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Nation’s business a work in progress

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by ByaseL, Jun 22, 2009.

  1. B

    ByaseL JF-Expert Member

    Jun 22, 2009
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
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    Dear Tingasiga:

    The president is a soldier. He has been at the centre of the country’s military and political struggles since the early 1970s. Now officially retired from the army, the president remains a military man in outlook and in practice. He has formally won two successive presidential elections on a National Movement ticket. During his second and constitutionally mandated final term in office, the president’s supporters begin a campaign to abolish term limits.

    At first the president remains silent, betraying little interest in the effort to extend his rule. He insists that he has no intention to serve beyond his second term. But then the president’s tone changes, as the third term chorus by his supporters reaches crescendo.

    “The people have demanded that I remain,” the president announces to the media. The pretense is over. It is now time to plan how to steal the election and keep him in power. You are so naughty, Tingasiga! You thought I was talking about the Ugandan President, didn’t you? His is history now. I am talking about a political robbery that is in progress even as we speak, this time on the other side of the African continent.

    President Mamadou Tandja of Niger is working overtime to extend his rule beyond his constitutionally mandated second term which ends on December 22 this year. When the Tandja Third Term Project was launched last year, under the name Tazartche (which means continuity or Kisanja), the President maintained his silence on the matter. Early this year, he assured the French president, among others, that “we would not seek a third term in office.”

    However, in May this year, Tandja decreed that a referendum would be held in August to allow the people to pass a new constitution that would not contain the inconvenient Article 136 which limits him to two terms. Tandja, who has been in power since 1999, declared that he needed a bonus of three years in order to improve Niger’s infrastructure; to end the Tuareg rebellion in Northern Niger; and to give the presidency more power.

    A coalition of pro-democracy forces disagreed with him and took the matter to the Constitutional Court. The Court found that Tandja’s decree was illegal, a decision that was received with mass rallies of support in Niamey, the Niger capital. Things have since become rather tricky for Tandja. Parties that were allied to his National Movement for Society and Development have broken ranks with him over the matter.

    The leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) have weighed in on the side of the people. They have threatened economic sanctions “if Niger acts in an undemocratic way.” The National Independent Electoral Commission has sided with the Constitutional Court and has set a date for parliamentary elections to be held on August 20, 2009. So Niger, a coup-prone country of 15 million people, is in a political stalemate.

    The 71-year old Tandja is, of course, singing from an old hymn book. Other African Big Men have successfully used it to change their national constitutions in order to stay in power. Gen. Lansana Conte, the late Guinean president, is one example. The others include Omar Bongo of Gabon, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Idriss Deby of Chad, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Sam Nujoma of Namibia. The most instructive case is that of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, a gentleman who came to power in 1986 promising a fundamental change, but acquired the Big Man Syndrome that he had presumably fought against.

    In 2005, President Museveni, who had already been in power for nearly 20 years, removed the presidential term limits from the Ugandan Constitution, arguing that he needed just five more years to create an East African Federation, to create a strong Africa and to ensure prosperity for all. In 2006, he stood for a third term, promising his subjects that it would be his last term, his absolutely final term. That was then.

    Museveni, whose current term of office expires in May 2011, is already seeking a fourth term in office. He recently told his party that after looking around, he saw no one capable of succeeding him. We can expect that when he makes his formal quest for a fourth term, Museveni will tell Ugandans that he needs just one last term once again, “to finish his work.”

    Claims that a president needs more time to finish work that he has failed to do in 25 or even 10 years are obviously false. A nation’s business is always a work in progress. It is akin to an Olympic relay, in which an athletic team can only win if the person holding the baton runs his or her predetermined distance and hands the baton to the next person. Presidential term limits are the predetermined distance in the relay of national leadership, not because they are fashionable but because they are necessary.

    Term limits offer a periodic guarantee of change at the top. Short of the death of an incumbent ruler, they are usually the only hope a country has to see real change of leadership. Such change of leadership provides an opportunity for alternation of power, a prerequisite for democratic consolidation and renewal.

    Term limits help to reduce, even prevent arbitrary and violent rule that has been the hallmark of prolonged presidencies. Such presidencies have entrenched corruption and bad governance, and have left the citizens with no opportunities to obtain accountability.

    They have triggered violent rebellions and military interventions that have generally hindered Africa’s progress. The people of Niger can be assured that President Tandja is not seeking a three year bonus, but an opening that will allow him to stay in power indefinitely, Museveni-style. They should do whatever it takes to protect their constitution from Mr Tandja’s greed.

    It may not be easy, but it is doable. The Zambians said no to President Frederick Chiluba. The Malawians said no to President Bakili Muluzi. And the Nigerians said no to President Olusegun Obasanjo. The people of Niger can and must say thanks but no thanks, Mr President.