Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The term limit debate is not going away anytime soon

ECOWAS Summit in Accra
The proposal to limit presidential terms failed to garner the votes necessary to pass at the ECOWAS Summit held this week in the Ghana capital of Accra.

The proposal did not go past the Foreign Ministers' Meeting that always precede the Summit of the Heads of State.

It was at the Foreign Ministers Meeting when Gambia's Foreign Minister, Mrs. Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, expressed Yaya Jammeh's opposition to any term limit for ECOWAS presidents or for any African presidents for that matter.

Togo's foreign minister also objected to the idea.  Thus, the merits of the proposal were not debated as a result of the two strong objections from The Gambia and Togo.  As a result the Heads of State decided to "temporarily drop the proposal."

Lost in the announcement that the proposal has failed was the decision of the Summit to drop the proposal temporarily which suggests that the proposal to limit presidential terms will be taken up at an unspecified date.  The issue is not going away.  The recent spat of Constitution tampering by former presidents Wade and Compaore of Senegal and Burkina Faso and president Nkuruziza of Burundi among other African leaders.

In the case of former president Wade,  members of civic society coalesced with the opposition to block the change to the electoral laws that would have guaranteed his reelection to a third term.  It ended up in the defeat of the incumbent.  Blaise Compaore was not to lucky.  He was not only prevented from changing the rules of the game but was chased from office after several days of violent protests.

These attempts to change the rules midstream has cause great pain to the citizenry and lasting disruption to African economies.  These types of self-perpetuating shenanigans employed by African leaders are fast becoming targets of reformers and activists for reform.  ECOWAS and similar regional bodies in Africa have started listening to ordinary citizens who are usually the victims of the deterioration of the governance environment.

ECOWAS may have temporarily shelved the proposal, but it is certain that it will be revisited because term limits for African presidents has become a permanent fixture in the African diplomatic calender.