“Challenges of Power Transfer in Africa”


By Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan

1. Introduction

To be frank, “The Challenges of Power Transfer in Africa”, is a loaded topic that will require a more exhaustive treatment than this article can explore.  However, I will endeavor, within the limits of the article, to share my two cents’ worth on this very interesting and topical issue as honestly and forthrightly as possible.

On last week Wednesday, the VOA and other news outlets reported that the Budget Director of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had cast doubt on the holding of presidential elections in that country at the end of this year as agreed in negotiations brokered by church leaders[1]. The Budget Director had announced that the DRC will not be able to fund the presidential elections.  His boss, President Joseph Kabila’s tenure expired in December 2016 but has been employing a host of shameless and unorthodox schemes to cling to power. Kabila’s refusal to leave power as constitutionally required has occasioned a series of protests in which scores of his compatriots have lost their lives.

About a month ago, our West African neighbor, Gambia, teetered on the brink of political violence with huge ramifications for our sub-region when President Yahya Jammeh shocked the world by refusing to accept the results of the presidential election in which he had lost to Adama Barrow. Mr. Jammeh had previously accepted the result and phoned Mr. Barrow to congratulate him.  To be honest, given the erratic, dictatorial and sometimes delusional manner in which President Jammeh ruled his country for over 22 years, what shocked me personally was not the fact that he later refused to accept the result. I was positively shocked when I heard that he had accepted the result in the first place.  We can only say thanks to the unity, tenacity, and wisdom demonstrated by leaders of our regional body, ECOWAS, supported by the AU and the UN, which was pivotal in midwifing a successful end to the crisis that saw the eventual departure of President Jammeh from Gambia and the inauguration of President Barrow without the loss of a single life.

Former Burkinabe President Blaise Campraore is today living a shameful life in exile after his plan to perpetuate himself in power met stiff resistance from the courageous and fed-up people of Burkina Faso. Campraore’s attempts to use Parliament to secure another term in power, having ruled for nearly 30 years, triggered massive protest and the burning of the Parliament building by protesters.  Today, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo’s freedom of movement is restricted by the walls and bars of a prison in the Hague as he is being tried for atrocities committed in Cote d’Ivoire caused largely by his blatant refusal to accept the results of democratic elections in which he lost to Alhassan Ouattara. The Republic of Burundi is still experiencing after-shocks of politically motivated violence and killings as a result of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to cling to power by using selfish ploys to remain in power after his tenure had expired.  There are many other sad examples of attempts, at times successful, at times unsuccessful, by leaders to subvert the peaceful and democratic transfer of power in their countries.

My own country, Liberia, Africa’s oldest Republic, is one of the many countries on our continent whose report card on the subject of peaceful and democratic political transition is littered with many red marks. From 1870 to 1980, Liberia was a defacto one-party state ruled by successive regimes of the True Whig Party (TWP).  In 1980, the country imploded as a result of a coup d’etat led by Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe in which President William Tolbert, at the time the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), was savagely murdered along with thirteen of his cabinet ministers who were publicly executed on a firing squad. Doe himself reneged on his promise to turn over power to civilians but instead installed himself as President through heavily rigged elections. A ‘People’s Popular Uprising” aimed at toppling Doe from power began in 1989 and was led by Charles Taylor.  Unfortunately, the “Popular Uprising” turned Liberia into a hell-hole and left more than 200,000 persons dead. Doe himself was captured and tortured to death by rebels in September 1990.  Taylor would eventually ascend to the presidency in 1997 but would himself flee into exile in Nigeria in 2003 when rebels opposed to his regime entered the capital city.  Taylor is now serving a 50-year jail term in a British prison for war crimes committed during the Sierra Leonean Civil War.

Liberia is scheduled to hold presidential elections in October of this year and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, after serving for twelve years, is expected to turn over power to the newly 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.

2. Brief History of “Sit-Tight” Leadership in Africa

The 1950’s and the 1960’s were historic decades for Africa as this was the period when most countries in Africa gained their independence after years of relentless and sometimes violent struggle for self-rule. Not surprisingly, the gaining of independence brought tremendous joy to citizens in the newly independent nations. The citizens now expected to breathe freely after years of political suffocation by the colonial masters. Most leaders of the independence struggle were charismatic and massively popular. Some were treated or treated themselves like deputy gods sent by the Almighty to liberate their people from the manacles of colonialism. Unfortunately, some of these very new leaders who had defeated the colonial masters began to revert to repressive practices similar to those used by the colonial masters to suppress dissent and consolidate power. Many of them transformed their countries into one-party states with no term limits for the presidency.

In a paper titled “Democracy Before Democracy”,   Alemayehu G. Mariam, Professor of Political Science at the California State University was not complimentary about the actions of the much-venerated former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah that gave encouragement to the entrenchment on the African continent of the one-party political system under the rule of the “big man”.   Professor Mariam writes,

Despite Nkrumah’s status as the unrivaled champion of Pan-Africanism and strong advocacy for a united Africa, he was also the single individual most responsible for casting the mold for the one-man, one-party dictatorship in post-independence Africa. Barely a year into his administration, the once fiery anti-colonial advocate of political rights and democracy had transformed himself into a power-hungry despot. He enacted a law making labor strikes illegal. He declared it was unpatriotic to strike. Paranoid about his opposition, he enacted a preventive detention act which gave him sweeping powers to arrest and detain any person suspected of treason without due process of law. He even dismissed the Chief Justice of Ghanaian Supreme Court, Sir Arku Korsah, when a three-judge panel Korsah headed acquitted suspects accused of plotting a coup. Nkrumah amended the constitution making his party, the Convention People’s Party, the only legal party in the country. He capped his political career by having himself declared president-for-life.[2]

Many other post-colonial 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.  Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, Houphouet Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, and many others were post-colonial leaders who could only relinquish power through death. President Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi 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?”[3]

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.

Fortunately, post-independence leaders such as Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Amadu Ahidjo of Cameroon, and Julius Nyerere might have seen the writings even before they got on the wall and voluntarily turned over power after decades of rule. Kenneth Kaunda had to succumb to the demands of multi-partyism and set the enviable record of being the first sitting African leader to accept an election result in which he was declared the loser.

Many post-independence leaders of African states who resisted the introduction of multi-party democracy used a host of reasons to justify the maintenance of the one-party state and their firm grip on power.  Some argued that African tradition of respect and veneration for elders and leaders was not accommodative of the fierce competition for power that the introduction of a multi-party state would engender. Another justification used by the apologists of the personalized one-party state was that African countries were deeply ethnic and therefore the introduction of multi-party democracy would only exacerbate division of the country along ethnic lines with huge negative implications for peace and stability.  Some argued that what African countries needed more was a focus on development and the lifting of citizens from the deep dungeons of poverty. In short, in spite of the relentless clamor by opposition activists and civil society actors, sit-tight leaders and their supporters insisted that multi-party democracy was a luxury that African countries could not afford.

3. Military Takeovers

The acquisition of independence was greeted with euphoria by many Africans who harbored the notion that independence would lead to the rapid improvement in their living conditions. However, when the harsh reality of governance set in, many of the post-independence leaders who had made highfaluting promises of a new day, were found wanting in delivering on their promises. Instead some post-independence leaders became very corrupt, selfish, and dictatorial. The military would soon capitalize on the growing disenchantment among the populace by seizing power in a spate of coup d’etat to “save the country from corruption and dictatorship”. In some instances, former colonial powers were the hidden hands supporting elements of the military to take power.

The first two decades after independence were characterized by a spate of coup d’etat across the continent. This wave of military takeovers saw the seizures of power in Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Dahomey (now Benin), Algeria, Burundi, Congo, and many other countries. In some countries, the staging of the first successful coup d’etat was akin to eating the forbidden fruit and forever losing your innocence. Ghana and Nigeria have both experienced five successful coup attempts.  In a paper titled “Democracy, Political Instability and the African Crisis of Underdevelopment” published in December 2013, authors Alhaji Ahmadu Ibrahim and Lawan Cheri write, ‘On the whole, not less than 25 violent successful coup d’etat have taken place in the sub region since 1963.” The authors further state that as at 2002, nearly all countries in the West African sub-region had experienced a coup d’etat.

4. Some Factors Explaining the Transition to Multi-party Democracy

If one were to doze off in a Rip Van Winkle – like sleep in February 1987 only to wake up in February 2017, one would see a completely new Africa – an Africa that is more stable, more democratic and open than the Africa of 1987.  Today, ascending to power through democratic means is increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception. ECOWAS and indeed the African Union (AU) are no longer the “bad boys clubs” dominated by sit-tight leaders who ascended to and maintain 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!  The peaceful transfer of power in Nigeria by President Goodluck Jonathan to President Muhammadu Buhari in compliance with the results of a democratic election and the recent smooth transfer of power in Ghana from defeated sitting President John Mahama to his long-time rival Nana Akuffo Addo are two great examples that practically demonstrate the democratic credentials of Nigeria and Ghana and are sources of pride for every West African or African.

But how did we make this great transition where multi-party democracy rather than rule of the “big man” now dominates the political systems across the African continent? The following factors may help explain this positive transition:

4.1   Advocacy by African Activists

In light of the glaring contradictions between the glowing promises of African strongmen before they ascended to power and the rapidly deteriorating socio-economic realities and political suffocation their people suffered upon the strongmen assumption of power, disenchantment and a deep sense of betrayal enveloped many African countries. However, not everyone could passively accept this sad state of affairs. In spite of massive repression that sometimes included imprisonment and politically motivated killings, many courageous individuals or groups of individuals including politicians, religious leaders, civil society actors, journalists, academics, writers and student activists were unrelenting in their fight for political freedom and multi-party democracy. Whether it was through  demonstrations or boycotts, speeches, plays, critical articles, sermons, or other overt or subtle forms of resistance, many patriotic and disconsolate Africans stood up to dictatorship in their countries in spite of immense risks. The selfless and perilous advocacy of pamphleteer Albert Porte of Liberia, Ken Saro Wiwa and Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, and many others across the continent helped in weakening the bulwarks of the rule of the big man and pushing their countries on the path of political freedom and multi-party democracy.

4.2    The End of the Cold War

The end of the Cold War that pitted the USSR and the USA is one of the key factors that explain the rapid adoption of multi-party democracy in Africa. During the height of the Cold War, many one-party, one-man “rules” across the continent were hugely supported by one of the Cold War Superpowers and their allies.  As the two global powers jockeyed for influence across the globe, their overriding concern was to attract leaders within their orbit that would sign up as perfect lackeys and proxies on the African continent. The undemocratic or dictatorial credentials of these lackeys did not matter much to their Superpower sponsors.  What mattered more was their loyalty to Washington or the Kremlin.  The more loyal a leader was, the more Washington or the Kremlin felt obligated to protecting that leader.   Former Zairean Dictator Mobutu Sese Sekou, who held power for more than thirty years and gained notoriety for his wanton and shameless looting of his country’s resources, is a classic example of an African leader who was propped up and felt emboldened to ride roughshod over the legitimate concerns of his people because of support of one of the Cold War Superpowers.

In another sense, the Cold War might have also contributed to political instability in many African countries as many of the coup d’etats or political assassinations on the Continent were reportedly sponsored by a Cold War Superpower that wanted to protect or advance its national interest in a particular African country.

The end of the Cold War in the late 1980’s and the break-up of the USSR meant that the erstwhile Cold War rivals had less interest in having proxies and lackeys on the African continent. The United States in particular could no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the wanton abuse of power by some of its former Cold War lackeys in  Africa as there was no longer a strategic Cold War US national security interest that would trump such concerns.

Washington therefore became more aggressive in calling for the adoption of multi-party democracy and good governance.

All along there had always been some courageous political and civil society activists in many African countries who fearlessly clamored for the liberalization of the political space.  Many of them were brutally suppressed. With the end of the Cold War, the US and its Western allies began to increase their support to civil society and other initiatives that would help liberalize the democratic space.  Sometimes operating through International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and other donor agencies, the US and its allies even began preconditioning aid on the introduction of democratic reforms. Happening at the time when most one-party states on the continent were experiencing economic hardships, which threatened the absolute control of some of the “big men” in power, this aggressive advocacy for democratic liberalization could not have been more timely. The more a country was in need of donor assistance to address deteriorating economic conditions, the stronger the insistence from the West for the adoption of reforms. Suddenly, it now appeared that a new wave of democracy had begun to blow on the continent and that leaders who would resist the wave of change would do so at their own peril.

4.3   The Role of Continental and Regional Organizations

Organizations such as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and ECOWAS that also depended on donor support to fund programmes and projects were themselves being put under some form of pressure to put democratic reforms on the front-burner of their concerns. The OAU, ECOWAS and some other regional cooperation frameworks began putting issues relating to the liberalization of the political space in member countries on the front-burner.

At an OAU Summit in 1990 held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the Heads of State and Government issued a “Declaration on Political and Socio-Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes Taking Place in the World” wherein they asserted:

We are fully aware that in order to facilitate this process of socio-economic transformation and integration, it is necessary to promote popular participation of our peoples in the processes of government and development. .. We commit ourselves to the further democratization of our societies and to the consolidation of democratic institutions in our countries.[4]

At subsequent OAU meetings, the leaders of Africa continued to issue declarations recommitting themselves to the consolidation of democracy. Of all the instruments adopted by the OAU and its successor, the African Union (AU), to advance the cause of democracy on the Continent, none is as far-reaching and specific as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which came into force on February 15, 2012.  The Charter, among other things state:

  • State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure constitutional rule, particularly constitutional transfer of power.
  • State Parties undertake to implement programmes and carry out activities designed to promote democratic principles and practices as well as consolidate a culture of democracy and peace.
  • State Parties shall strengthen and institutionalize constitutional civilian control over the armed and security forces to ensure the consolidation of democracy and constitutional order.
  • State Parties shall take legislative and regulatory measures to ensure that those who attempt to remove an elected government through unconstitutional means are dealt with in accordance with the law.
  • State Parties shall cooperate with each other to ensure that those who attempt to remove an elected government through unconstitutional means are dealt with in accordance with the law.
  • State Parties re-affirm their commitment to regularly holding transparent, free and fair elections in accordance with the Union’s Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in [5]

The Charter explicitly identifies each of the following as constituting an unconstitional change of government which shall draw appropriate sanctions by the Union:

  • Any putsch or coup d’etat against a democratically elected government.
  • Any intervention by mercenaries to replace a democratically elected government.
  • Any replacement of a democratically elected government by armed dissidents or rebels.
  • Any refusal by an incumbent government to relinquish power to the winning party or candidate after free, fair and regular elections; or
  • Any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of goverrnment.[6]

In any of the above occurs in a State Party and diplomatic initiatives meant to bring a State Party into compliance fails, the Charter provides that the AU shall suspend the right of said State Party to exercise its right to participate in activities of the Union and the suspension shall take immediate effect.[7] It is worthy of note that the AU has been very strict in its application of sanctions on Member States that have run afoul of the provisions of this Charter. At least there is a clear and unambiguous prescription on how to treat these democratic reversals and the AU, through its Peace and Security Council, has not hesitated to impose the sanctions on non-compliant Member States. Countries that have suffered from the AU suspensions in recent times include The Gambia, on account of Yahya Jahmeh’s refusal to accept the results of the presidential elections; Burundi, on account of President Nkurunziza’s decision to extend his rule beyond the constitutionally allowed limit; Egypt, on account of the overthrow of democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi.

At the level of our own regional body, ECOWAS, the document that mirrors the African Charter is the “ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance”. In Article I of the Protocol under what is dubbed the “Constitutional Convergence Principles”[8], ECOWAS Member States affirm, among other things, that “every accession to power must be through free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections”; and that there shall be  “zero tolerance for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means”. This unequivocal Protocol has informed ECOWAS’ reaction to many unconstitutional takeovers of government in the ECOWAS region – the Gambian debacle being the latest.

I still vividly recall that in 2015 when I still served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia, ECOWAS came very close to taking a giant step on the path of democratic consolidation.  Taking cue from the violent conflict in Burkina Faso caused by President’s Campraore’s attempt to manipulate the constitution in order to stay in power beyond his constitutionally allowed term and other similar incidents across the continent, the ECOWAS Commission had proposed an amendment to the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy to include an explicit provision that would have obligated ECOWAS Member States  to “harmonize their national legislations to provide for a maximum of two (2) tenures for presidential term of office”. The amendment was adopted by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers; but unfortunately, was not approved by the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government at its 2015 Summit held in Accra.

5. Few Factors that Explain “Sit-Tight” Leaderships in Africa

There may be other factors that could explain the reluctance of some leaders to peacefully and democratically transfer power in Africa, but I consider Corruption and Cronyism and Dictatorship and Human Rights Abuse, as the most prominent.

5.1    Corruption and Cronyism

In many countries, sitting in the State House or Executive Mansion gives a person tremendous power and privilege. Some leaders with good intentions like Tanzanian President Magafuli use such power and privilege to empower their citizens and effect attitudinal and paradigm shits that transform government and their country for the better. Unfortunately, others us similar power and privilege to shortchange their countries and enrich themselves, their families and their cronies. Some extremely corrupt leaders do not recognize any boundary between their personal income and the resources of the State. In such an environment, cronyism is so heavily entrenched to the extent that success in business and other forms of endeavor depends on personal connections to the leader or a close family member or political ally of the leader. The more colossal and pervasive the theft by leaders and their associates, the more such leaders dread the day reckon that could come when they can no longer control the machinery of the State. For instance, given billions of dollars that former Nigerian President Sani Abacha was found to have looted from Nigeria, one is left with little wonder why he tried to perpetuate himself in power through a host of mischievous schemes.

5.2    Dictatorship and Human Rights Abuse

Some despotic leaders use their time in power to not only suppress their people but also to eliminate or make to flee into exile whomever their opponents, real or imagined. The hands of such leaders drip with the blood of many an innocent citizen. The more such despots eliminate opponents, the more they get consumed with fear that some aggrieved person(s) could eliminate them too. They therefore get on a slippery slope such that the more they commit atrocities, the more intense the fear that propel them to commit more atrocities. The insecurity of these psychopathic despots is compounded whenever they imagine what fate could befall them when they are no longer in power. Besides being very corrupt, former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh committed lots of human rights abuses over his 22-year stranglehold over his nation. It is reported that fear for prosecution for the many egregious human rights abuses committed by him during his rule may explain why he decided to reject the election result after earlier accepting it.

6. What Should Be Done to Ensure the Smooth Transfer of Power in Africa?

To ensure peaceful and smooth transfer of power across Africa, I would propose the following:

6.1   The Ruling Class must uphold the Tenets of Democracy.

For democracy to thrive, those in power must not only profess their commitment but must also ensure through genuine actions that democratic tenets such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association are respected and upheld.

6.2    Elections must be Regular, Transparent and Credible

Although there are other processes that constitute major elements of democracy, the casting of the ballot is the best expression of the democratic right of a citizen. Therefore, elections must be held regularly and must be transparent and credible. The constitutions of most African countries set clear timelines and dates for the hosting of elections, but some African leaders find the most frivolous of excuses not to hold elections on the constitutionally mandated date. Such is the case in DR Congo where President Kabila flatly refused to hold election when his tenure ended in late 2016.  The regularity of elections reduces uncertainty.

Additionally, it is not sufficient for elections to be free, fair and transparent in fact; they must also be perceived by the electorates and other stakeholders to to be free, fair and transparent. No doubt, what happens on Election Day is extremely important; but also important is what happens before and after Election Day up to and including the announcement of the election result. In this respect, the credibility, independence, and impartiality of the electoral commission is an absolute necessity.

Malcom X once asserted, “The Ballot or the Bullet”. I will paraphrase this to say that whenever the ballot succeeds, the bullet recedes. In short, if a person or a group of persons feels that their vote count, they will be patient enough to wait for election to take their grievances to the ballot box. However, if they feel that their votes will be robbed, they do not put faith in the ballot. They may instead resort to “whatever means necessary” to bring about change, including resorting to armed rebellion. The violent political conflicts in Liberia in the past and those in many other African countries can be also explained by the deep faithlessness in the ballot as a tool to effect change.

6.3    The Judiciary Must Be Strong, Independent, and Impartial.

Elections are tension-packed activities that are      characterized sometimes by disputes. Therefore, the role of a   strong, impartial, and independent Judiciary in ensuring peace   and order when issues emanate from the electoral process             cannot be overemphasized. Judges must be able to rise above all selfish inclinations and uphold the truth no matter the      circumstances. In order to gauge the strength and impartiality of the Judiciary, the crucial question we must ask is whether         the Judiciary has the courage to uphold the election results      when the facts at their disposal would justify such a decision or whether they would have the courage to annul an election         result when the facts at their disposal justify annulment. After the 2012 elections in Ghana in which Nana Akuffo Addo    lost     to John Mahama, the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP)           did not go to the streets or resort to arms to express their disagreements with the result. They demonstrated faith in the judicial process by going to the Supreme Court. After many                 months of hearing the case, the Supreme Court affirmed the results. Had the opposition Party had no confidence in the       independence of the Judiciary, they might have resorted to           actions          that might have injured the peace and tranquility of Ghana.

6.4   Build Strong Institution that Can Uphold the Rule of Law,    Not the Rule of Man.

In some states, laws are made or implemented to conform to the selfish wishes of the ruler, instead of the ruler conforming to the dictates of the law. Such an environment is a fertile ground for corruption, cronyism, dictatorship, human rights and many other abuses of power. Therefore in order to deal with these      vices and their negative implications for the smooth transfer         of power, African countries must build strong, countervailing institutions that will             promote the rule of law. The Judiciary, the Legislature, and other state apparatuses meant to fight abuse such as auditing commissions, anti-corruption commissions, procurement commissions, human rights commission, etc must be   strong and  independent             enough to resist the ruler, if and when necessary.

6.5   Make Life after Government Attractive

Many countries provide for pensions and other retirement benefits for former leaders in their constitutions and statutes.  Maybe, in some countries, there may be a need to review such packages in order to make them more attractive. Besides pensions, former leaders should be treated with respect and given due courtesies and not be subjected to humiliation on account of frivolous and trumped-up charges of corruption and abuse of power as successors engage in “winner’s justice” on their predecessors. Furthermore, reform of pension systems generally to make life after government attractive for people who served honorably in government, whether they are ordinary civil servants or legislators or ministers, may help smoothen power transfer across the continent. Oftentimes, the hesitance of an embattled leader to relinquish power is explained by the personal fears of not the leader himself but that of his cabal of diehard officials and cronies. In these last days, the leader may no longer be leading but may in fact be led by a cabal of supporters who are fearful of a material reversal in their economic and social statuses if their patron departs. Addressing legitimate concerns of individuals who surround the embattled leader may help to accelerate the relinquishing of power by an intransigent leader.

6.6    Consider Limiting Presidential Tenure to a Maximum of Two Terms

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. 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.

7.   Conclusion

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  Overall, with the exception of a few problem spots across the Continent, power transfers in Africa today are getting more democratic, routine and seamless than a few decades ago. In fact, many countries on the Continent have enshrined in their constitutions provisions that provide for multi-party democracy and the assumption of power through free, open, and transparent elections. What is heart-warming is that momentum is on the side of democratic consolidation and as African peoples get used to democracy, they are less inclined to tolerate reversals. Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Liberia and many other African countries are shining examples of vibrant democracies that are maturing by the day. In places where a few strong-men have attempted to torpedo the smooth transfer of power, they have been roundly condemned not only by Western countries or the UN; the condemnations and rejections from African countries themselves and the AU have been even more vociferous and categorical. One indicator of the strength of a democracy is the number of past democratically elected presidents who live freely and proudly in their own countries. In many countries across the continent, that number, though infinitesimal, is now beginning to increase.

In sum, with the evolution of time, African countries have on balance been taking front steps, not back steps, on the path of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected leader to another. In this day and age, Africa cannot afford to turn back. Forward ever, backward never!

[1] Clowes, W (2017, February 16). DRC Budget Minister Casts Doubt on 2017 Elections, VOA Africa, Available at https://www.voanews.com/a/drc-budget-minister-casts-doubt-on-elections-in-2017/3727338.html.

[2] Alemayehu, M Democracy Before Democracy Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/the-democracy-before-demo_b_434992.html

[3] “Transitions to Democracy in Africa.” National Research Council. 1992. Democratization in Africa: African Views, African Voices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2041, Retrieved from: https://www.nap.edu/read/2041/chapter/4#14

[4]OAU’s Heads of State and Government’s “Declaration on Political and Socio-Economic Situation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes Taking Place in the World” issued in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1990. Available at  https://archive.au.int/collect/auassemb/import/English/AHG%20Decl%201%20XXVI_E.pdf

[5] African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, entered into force Feb. 15, 2012 (Articles 5,12, 14,&17);Available at http://www.un.org/democracyfund/Docs/AfricanCharterDemocracy.pdf.

[6] Ibid, Article 23.

[7] Ibid, Article 25.

[8] ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance adopted in 2012, Article 1(b&c); Available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/RuleOfLaw/CompilationDemocracy/Pages/ECOWASProtocol.aspx


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