President Muhammadu Buhari has advised the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to spare their countries political upheavals by keeping to constitutionally prescribed tenure. In a wide-ranging speech delivered at the 57th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Governments in Niamey, Niger Republic, last week, Buhari said African leaders should not only respect constitutional limits of tenure, but also respect the law and ensure free and fair elections in their countries.
He regretted the rush of the French-speaking ECOWAS nations to adopt the ECO currency without co-ordinating with their English-speaking brethren and without meeting the stipulated criteria. He advised countries to co-operate with one another in the fight against terrorism if only because terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa are working together “against all of us.” On Mali, he reaffirmed ECOWAS’ directive that the military junta must stick to a 12-month transition. On COVID-19, he asked all member states to pool their resources together to not only save this generation but also minimise the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
President Buhari pointed out that the attempts to elongate tenure tend to generate crises and political tension in the region. The challenges facing the sub-region are enormous and they range from socio-economic matters to security issues,which are in themselves difficult enough. When, therefore, another political turmoil is added in the form of tenure elongation, the result is always a brew of violence and economic disruption which often turns to economic and political disaster,
We think President Buhari spoke candidly and, indeed, wisely. Some of his colleagues could imagine that he was addressing them directly in innuendoes. President Allasane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire, for instance, is exactly one of those who fitted the description. In 2010, at least 3,000 Ivorians were killed before Ouattara was able to assume office because Laurent Gbagbo, then the incumbent, refused to vacate office after an electoral defeat. Now after two full terms as prescribed by the constitution, Outtara has manipulated the country and its institutions, for a third term of office, amid public protests, for himself. At least six people have been killed. He is using the death of his chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, in July, as a crutch and citing provisions of a 2016 Constitution. It is incredible that President Ouattara could have forgotten the mayhem of 2010 and not know his decision is against democracy, an invitation to another round of violence. West Africa needs peace to develop. Political uncertainties undermine peace.
The world ridicules Africa and its leaders in their obsession with staying in power. Within West Africa, Faure Gnassingbe of Togo has been in power since 2005. He succeeded his father who spent 38 years as president. Thus, father and son have ruled Togo for 53 years. Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo has been in office in Equatorial Guinea for 40 years and the only news from the country is the reported scandalous lifestyle of his son in Europe. The enormous oil wealth has not lifted anyone but the Mbasogo family in Equatorial Guinea. President Paul Biya of Cameroon has been in power for 38 years in which he achieved nothing than disaffection whoch has caused a secessionist movement striving to carve out the English-speaking part of the country as an independent state. President Idriss Debby has been in charge for 30 years in Chad, while President Yoweri Museveni has been in office for 34 years in Uganda.
The common characteristics of these leaders have been their despotism, the one-man rule that brooks no opposition. Each is portrayed as a ‘strong man.’ It was in 2009 that President Barack Obama, speaking in Ghana, advised the continent that Africa does not need strong men. It needs strong institutions. The irony is often that despots are really not strong men but narcissists who use state power to manipulate their citizens and loot the treasury. Good leaders, like President Nelson Mandela did not even go for a second term, to say nothing of a third.
In Rwanda, the signs of change has been marred by Paul Kagame’s increasingly despotic rule. He has been able to silence critics. His latest prisoner is Paul Rusesabagina, a man known to have saved thousands during the genocide but whose only crime is his criticism of Paul Kagame. Sit-tight leaders have turned Africa into a waste land and brought mockery to the continent.
No leader has a monopoly of knowledge. President Buhari’s advice is useful. A culture to persuade African leaders to obey the constitution of their countries and keep the prescribed term limits must be evolved. The common trick of reviewing a constitution to elongate tenure is dishonest and undemocratic. The African Union should outlaw it.