Every democracy faces challenges, opportunities, hardships, pains, troubles and sometimes misery. Ours is no different.
Most people link troubles to elections, for they sometimes come together. By such thinking, every election is a huge trial, which this is a mistake because not every election is messy.
The real trial comes when the incumbent stands for re-election. Africa’s democratic troubles are more related to re-elections than to elections, especially in those countries that have reached a critical mass in economic growth.
The African challenge is threefold: some presidents rig elections to stay in power, others increase the number of constitutional terms, also to stay in power, and the third, and most daring lot extend their term and also rig the elections.
According to Yohana Gadafi, a brilliant young law graduate, since the 1990s, most newly-promulgated African constitutions have introduced limits to the length of the presidency.
In fact, thirty African countries have adopted the two-term limit rule, while Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Gambia have left it out. Seychelles adopted a three-term limit rule.
President Museveni in Uganda, Sam Nujoma in Namibia, Idriss Deby in Chad, Lassana Conte in Guinea, Omar Bongo in Gabon, Gnassiogne Eyadema in Togo, and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza have modified or completely abolished presidential term limits to suit their re-election.
Rwanda will soon be added to the list. A constitutional amendment is almost ready to allow President Paul Kagame to contest for a third-term in the forthcoming elections in 2017.
Though few and far in between, there have also been some unsuccessful attempts to amend constitutions to abolish presidential term limits. This was the case in Nigeria under Olusegun Obasanjo, Zambia under Frederick Chiluba and Malawi under Bakili Muluzi’s rule.
In Burundi, President Nkurunziza successfully, although controversially and arguably even illegally, extended his rule beyond the constitutional stipulation of two terms.
While the constitution of Burundi provided that one could only serve as president for a maximum of two terms, President Nkurunziza argued that his first term should not be counted as he was not elected, and that for purposes of the two-term limit rule, then only his second term would count.
The Supreme Court of Burundi curiously affirmed this position. Nkurunziza went ahead to win the highly disputed elections, which were marred by violence.
Pierre Nkurunziza was reading from the same script used by former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who unsuccessfully attempted to extend his rule by running for elections for a third term, challenging the constitution’s two-term rule.
Wade justified his bid by arguing that his first term had begun before the constitution had been changed. Sadly for him, the chickens came home to roost in the election where he was resoundingly beaten by his former ally and Prime Minister, Macky Sall, effectively putting to an end his hope for a third term.
In Burkina Faso, attempts by President Blaise Compaoré to extend his 27-year-old rule by amending the constitution to abolish term limits in 2014 came a cropper when an unprecedented wave of widespread public protests forced him to step down and flee into exile in Cote d’Ivoire.
Cote d’Ivoire presents a different, though related, scenario. Laurent Gbabgo in the 2010 elections sought to hang on to power even after losing elections to President Alassane Ouattara. The attempt sparked widespread violence. Lives were lost; property was destroyed as the chaos threatened to take the country back to civil war.
Gbagbo’s attempts to continue his rule were premised on his being declared victor in the elections by the Constitutional Council which took a contrary position to the Ivorian Commission Electorale Independante (CEI) which had declared Ouattara the winner. Gbagbo now faces charges of crime against humanity.
Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria suffered from the same sickness; their presidents overstayed and only the Arab Spring managed to get them out. This spring later became the Arab Winter, of frozen dreams, hardened hopes and merciless killings.
History teaches that we have had our troublesome share of such re-elections. It happened in 1997 and again more violently and painfully in 2008.
Now we have devolution in place. Devolution has the power to lower risk by distributing any strains or pressures into forty-seven counties, but without values, it could also multiply violence by forty-seven.
Benedict Nzioki, a fourth year law student, argues that presidents should stay for one term of seven years, so that they can focus on development, results and leaving a legacy.
Dr Brian Oenga, a professor at Wisconsin-Stout University, advocates for an outlet, for example by allowing former presidents to become life senators. In this way, they would secure jobs with tenure.
Whatever the case, we need to become more serious and decisive in the application of Chapter 6 of the Constitution of Kenya, on leadership and integrity. After all, leadership without integrity is not sustainable but an explosive mixture.
Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. Lfranceschi@strathmore.edu, Twitter: @lgfranceschi