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Presidents Hellen Sirleaf and Marky Sall Support Reduction of Presidential Term Limits

Presidential Terms Limits in Africa

It is not always the case that Africa heads of state want to cling to power. Not all of them. Some do. We have in recent days witnessed a wave of constitutional alterations across Africa to create room for the sitting presidents to extend their rule. Whereas some like Rwanda and the Republic of Congo have operated at the guise of the ‘will of the people’ others like Burundi have ended up in political crises that have led to loss of life, massive displacement and destruction. In some countries like Burkina Faso we have seen the people’s rejection of such move result in what I call ‘people power revolution’ yet in other countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) there is clear opposition to such a move despite the president’s desire.

Softer Coup D’etats?

Many long-serving African leaders have been using what has been dubbed by some as a “softer, gentler coup d’├ętat” to stay in power by reforming their countries’ constitutions. The tactic has been used by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is in a tight re-election fight in polling scheduled for next month. Most recently, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza won a controversial third term in an election that his critics said violated the constitution. In Rwanda, the parliament removed the two seven-year presidential term limit and paved the way for President Paul Kagame to continue in office.

Reduction of Term Limits

Whereas Africa is home to some of the world’s longest serving presidents, and whereas the continent has witnessed this wave of presidential term manipulations, we are equally witnessing a counter narrative. In fact some African heads of state are not leading efforts to have presidential terms reduced. I think we need to highlight this, we simply must talk about it, just as we do when Paul Kagame or Denis Sassou Nguesso manipulate their country’s laws to maintain their grip on power. There is an opposite move in the thirst for power in Africa. I am a supporter of lesser presidential term limits. I mean advantages obviously far outweigh the demerits. With a continent that has witnessed some of the world’s worst dictators; we must learn to embrace term limits, partly because experience has indicated some sort of correlation between dictatorship and long serving presidents in Africa. However, we have had exceptions too. It doesn’t mean we need to take risks that we can avoid anyway. For the time being I am impressed by these two Presidents, coincidentally they are a man and a woman which makes it even better. These are President Hellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and President Macky Sall of Senegal.

Sirleaf and the Case of Liberia

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf supports the call by Liberians to reduce the presidential term of office from two six-year terms to two four-year terms. A constitution review commission set up by Sirleaf recommended last year to reduce the number of years the president can serve. Sirleaf says that her support to change the presidential term to two four-year terms is part of her effort to build a democratic governance model that is transparent and that every Liberian can feel a part of.  She has already written the legislature requesting an amendment of the presidential term to two four-year terms rather than what it is today which is two six-year terms, in effect, limiting the president to a maximum of eight years in office. The Liberian legislature, which returns to work next week from its summer break, will have to approve the term limits recommendations before they are put to a national referendum.

Macky Sall and the Case of Senegal

Senegal's President Macky Sall has said he would hold a referendum next year to reduce the presidential term to five years from seven, seeking to "set an example" at a time when some African leaders want to lift their term limit. Sall is on record having pledged back in 2012 during the presidential campaign that he would cut the presidential term in Senegal to bring it into line with regional norms after his predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, increased it from five to seven years. Obviously I had reasons to doubt him but he seems determined to prove me and other critics wrong.  

I vividly recall the following words from his pledge: "People must see that in Africa, we are capable of setting an example and that power is not an end in itself." I cannot agree more with Mr. Sall. Sall said the referendum to reduce the presidential term to 5/2 would probably take place in May 2016. We must not lose sight of the fact that Sall swept to power in 2012 amid a wave of protests against his predecessor Wade's attempt to sidestep a term limit and seek a third presidential mandate which failed thanks to a popular opposition to his ambition led by a civil society group called 'Fed Up'.


Relating the popular uprising that thwarted Blaise Compaore’s ambitions in Burkina Faso in 2015 to 2012’s ‘Fed up ‘movement in Senegal, I cannot help but harbour a feeling of great optimism in Africa. Not all is lost in Africa; we still have a lot of hope since we have now seen that some leaders are ready to take the lead in doing what I consider to be right in this whole business of presidential term limits and life presidents. People are getting more and more empowered and are now demonstrating that they can block the selfish motives of their leaders. Last but not least is obviously the fact that Presidents Sirleaf and Sall are certainly trying to set an example for other African leaders who are trying to change their countries’ constitutions to extend their stay in power. Surely, we can learn, we must not refuse to learn from such examples.

Presidents Hellen Sirleaf and Marky Sall Support Reduction of Presidential Term Limits Presidents Hellen Sirleaf and Marky Sall Support Reduction of Presidential Term Limits Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on January 08, 2016 Rating: 5

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