Friday, March 31, 2023

African leaders must start respecting their nations’ Constitutions

Tempering with the constitution is a sad and growing testimony to the continuing bad governance of African countries. Several African countries are still struggling with constitutions and presidential term limits.

The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)’s negligence on constitutional matters, especially presidential term limits, is now a cause for concern. We has always hoped that these regional and continental organisations police each other across the continent to bring relief to Africa’s citizens.

Diplomacy, that foolish practice where we avoid telling wrong-doers the harm they are causing, has been taken advantage of by African politicians who are so corrupted that they are not allowed in any church.

African governments mistake diplomacy extended to them for acceptance of their policies and this remains the chief incubator for the problems facing most of Africa.

Normally, in a democracy, the constitution is superior to all the people, including the president. The people are supposed to exercise their sovereignty and, as a result, decide what rules and principles they want government to follow.

The people of Africa then believe that their state and local government rests on constitutions and any other agreed to conditions.

After being handed the presidency of South Africa by Nelson Mandela, who served only one term, it was shocking to see Thabo Mbeki try to play around with the constitution of South Africa. He failed.

To this day, on a continent that is slowly becoming familiar with former presidents, Mbeki is the least recognized and admired former president.

Over the past decade, Africa has witnessed changes. Instead of the changes being normal, they became increasingly militant because of the intolerance cause by the abandonment of constitutions.

Fortunately, there is a growing population of younger Africans who, spurred on by the availability of information from any part of the world, are agitating for change because information for them no longer comes from government radio, television and newspapers.

And, because they can no longer control the flow of information, African governments have started rushing to their parliament, often staffed by their own “yes” people, to change constitutions to fit themselves.

In the past decade, a number of African leaders have had their time in office extended through illegal constitutional amendments, whilst public discourse is being deterred and opposition to dictatorial rule is suppressed.

This disturbing trend seems to be establishing itself on the African continent.
Writing a constitution has become a futile exercise and a waste of resources because the people in the upper echelons of power, especially presidents, no longer have the desire or respect to follow it to the letter.

African presidents want to hold on to power and to actually die in office because they have committed so many crimes that they would be arrested the minute they become ordinary citizens. They want to die in office to protect themselves. They have recently become mindful of what happened to a once touted “president of the United States of Africa” in a country called Libya.

Recognising the atrocities and mistakes they committed in their countries during their presidencies causes these African leaders to want to die in office as a means to avoid prosecution ÔÇô something they obtained through the manipulation of the constitution.

What we are witnessing in Burundi is not new; it is old and smelly.

But I am elated by what just happened in Nigeria, a country more famous for military coups suddenly becomes a model of democratic change of power. Unbelievably sweet to me.

Thank you, Nigeria.
And, as we are talking, what does Burundi think it is doing?

All its neighbouring countries are telling Burundi president Nkurunziza not to go ahead with elections that violate constitutionally set term limits that he has already surpassed.

It is even sadder when the courts of law are harnessed into twisting and violating the constitution to please a power drunk president.

We need to say ‘enough’ to our presidents’ lawlessness in Africa.

Our continental and regional groupings like the African Union, the East African Community, SADC, and the Economic Community of West African States don’t have the spine to address this issue, an issue that is setting Africa backwards.

Every African country seems to be afflicted by this same problem.

In January this year, protests erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo over proposed changes to an election law that would allow President Joseph Kabila to stay in power. Anger at the proposed legislation prompted bloody confrontations between anti-Kabila protesters and police which left at least 40 people dead.

Fortunately the DRC’s lower house of parliament agreed to scrap the contested part of the electoral bill that would have enabled President Joseph Kabila to extend his grip on power.

What is more disheartening is that when the public tries to make their voices heard through peaceful demonstrations, they are usually severely beaten, harassed, maimed, or, sadly, killed.

Peaceful protests have rocked Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, since the ruling party announced on April 25 that it had nominated Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate.

More than 20 people died and then there was an attempted coup.

The resistance is still ongoing.

The likes of Nkurunziza, Mugabe, Kabila, amongst many, are showing that they do not care about their constitutions. They, as well as other African presidents, must realise that they are only individual parts of a relay team and must pass the baton to the next runner at the appropriate time.

African leaders do not care. A plan to restrict West African presidents to two terms in office was dropped by Heads of state at the ECOWAS summit in Accra two weeks ago. Published reports from the summit say that Togo and Gambia, both with presidents who have been in power for more than two terms, opposed the idea.?

Algeria, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea, Gambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe are some of the countries whose presidents have served at least 15 years.

The AU, SADC and the ECOWAS blocs must swiftly act to protect constitutional rule in Africa. Those unyielding head of states who argue that “it is not about how long you stay in power, but how good you are whilst in power that matters” should be literally forced out of office.

This lack of political democracy is why African development continues to regress and stall. Applying the same regional agreement to all African nations for decades on end cannot work.

It is time that African presidents respected their own constitutions and stopped violating them through changes in parliaments staffed by their “yes people”.

Extension of term limits is meant to protect themselves because most constitutions in Africa now state that a president cannot be sued while in office. Even the “after office” part is being dealt with, meaning a president can do pretty much as they please and never be called to answer for their misdeeds.

African presidents hide behind constitutions that they manipulate to stay in power and it is necessary for citizens of every nation to stop this kind of corruption.

We all must ensure that our constitutions are properly written and, more importantly, that they are strictly adhered to.


Read this week's paper