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By Alexander NyarkoYeboah
His announcement to go for a third term came with a surprise to most politically enlightened people. This is because of how unexpected the news was. Many wondered why a man who had come to power on the wings of a major conflict would want to further jeopardize the peace by opting to do what could spark the conflict again. The surprise was more pronounced because of how most international players had preferred Alassane Ouattara to Laurent Bagbo who, many thought, had spent ten years as president of the Ivory Coast and therefore had to exit.
The situation is more shocking because of recent developments in La Cote D’Ivoire in which four persons are reported dead at the central town of Daoukro in clashes between Ouattara’s supporters and backers of rival candidate Henri Konan Bedie. This is a surprise because about 3000 people lost their lives in disputes that characterized the coming into office of Ouattara when then President Bagbo refused to hand over power, and so many are wondering why Ouattara would allow his citizens to die again in his bid to go for a third term.
These developments in the once peaceful and stable nation in the West African sub-region provoke a lot of concern about the attitude of some political leaders of Africa and how this attitude has affected the development of the continent for many years.
To begin with, it would not be wrong to say that going for a third term is not uncommon in the history of world politics and development. For example, the current Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, has been in office for 14 years, Vladimir Putin has been serving Russia for 21 years; the Chinese premier is also tipped to go for a third four year term after his term expires this year, etc.
The prolonged terms of office for these leaders, like many others in the world, have come with development and advancement to the citizens of their respective countries, and so going for a third term is not bad in itself.
What is, however, a matter of concern is when a well-thought-out constitution is amended not for the broader interest of the nation, but to satisfy the parochial interest of a single person. What it means is that, should the constitution be changed, it is because one man thinks that he is more important than the well-being of the state to the extent that he ought to sacrifice the state for his personal interest.
The founding fathers of the United States (US) of America came up with a convention that allowed an elected president to go for a limited term in office. George Washington decided to go for just two terms and that became the accepted norm until it got to Franklin D. Roosevelt who went for four terms because he was fighting the Second World War and continuity in leadership and command perhaps was necessary to ensure victory for the allies of the US. That notwithstanding, the American people then enshrined the two term bid in their constitution to prevent anybody from following after the steps of Roosevelt.
It is therefore not going to be wrong when one says that the continuity of a particular president in office becomes necessary, even after expiration of their term, if it comes in the supreme interest of the state to achieve a particular agenda, but not just for the sake of it.
The Athenian democracy, which is believed to be one of the earliest forms of the practice, ensured that all male adults within the city-state took part in decision-making and that the leadership of the consultative house rotated among the members of the house. Historians argue that the seat of the leader of the house was so narrow that sitting on it was uncomfortable, an act that is perhaps to inform occupants of the seat that they were not to get too comfortable on the seat so they could leave for others to continue.
One thing the ancient Romans feared was the annexing of the state by one man because it was their dream that Rome would rule itself. This principle guaranteed that they had no supreme ruler, but the senate, which was the representation of the people, ruled. Therefore, their fear was when one of their own military generals, after achieving conquest in battles, crossed the Rubicon River with his army into Rome, an act that symbolized the ‘taking’ of the state, like Julius Caesar did in 49 BC. By this singular act, an individual advanced his interests above that of the state and it became dangerous for the well-being of the republic.
It is obvious that Africa’s problems have largely been leadership, a situation in which strong men, rather than strong institutions are established to the extent that the state apparatus is subjugated under the will of the leader. That is why it becomes easy for one man to rule a particular country for twenty, thirty, or forty years, like the Mobutus and the Mugabes, because there are no structures to check the abuse of power which leads to poor governance and underdevelopment. In addition, when the state is unfortunate to have a brutal leader with no regard for human life, it could lead to torture and killing of citizens with absolute recklessness, like it happened in the days of Idi Amin Dada of Uganda.
Therefore, it is important that the authority of the state is not sacrificed to protect the powers of an individual because it could be exploited to the destruction of the state. What African states should be thinking about is the driving of development which would lift the continent from years of underdevelopment and anarchy; what African leaders should be doing is not to fuel conflicts, but to open up the political space to allow room for divergent opinions that would benefit the larger society.
The continent has suffered enormously because, all too often, leaders tend to enjoy their stay in office to the extent that they forget the reason why they come into office; they tend to ignore the fact that holding political office should be to promote a particular agenda and when that agenda is achieved, others must continue with better agendas, all in the interest of the state.
Gone are the days when some African leaders turned political seats into traditional stools and skins and ensured that, like the traditional ruler, it was only death that separated them from the seats, even when most of these states had nothing to show in terms of development apart from conflicts, which had drawn those nations backward. At the end of the day, an elected leader would want to leave a legacy for generations unborn and should be concerned about how history crafted their legacy. Why would one want history to judge him or her as a person who held onto political power unnecessarily until many lives were destroyed?
In taking the decision to go for a third term, President Outtara should learn from some promising stories on the African continent and take caution. He could learn, for instance, from Nelson Mandela, who, after 27 years in apartheid prison, decided to go for just one term as president, when indeed, judging from how well accepted he was in South Africa, he could have entrenched himself as King of South Africa till he died, and possibly leave the ‘throne’ for his descendants. Outtara should also learn from the Ghanaian democracy, which, since 1992 has ensured the changing of governments from one political party to the other after every four or eight years, etc.
Africa has suffered tremendously at the hands of strong leadership, which has brought nothing but pain, suffering, hunger and underdevelopment. It is time to say no to strong-willed leaders and allow institutions of the state to run if the continent is going to salvage itself from poverty and backwardness. The world has moved on with developments emerging across the globe. The Europeans have developed their continent as well as the North Americans and Australians; the Asian tigers are also gradually evolving an economy many believe would take over the world very soon.
Africa seems to be left out in all these developments and our leaders should understand that they owe it a duty to their citizens and posterity to lead Africa out of the dark and create a path for progress and development, and not to perpetuate themselves in office since that would defeat the very reason why they were elected.