Former Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan has urged the authorities of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to amend its protocol on democracy to set a two-term limit for all presidential tenures for its member states.
Mr. Ngafuan, who has declared his intention to contest in Liberia’s presidential elections in October 2017, said such a positive lead from ECOWAS countries may ease the way for the adoption of term limits by all member states of the African Union.
His call followed the recent development in The Gambia when former President Yahya Jammeh, was forced out of power, having stayed 22 consecutive years. Jammeh lost the presidential election to Adama Barrow last December, but refused to step down until he was allowed to negotiate his way out as West
African forces led by Senegal closed in on him.
According to a dispatch, Mr. Ngafuan spoke recently in Lagos, Nigeria, when he served as the guest speaker at this year’s ‘World Understanding Symposium’ sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lagos.
Ngafuan, who resigned from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government in order to make way for his own presidential bid, stated: “In the ECOWAS region, almost every country has provisions in their constitutions restricting presidential tenures to a maximum of two terms. I, therefore, propose the adoption of the amendment of the ECOWAS protocol on democracy to formally accommodate this reality.”
He frowned on “sit-tight” leaders in Africa who continue to hold onto power and subvert the peaceful and democratic transfer of power in their countries.
He stated that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, after serving for twelve years, is expected to turn over power to an elected president in January 2018.
“If everything pans out as planned, this would be the first time since 1944 for Liberia to experience a peaceful transition from one living President to another,” he said.
Mr. Ngafuan spoke on the topic, “The Challenges of Power Transfer in Africa.”
However, he acknowledged that ascension to power in Africa through democratic means is “today increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception.”
He applauded the “unity, tenacity, and wisdom demonstrated by leaders of our regional body, the Economic Community of West African States, supported by the African Union and the United Nations,” which he said was pivotal in bringing an end to the Gambian crisis without the loss of life.
The former Minister noted that ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) are no longer the “bad boys’ clubs” dominated by “sit-tight leaders” who ascended to and maintained power by force of arms.
“Today, all of the fifteen ECOWAS leaders were democratically elected and the region is considered by many as the beacon of democracy in which the previously unimaginable is now happening – sitting presidents are accepting the outcomes of elections in which they are defeated!”
Giving a brief history of those he described as ‘sit-tight’ leaders in Africa, Mr. Ngafuan observed that many post-independence leaders, as good-intentioned as some of them might have been in other respects, also proceeded in a manner that would suggest that they actually believed that the reward they deserved for leading the march to independence was to be given the unquestionable right to lead their nation “till their very death.”
Mr. Ngafuan pinpointed former Malawian President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, whom he said practically equated himself to God in justifying his suppression of opposition when he said “There is no opposition in Heaven. God himself does not want opposition—that is why he chased Satan away. Why should Kamuzu [President Banda] have opposition?’’
Turning to Liberia, Mr. Ngafuan added: “To some degree, I feel guilty as a Liberian because my former President, William V. S. Tubman, a contemporary of many of the post-independence leaders like Nkrumah, Toure and others, might have given his colleagues some indirect encouragement to follow his lead because until his death in power in 1971, Tubman had ruled Liberia for twenty-seven unbroken years and was probably the longest serving African President at the time.”
Ngafuan said he believes that one easy way to measure the strength of a democracy is to count the number of former democratically elected presidents who live freely and proudly in their own countries.
He named corruption, cronyism, dictatorship and human rights abuse as the most prominent factors responsible for the reluctance of “sit-tight leaders” to leave power. In order to ensure peaceful and smooth transfer of power across Africa, Ngafuan proposed a number of measures, including the upholding of the tenets of democracy by the ruling class and the opposition. He made particular emphasis on the importance of the holding of regular, transparent and credible elections.
He also said the judiciary must be strong, independent, and impartial, and that strong and countervailing institutions must be built. He then cited the need to make “life after government” attractive for those who served in government, especially heads of state, who should be given decent pensions and accorded due courtesies.