Presidential term extensions a democracy issue in Africa

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The African Union Commission says the extension of presidential term limits is a growing threat to democratic rule on the continent.

Whilst the AU has taken a firm stance against regime change through military coups, the continental body has not been effective in dealing with the problem of extended presidential terms.

The debate on the need to promote democratic values in Africa is currently underway at the 4th Session of the Pan African Parliament in Midrand, north of Johannesburg.

A large majority of African states have moved to embrace constitutional democracy and the principle of two-term presidential limits.

However, the measure has recently been flouted by several leaders who have used constitutional amendments to prolong their stay in office.

The practice often sparks violence due to mass protests by opposition parties and ordinary people.

Countries like Burundi, Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burkina Faso, are but some of the examples in which this has occurred.

Political Affairs Director at the African Union Commission, Dr. Khabele Matlosa, says whilst progress has been made in eradicating coups on the continent, much still needs to be done to curb what he terms “constitutional coups”.

“The good news is that we no longer have military coups on the continent. But let’s not over-celebrate the good news. We still have challenges in some countries where constitutions are changed to prolong tenures of Heads of State in office.”

“There is a lot of violence that goes on before, during and after elections in many of our countries. We need to depoliticise the military and politics”

Another risk to deepening democracy on the continent is recurring electoral violence. This remains the major driving force for political instability according to the African parliamentarians.
Weak governance, corruption, and the real and perceived manipulation of election results have driven opposition parties and ordinary civilians to rebel, and disregard democratic institutions and processes.

The politicisation of state security forces is also cited as a factor. Matlosa says there is an urgent need for concerted efforts to curb electoral violence.

“There is a lot of violence that goes on before, during and after elections in many of our countries. We need to depoliticise the military and politics.”

Meanwhile, African parliamentarians are still to debate the validity of calls by several countries for the mass pull-out from the membership of the International Criminal Court.
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– By Tshepo Ikaneng