The East African region has without doubt become the dark horse of Africa. Here, the doctrine of a third or more terms President reigns supreme.
Seemingly, the leaders here have neither the sense of consciousness nor the virtue of humility. Witness: President Salva Kiir of Southern Sudan and his nemesis Riek Machar have been at each other’s throat for more than two years now, pilling blood of innocent people whose only crime is the tribes into which they were born.
Al Shaabab reigns supreme in the region – wreaking havoc at will on populations, with measures put in place as wanting as they are intriguing. Until the arrival of the Big Brother on the stage the other day, the situation had appeared increasingly hopeless as the regional leaders tended to largely look the other side. East Africa is, indeed, one of the few places in the world where the value of national constitutions is no more than the paper on which they are written. Evidence of this lies in the “Third Term” mania which continues to cloud the region’s political scene.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is well past his third term in office. And despite spirited and concerted opposition -both internally and internationally – President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi is embarking on his third term as President Paul Kagame of Rwanda readies himself to do likewise. With the trend clearly high up the rungs of East African politics, and given the craze of politics of tyranny of numbers that clouds the Kenyan political scene, it is anyone’s guess as to what President Uhuru Kenyatta may do when the time comes.
By and large, the stand of the regional leaders on the issue of third and more terms President is that of a tongue in the chick situation. No, the third term mania is an aberration of our constitutions and an affront to the principle of the rule of law. Addressing an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week, US President Barack Obama was as clear as daylight on the issue. “Africa,” the American leader said, “will not advance if its leaders refuse to step down when their terms end.”
It is acknowledged that no leader, even the best that was ever born, can be at his or her best past the two-term of four or five-year period. In a recent interview published in the local media, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania alluded to the fact saying the rigours of the office of the President are so heavy a burden that one should gladly seek to relinquish within the shortest time possible. If only other East African leaders could be that honest and admit as much, politics of the region would for the better undergo a phenomenal change.
“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife,” Obama said adding: “If a leader thinks they are the only person who can hold their nation together, then that leader has failed to truly build their country.” It cannot be overemphasised that like corruption, third or more terms Presidency has held back development and prosperity in Africa in general, but East African in particular.
It is no empty speculation to say East African leaders have failed both their countries and region miserably. In both Uganda and Rwanda, democracy exists in name not substance. Opponents of the despots calling the shots in both countries are routinely oppressed, if not eliminated. The sheer desperation and uncertainty of the future facing those professing views that are at variance with those of the ruling despots are a well-documented narrative that need not be repeated here.
Efforts by regional leaders to restore peace or at least a semblance of it in Southern Sudan, still have to bear fruits. Civil war continues to ravage the youngest nation in the world. Following last month’s debacle in the name of elections in Burundi, tension that could explode into a full-scale civil war hang dangerously over the tiny East African country.
On its part, Kenya has its own special ailment – the bondage of corruption the country remains entrapped in, the March 28 war declared on the vice by President Uhuru Kenyatta notwithstanding. If recent reports respectively by the Auditor General and Kenya Airways detailing massive financial losses are anything to go-by, the country remains steeped in corruption head and shoulder. In his report dated June 29, Edward Ouko, the Auditor General, revealed what may by all accounts pass as the biggest plunder ever – Sh67 billion – by government and its various institutions. Kenya Airways, on the other hand, is said to be reeling on a financial loss of Sh27 billion.
Though not exhaustive, situations mentioned herein above manifest some of the cogent failures attributable to the leaders of the East African countries. And nay! Talk of failures of leaders here would be incomplete without mention of the East African Community, the one-time pride and exemplary regional economic bloc – EAC was one, if not the only regional economic bloc of a kind before its collapse in 1967 at the Alter of self-serving interest of the leaders of the region – remains a pale shadow of its former self close to two decades since its reincarnation in the 1990s.
Compared to other regional economic/political blocs, the community continues to slumber. This is, it would seem, due to lack of vital institutions and organs to move the organisation forward. The spirit and idea of an East African political integration hovers somewhere between hope and despair as the leaders drug their feet on the matter – obviously because of vested personal interests such as the need to serve a third and more terms.
It would be unreasonable, even futile, to think that a leader with the grand idea of a third and more terms is going to meaningfully entertain the animal called East African political integration. For this type, the status quo – a disintegrated EAC – is to be preferred. It is under such that grandiose mentality of third and more terms thrive. To the types, the need to always maintain the small nation states for ease of manipulation for third and more terms could not be more compelling.
The naked truth is: Leaders of the region have failed their citizens and insist on third and more terms as a cover-up for their failures and other shortcomings. Judging from the pre-1967 EAC, with successful institutions as then East African Airways, East African Railways and Harbours, and the East African Court of Appeal among others to boot, East African leaders should have brought about the realisation of East African political integration like yesterday.
The myth of a superstar President without whom everything would come to a halt, should and must not hold sway in the minds of people anywhere in the region. A democratically elected President – who respecting integrity issues, served his country with devotion and conviction while in office – does not need and will not go for a third term. That who somehow or other rigged himself into office, plundered his country’s resources and muddied his hands in crime will.
Unlike many of the other jobs, Presidency is like a relay race in athletics. Here, a fresh start at every one of the stages of the race is the name of the game. The idea of one of the runners in one of the relay teams, running continuously to the end while those of the other participating teams keep changing is both unthinkable and out of the question.
There is a myth.
Every President seeking a third term is apt to say he is doing so because the people demand so. The practice is for the concerned President to – through the ever obliging aides – manipulate Parliament to make necessary constitutional amendments, and subsequently organise a referendum to give such a law the touch of the peoples’ approval. No. Germany’s Adolf Hitler did as much down the crazy path to the catastrophe of the Second World War.
With the painful experience of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which an estimated one million people lost their lives, the people of East Africa can surely do better and avoid a repeat of the experience by saying NO to third and more terms Presidency. For the Musevenis, Kagames and Nkurunzizas of this world, your time is up – pack up and go.