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Africa needs a framework to discourage sit-tight leaders


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Sir: The only prediction made by the Financial Times about Africa in 2018 (“Forecasting the World in 2018,” 30 December, 2017) relates to the possibility of elections in Zimbabwe in 2018. Holding free, fair and credible elections in Zimbabwe in 2018 will have huge symbolic and substantive significance in helping that country make the transition from the Mugabe era.

Yet the formidable obstacles encountered in unseating Mugabe point to a major challenge facing several African countries: how those African countries that have been led by one leader for over two decades will make the transition from such leaders.

African leaders with inclination to overstay their tenure argue that they provide political stability needed to buttress economic growth and development. But their performance does not support this argument.

The Economist, in its issue of 12 October 2013, called these overstaying leaders dinosaurs – a most inappropriate term considering that dinosaurs are extinct. These leaders are more like Gerontocrats, since they age considerably in power.

Before the Arab Spring in 2011, there were 16 leaders who had been in power for nearly two decades or more. Today, after the exit of Mugabe, there are 10 such leaders in the region with tenures ranging from 16-38 years. So far, three patterns have emerged for compelling the exit of such long-term serving leaders: popular revolt, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Burkina Faso; the threat of use of force by a sub-regional organisation to achieve compliance with electoral outcome, as in The Gambia; and military intervention, as in the case of Zimbabwe.

Each of these patterns has involved some degree of violence or the threat of use of violence. Just as the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership encourages excellence in democratic governance; African policy makers, under the auspices of the African Union, need to develop a policy framework that pro-actively discourages leaders from overstaying their tenure, thus obviating the oscillation between violence and the threat of use of violence to remove them from office.

Given that in over a dozen African countries, incumbent presidents have used various legal devices and political manouvre to extend their tenures beyond the constitutional limit, and the African Union has a plethora of mechanisms for conflict resolution, including unconstitutional changes of government; the new policy framework should detail specific measures for situations involving extension of term limit or refusing election results.

Ejeviome Eloho Otobo wrote from Global Governance Institute in Brussels, Belgium.

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