are contributing to the industrialisation of Europe and Asia. Only competent leaders who are committed to transforming the continent can open the gateway to Africa’s development.
Another lesson to be learnt from the exit of Bouteflika and Mugabe is the role played by the army. The army in both Algeria and Zimbabwe sided with the people. The army was magnanimous not to take advantage of the street protests to seize power. Rather they turned against their Commander-in-chief in both countries, insisting they must quit.
Certainly, Boueflika and Mugabe never expected the army to turn against them. The modest intervention made by the army in the two countries should be a challenge to their counterparts in other African countries.
The army in Africa must subject itself to the people whose tax monies are being used to pay their salaries. Their rule of engagement demands that they protect the interest of the people all the time. In other words, the state of the nation should be of greater concern to the army more than the political interest of the president and his allies. This, the army in Algeria and Zimbabwe have aptly demonstrated.
However, the Algerian armed forces Chief Ahmed Gaid Salah must be cautioned not to be tempted to betray the people he has openly supported. He must not take advantage of the situation to truncate the transition period which is expected to last for 90 days.
Gen Salah must keep away from politics and remain in the barrack. It will be recalled that in Zimbabwe, the army Chief General Constantino Chiwenga after Mugabe’s exit, immediately retired to become vice president, a development that made the opposition to accuse the army of siding with the ruling party.
Already, there are fears that Gen Salah could do same in Algeria. Undoubtedly, the protesters will resist any move by the army to usurp power. The army must therefore remain apolitical throughout the transition period. This is the only way it can retain the trust of the people.
There is also the fear of political upheaval across the country as desperate politicians would want to launch campaign of calumny against perceived opponents. The transition committee owes Algerians the obligation to ensure that the country is not drawn into further crisis.
The speaker of the Upper House of Parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, 77, who is expected to act as interim president of the transition government must live above board. He is alleged to be a strong ally of Bouteflika. Therefore, there is the fear that he may be working in secret with the former kitchen cabinet of Bouteflika. This may not be true.
Bensalah and members of the transition government must be guided by the circumstance that led to the exit of Bouteflika. At no time did the people say they hate Bouteflika. Bouteflkia was a victim of his kitchen cabinet who had tried to use him as a cover for their covert plan to remain in power. Now that Bouteflika has been swept away, it is expected that the cabal’s fortress will collapse.
It is the responsibility of Bensalah to ensure that true democracy is enthroned in Algeria by providing a level playing ground for all the political parties and their candidates. The electoral process must be seen to be transparent and the electoral commission allowed to operate without interference from any quarter.
Algerians have received ovation from the international community. The tempo must be sustained. The people deserve the best of leadership. Certainly, this is the time to transform the country and make it take its rightful place in the comity of nations. Importantly, Algeria must be a shining example for the rest of Africa.
The African Union must get involved in the task of supervising Algeria’s transition. The organisation should give the transition government support and assistance to ensure a smooth transition exercise and more importantly a free, fair and credible election. Algeria needs logistic support and qualified personnel to supervise the election. Also, AU should ensure that political parties abide by democratic principles and should not undermine the current prevailing peaceful atmosphere across the country. It will be recalled that after Mugabe’s resignation, the ruling party and the main opposition clashed. This must not be allowed to happen in Algeria.