Africa: The end of the third term bids of African presidents

Africa: The end of the third term bids of African presidents

11.05.2015. In last months of 2014 and first months of 2015 it was possible to identify numerous cases of pre-electoral violence and protests which have had common characteristic – all of them have been triggered by the announcement of the current president that he wants to either change the constitution to candidate for the third time or he wants to (for different reasons) postpone elections for later, unspecified time. 


Some years ago, these attempts would not lead to any reactions from the population and presidents would continue with their rule without a sign of crisis. As last months proved, situation has dramatically changed. Undemocratic practises are no longer acceptable by the voters and politicians are more and more pushed by the population to respect the agreed rules.


African constitutions and history of their changes

Democratization process which took place in most of the Sub-Saharan African countries in 90ties of the 20th century brought new constitutions inspired by constitutional processes of Western Europe. Limited two term presidency emerged as an incremental part of new democratic rules set for many political systems of African states. Term limits became a part of 33 of together 48 constitutions adopted during the democratization process in Sub-Saharan Africa. The main argument behind this rule was the attempt to overcome arbitrary and violent rule connected with lifelong presidents.

From democratization process of 1990ties it was possible to follow 7 examples of successful change of constitution with the aim to prolong the rule of incumbent present. All these changes were quite peaceful and in all of them former presidents were able to win all elections and consolidate their power.


Examples of awakening

Last months have indicated that arbitrary changes of constitution are no more possible or acceptable in Sub-Saharan Africa and that if someone would think of it he/she has to be prepared for major disagreement and even nationwide protests. It is possible to identify at least four different examples of Sub-Saharan African states where attempts to amend the constitution led to protests and even overthrow of the government and transitional period before the new president will be elected.

Some good examples of aforementioned processes are current protests in Burundi and Guinea, or recent protest in Democratic republic of Congo. In these cases, protests against the current presidents started after announcing their plan to candidate again in the upcoming election. In Burundi, protests started last week when President Pierre Nkurunziza said that as for the first time he was elected by parliament and not in general elections, he has the right to candidate again. His opponents claim that as he has been the president twice, no matter how he was elected, he doesn´t have right to candidate and should withdraw. In Guinea, protests begin only few days ago when President Conde postponed the local election to 2016. According to the original schedule, elections should be held before the presidential vote. Opposition parties accused president of unconstitutional prolonging of the tenure of mayors who can help him to win the next run. Very similar situation could be seen also in Democratic Republic of Congo where protests appeared when the current presided announced his plans to postpone the elections. 

Very specific example of refusal to extend the tenure is case of Burkina Faso from October 2014. Burkina´s president Blaise Comparoé was overthrew by protesters after 27 years in the office. He came to power by military coup d´etat in which 13 members of former government were executed. After a huge pressure from the external western powers, he was forced to organize multi-party elections in 1991. Constitution adopted as a part of democratization process stated that presidency is limited to two terms of 7 year in office. But after Comparoe won also the elections in 1998, he changed the constitution to guarantee the possibility to run in another two next presidential elections. This decision was met with some minor protests however his position in power remained stable. In 2014 he again attempted to change the constitution but he met with much stronger reaction from the population. Intensive and wide protests made Comparoe to flee the country and finish his rule. 


Further development

Is remains to be seen whether these changes in attitudes of population of Sub-Saharan African states towards the opportunistic changes of democratic constitutions will be further developed and create a situation in which presidents will be forced to leave the politics on time.  Anyhow, this situation indicates that at least in some cases, the interest in politics of population grows and democratic rule of Sub-Saharan African states doesn´t have to be controlled exclusively by the external powers and international institutions, but also by their population.


Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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Mária Kučerová