Change of office in Africa: It’s about more than the next president

So far, so bad: In Guinea, West Africa, millions of people voted on a Sunday. Apart from the fact that they could not take care of social distance in the long queues in front of the polling stations built quickly through the help of power tools (see: impactdriverguide.co.uk/dewalt-impact-drivers). The vote – at least for the time being – is said to have been peaceful. However, in the run-up to the election, there were countless bloody incidents with over 90 fatalities. And if, as expected, a runoff election should be necessary, observers do not rule out even bigger clashes.

Why is it so hard to hold fair elections in Africa?

The tensions are mainly due to the tricks of President Alpha Condé. Despite the fact that the head of state restricts the head of state to two terms in office, he is up for election a third time – and that despite the fact that the 82-year-old had fought against the power of African potentates for half his life. In his case, however, everything should be different: Condé believes that he has to continue his reform work, which was interrupted by the Ebola and Corona pandemic. In order not to make himself accusable as a constitutional breaker, the president has used a trick that other heads of state – including his neighbor Alassane Ouattara – have used- had successfully applied. In March, he had the constitution changed, which automatically reset the number of terms in office. In this way, he can even run two more times: At the end of his reign, he would be 94 years old.

Africa has had long periods of power

Africa has already had experience with permanent presidents. At the end of the 1980s, only two of the more than 50 states on the continent passed through as democracies: The rest was ruled by military dictators or autocrats who did not care about the approval of their people. With the end of the Cold War, however, a “ wind of change ” swept across the continent: More than two-thirds of all African rulers saw themselves forced to hold elections, and almost 20 states incorporated restrictions on the presidential term in their new constitutions – a trend which the Arab Spring intensified at the beginning of the last decade.

The African Union even wanted to include the term limit in its charter on democracy, elections, and good governance but failed because of the veto of Ugandan President Yoveri Museveni, who has ruled his country for 34 years. He is trumped by the equatorial Guinean ruler Teodoro Obiang Nguema (41 years) and Cameroon’s Methuselah Paul Biya, who has been ruining his country for 38 years.

Africa: Permanent presidents see themselves disciplined in their exercise of power

The Washington “Africa Center for Strategic Studies” recently demonstrated that term limits make sense. According to his survey, only two of the 21 states that have such limits are considered unstable, while nine out of ten states that are in a civil war-like situation have no limits. The advantage of the restrictions is particularly evident in the strength of state institutions: Presidents who have been in power for a maximum of ten years attach great importance to the fact that their state functions without them, while permanent presidents see themselves only being disciplined in their exercise of power by public institutions.

Restricted countries are also less corrupt: on Transparency International’s index, they are an average of 57 places above states that either had no term limits or that have abolished it.

The trend towards democratization has been reversed for several years. At least 25 governments – almost half of all African countries – tried to get rid of the limits: 18 heads of state succeeded. Only seven rulers failed due to popular resistance, like Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso, whom his angry people chased out of the country in 2014.

Africa’s voters are in favor of a term limit

The state of democracies also has a geographical component. The worst is in Central Africa, where eight countries have lifted their restrictions. In contrast, the limits in the south of the continent are largely adhered to: However, they’re mostly the candidates from the same party, usually from former liberation movements, alternate.

So far, West Africa has served as a model, where the Ecowas confederation almost included the time limit in its statutes five years ago. That failed because of the veto of the Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, who later complimented an Ecowas intervention out of the country after he did not acknowledge his electoral defeat. Of all places, West Africa is giving democracy supporters the biggest headache. Two presidents, Ivory Coast and Guinea broke the limits. There was also a coup in Mali, the result of which Ecowas had to grudgingly acknowledge. Also in Burkina Faso elections are still pending this year. The country is not considered stable. And the liberated Gambia, of all places, recently decided against the introduction of a limit. What Africa’s voters want, however, recently brought to light a survey by the renowned Africa barometer: More than 75 percent are in favor of restricting the term of office of their presidents.