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NKEA ALEAMBONG EMMANUEL

THE EXTENSION OF PRESIDENTIAL MADATES AND
CONSTITUTIONALISM IN AFRICA

Recent Constitutional developments in Africa on the extension of Presidential Mandates have attracted a lot of debate. It behooves me to take on this issue because the elongation of Presidential mandates is not foreign to the African Continent.

To talk of an extension of Mandate pre - supposes that there was a constitutional term limit which the incumbent seeks to extend to some future date or time. To understand this better, it would be wise to examine the following types of Presidential Mandate systems typical of the African continent.

The first is the Post – Colonial era Presidential Mandate system which instituted the “President for Life” phenomena; whereby the incumbents always put in place self succession agendas that were sometimes halted by military juntas.

The vestiges of this brand of Presidential Mandate system are still very alive in the constitutional dispensation of some African Countries today. A lucid example is The Gambia in West Africa where there is no constitutional term limit. This brand derives its foundation and inspiration from the French and British Presidential and/or Prime Ministerial Mandates systems. In France and Great Britain the incumbent President and/or Prime Minister as the case may be, can only be halted from serving any further term in office by the Will of The People expressed in the ballot box. Here the constitutional right to limit the term of the President and/or Prime Minister rest squarely with the people.

Some of the most notorious regimes in Europe and Africa have been identified with this type. Classical examples are Adolph Hitler of Nazi Germany, Bonito Mussolini of Italy and Idi Amin of Uganda. Some of the most successful regimes in Europe and Africa have also been identified with this type of Presidential mandate system; Margaret Thatcher, Francoise Mitterrand, Felix Houphet Boigny, and Mouhamoud Ghadaffi are glaring examples.

The Second type of Presidential Mandates is that which followed the second wind of change in Africa in the 90s, where incumbents were couched into making constitutional provisions for a term limit. Most African countries today belong to this second group. This type is inspired by the Presidential Mandate system as obtains in the USA.

However, while some incumbents have properly made their exit in obedience of this constitutional proviso enshrined in their respective constitutions, many others have either successfully or unsuccessfully tried to stay beyond their constitutional term limits.

It is my humble observation that a lot of heat is always generated each time there is an attempt at an elongation of mandate in Africa. The most recent being the Obassanjo third term bid in Nigeria.

It is my humble submission that, there was nothing wrong if by seeking an elongation of their term limits, Obassanjo or any other African leader before him sought to amend the Constitution. This is true because, the Nigerian constitution like most other constitutions in Africa and the world over makes provision for constitutional amendments. The issue should be whether the constitutional process was duly followed. If yes, then the act is absolutely right. At law no right can amount to a wrong even if it does not please other quarters.

I am not, and by no means should be considered an advocate of the “President for life” syndrome. I submit that the issue rest squarely with the people. The thrust of constitutionalism is that, the people should be able at any given time to demonstrate and express their views and opinions on issues of national political consultations within the context and confines of the Constitution. They should be able to chart the way forward for their countries and decide on whom to lead them into any defined constitutional Presidential term.

To my mind, there is no major difference between the use of unconventional methods in seeking another constitutional mandate specifically provided by the law on the one hand, and an unorthodox attempt at elongation of term beyond the fixed constitutional limit on the other hand.

Therefore, any political deceit leading to an abuse of the due process of the law, by fraud or manipulation on political and constitutional consultations such that the people are prevented from demonstrating and expressing their firm desire renders that entire process not only bad but incurably bad.

A look at the Florida re-election scandal of President George Bush II, gives a genuine example of how some incumbents may want to elongate their mandate beyond the “Constitutional” wish of the people.

If it is bad to resort to fraudulent constitutional amendment to renew (extend) the constitutional fixed term of an incumbent, then it is equally bad to resort to fraudulent electoral maneuvers in renewing (extending) an incumbents tenure of office. The common ground here is that, in both situations the will of the people have been perverted.

Africa has successfully demonstrated that, the decision as to what way forward in light of the above discussion rest squarely with the people. This was the case with Chiluba of Zambia and Bakili Muluzi of Malawi when their schemes for a constitutional amendment to make way for an elongation of their mandates were rejected by their people. The most recent case where the Nigerian people demonstrated their firm denial for any constitutional amendments that was to allow Obassanjo stay beyond his constitutional fixed term lends more credence to this view.


Others like Sam Nujoma of Namibia, and Blaise Campaore of Burkina Fasso successfully had an extension of their Mandates by following the due process of the Law in amending their constitutions. Whether these leaders succeeded or are succeeding to satisfy the wishes of their peoples is a different issue all together.

Thus, the issue should never arise as to the legality or constitutionalism of the elongation of Presidential mandates in Africa, but rather whether in so doing the people where given their historic right to take their due place in such a process.

It is now established that, both the Self Succession agenda and the Constitutional Term Limit concept have failed to yield to popular acclamation. Term limits in African constitutionalism still remains a myth.

One of the reasons why the Term Limit Concept is not popularly accepted in Africa is because; this philosophy is totally strange to the traditional African power settings. Traditionally, power in Africa is held in perpetuity in satisfaction of the Self Succession Scheme. There is always a clear and established line of succession. Most African Leaders try to groom and hand picks their successors. A cursory look at political succession in Togo after Gnyasebe Eyadema and the DR Congo after Lauren Kabilla affords sufficient justifications to this line of thought. Matters are made even more interesting when we look at the political actors in Togo and The DR Congo. We have the dominant presence of the Eyademas and Olypios in Togo and the Kabillas and Limumbas in DR Congo.

Secondly, the Term Limit Concept is not also a European fact. It is as strange to Europe as it is to Africa. It is difficult to count from the former colonial masters, how many of them are applying the concept of Term Limits. During the colonial era, the colonial masters imparted directly or indirectly their modes of governance on Africa. The greater part of Africa was colonized by the English and the French who themselves are not practitioners of the Term Limit Doctrine, and it is only logical to argue that, Britain and France who are forerunners of the Term Limit Doctrine in Africa should teach by example by inserting it in their various constitutional arrangements. It is therefore difficult for most Africans to understand why the West thinks that this concept can best be practiced in Africa.

Thirdly, the manner in which some former African Leaders have been treated by their successors sends shock waves across to the Self Succession Schemers. How can we explain the fact that, Keneth Kaunda who led Zambia into Independence and ruled that Country for close 20 years was later barred from contesting Presidential elections in that country on grounds that he is not a Zambia? What of the treatment given Obassanjo by the Late Sani Abacha? Think of the treatment given Ahmadou Ahidjo by his appointed successor Paul Biya, such that up to this date the remains of the first President of Independent Cameroon are still buried in far away Senegal. These only help them to tighten the grip over power.


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The double standards of the West are an aggravating factor. In as much as the Term Limit Concept is a stranger to their constitutional frameworks, they have also not failed to legitimize illegitimate governments in Africa. If “kangaroo” constitutional adjustments like the cases in both DR Congo and Togo to make way for filial succession could not prevent the International Community from recognizing theses regimes, why raise an eye brow on well meaning constitutional consultations as was in Nigeria?.

It is no guarantee that, setting term limits by themselves sustains or enhances democracy and/or developments. While it has stimulated development and democracy in some countries, it has also stifled it in others.

Therefore, If both the Self Succession Scheme and the Term Limit Concept have failed to serve each other as viable alternatives in the search for a universally binding constitutional framework on Presidential Mandate Systems in Africa, what way forward then?

I submit that, the best way forward is for the people to be given the ability to make the final choice such that if the out come of any political or constitutional consultations does not tally with the will of the people, the International Community should set in to ensure that the will of the people prevails.

This can however, only be applicable if a clear line is drawn between alien interest in African resources and the need to ensure that the will of the people prevails.

© ALEAMBONG EMMANUEL NKEA Esq.
- Human Rights Jurist, Activist & Researcher
- Barrister of The Cameroon Bar Association
- And of The Supreme Court of Cameroon.
- Member Genocide Intervention Network
- September 19, 2006

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