AFRICAN leaders will on Sunday gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, for their biannual summit to grapple with an array of issues, including conflicts with attendant political and security problems, derailing the continent’s progress.
Africa is widely seen globally as the new growth frontier. Six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies of the past decade have been in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past decade Africa’s average annual rate was more than 5%, buoyed partly by improved governance, policies and economic reforms.
Elections are also now the norm rather than an exception, although some of the polls are simply tailor-made to retain authoritarian incumbents. Even the most diehard and vile dictators in Africa now understand you can have elections without democracy, but you can’t have democracy without elections.
Predictably, the AU summit will be dominated by pressing peace and security issues, particularly the situation in Burundi, South Sudan and Libya, as well as trade, women issues, xenophobia, migration, terrorism, International Criminal Court and rapid deployment capability of the African Standby Force.
Of course, there are also conflicts in northern Nigeria, Central African Republic, Somalia, Mail and DRC, among other countries.
Yet it is a previously ignored issue which might dominate the official and unofficial agenda and create serious controversy in Johannesburg: The bid for third terms by some power-hungry African leaders. They call it third-termism these days.
While third terms bids have failed in some countries like Malawi, Zambia and Nigeria, they have succeeded elsewhere like in Namibia and Togo more recently.
As it stands, Africa has 10 countries: Burundi, Uganda, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Djibouti, and Angola, which will be going to presidential elections between 2015 and 2017. What the leaders of these countries have in common is that they will have already served two terms or more and will be seeking to extend their stay in office.
In April, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé won a controversial third term. His father Gnassingbé Eyadéma ruled for 38 years. Just recently Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir was re-elected to extend his 26-year presidency.
Blaise Compaoré was in power for 27 years in Burkina Faso, while Omar Bongo ruled Gabon for 41 years. Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi reigned for 42 years. The Arab Spring rocked Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in 2011 toppling other long-serving leaders.
And now Burundi erupted after President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term triggered uproar that could have far-reaching consequences for him and for other leaders who have outlived their welcomes.
AU leaders are set to confront Nkurunziza over the issue in Johannesburg as they seek to uproot the culture of more than two tenures. South African President Jacob Zuma and his Botswana counterpart Ian Khama last week scoffed at third-termism.
But the trouble is many African leaders have been there for long periods. Those who have served for over 20 years include Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, at the helm for 36 years, Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos (36), President Robert Mugabe — current AU chairman — (35), Cameroon’s Paul Biya (33), Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni (29), Al-Bashir (26), Chad’s Idriss Deby (24), Eriteria’s Isaias Afwerki (24) and Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh (21).
Congo-Brazzaville’s Denis Sassou Nguesso has been there for 13 years, the same numbers of years he served before he was interrupted by defeat in between.
Although the new Zimbabwean constitution has term limits, it however allows Mugabe, in power since 1980, to serve two more tenures until 2023, which means he can possibly end his rule at 99 after 43 years in office.
AU leaders must end anachronistic perpetual incumbency which has failed the continent. Africa has a lot of resources but is poor partly because of leaders who want to rule in perpetuity largely for themselves, their families and cronies, not for the common good.