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Africa’s seventh-day blues: When will our god presidents decide to rest?

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At 92, Mugabe is the oldest president in the world, inviting ironic comparisons to the gods of Ancient Greece. Like Zeus, who refused to share power with his siblings, Mugabe is unlikely to step down anytime soon. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By Matebe Chisiza

Posted  Thursday, February 9   2017 at  16:14

In Summary

  • No person on the continent should be viewed as immortal by their peers or indeed by themselves. Leaders need to respect their constitutions and see amendments to prolong power as infringements of democratic principles.

Grandpa, it’s enough.’

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party in South Africa, has called for President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to step down and not “overstay his welcome.”

At 92, Mugabe is the oldest president in the world, inviting ironic comparisons to the gods of Ancient Greece. Like Zeus, who refused to share power with his siblings, Mugabe is unlikely to step down anytime soon.

However, while he is the oldest head of state in Africa, he is not the longest-serving. Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, have both been in power for 36 years, one year longer than him.

At last week’s African Union Summit, the issue of extending term-limits – a major threat to stability on the continent – was once again relegated to the backburner.

Constitutional manipulations

Some African leaders have taken the international community’s desire for stability and continuity as a sign that they can stay in power indefinitely.

Constitutional manipulations are the most common method for prolonging presidential term limits. Simply ignoring them works too, as exemplified by Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, who remains in power after over 22 years, and most recently in the Gambia when former president Yahya Jammeh refused to step down following the results of the 2016 elections; Ecowas had to send troops to the nation to persuade the former leader to stand down.

In 2015, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term despite the two term-limit set by the Constitution and at the same time violated the Arusha Accord. This led to mass protests, an attempted coup, armed uprisings and a brutal crackdown.

Rwanda’s Paul Kagame is seeking a third term in 2017 following constitutional changes. He has been in power since 2000 and could now, in theory, serve until 2034.

In November 2014 in Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore was forced to resign after his plans to extend his 27-year rule were met with fierce protests. In 2015, the president of Benin expressed his intention to change term limits, while his DRC counterpart continually finds ways of prolonging his rule.

Some argue, however, that these leaders have brought about major improvements in their countries, improvements that have been overlooked. In Rwanda, Kagame is praised for reviving the country after the devastating 1994 genocide.

Rwanda is seen as a model for economic development in Africa (its GDP grew by 8.1 per cent from 2014 to 2015) and is ranked in first place globally with the majority of MPs in parliament being women. According to Unicef, Rwanda also has the highest primary school enrolment rate (96.5 per cent) in Africa. However, Kagame’s rule has been clouded by allegations of human-rights violations and lack of political freedom.

Leaving office quietly

Despite the increase in constitutional amendments for term elongation on the continent, presidents who respect term limits do exist.

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