Manifesto against the presidency for life in Africa

Alassane Ouattara’s plan to seek a third term is a very bad sign for the future of democracy in Africa. The Ivorian president is reneging on the promise he made on March 15 to step down from power and thus he is strangling the Constitution of his country, bending it to his own personal ends. 

Constitutional interpretations are flying and the disagreements among jurists from all sides about the legality of this move have plunged democracy’s supporters into unprecedented turmoil. From the moment the Constitution was disregarded, and the red line drawn by the National Conferences of the 1990s crossed, the die was cast. 

We fear the worst. And there is a name for that worst: the single party, the monochrome assembly, president for life. 

We know all the ills wrought by that system. So, right now, in this moment, let us express our condemnation of it loudly and clearly. Let us refuse any suggestion of a third term here or anywhere else in Africa! Let us remember that Nelson Mandela, after all the sacrifices he made for his people, promised to serve for only one term — and he kept that promise, despite the pressures brought to bear on him from all sides.

It is clear that, if it succeeds, this new attempt to usurp power in Abidjan will serve as a model for others. Alpha Condé, the president of Guinea, who no longer feels alone in his desire to remain in office for another term, hurried to send a warm congratulatory message to his Ivorian counterpart. 

In Niamey, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou must be wondering if he should follow their lead. While in Kinshasa, Joseph Kabila played Russian-style tricks with the rule of law, Macky Sall, in Dakar, Senegal, will certainly now be tempted to follow the path of constitutional manipulation. As for Paul Biya in Cameroon and Maréchal Idriss Déby in Chad: they have long since trampled on their constitutions without receiving any criticism whatsoever. 

We say “No” to the return to absolute power, whether it comes by means of tanks or a trick of the pen! 

We must act before it is too late. 

Ouattara’s and Condé’s unacceptable candidacies call on each of us to speak up. It is important that African and international voices take stock of the gravity of the situation and mount a coordinated response so that democracy in Africa does not become an imposture, but a tangible reality, one not based on the good will of individuals, but on the authority of the law and the sacred nature of the Constitution. 

The Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, and the International Organisation of the Francophonie sanctioned Mali after the military coup. So why do they avert their eyes from the constitutional putsches taking place in Abidjan and in Conakry? 

Do these institutions want us to believe that a coup de force by civilian politicians is more acceptable than that by military officers? Their ambiguous stance is doing great harm to the democratic process launched at the start of the 1990s. 

The international community runs the risk of shattering all the efforts under way to establish a true and enduring democracy in Africa: a democracy founded on free and transparent elections; a democracy where the transfer of power between parties occurs seamlessly and in strict adherence to the rule of law.

Now is the time to denounce the so-called committees of experts charged with drafting constitutional reforms and who let themselves so easily be convinced or sweet-talked. We cite as a case in point the removal of the age limit for the presidency in the newly proposed Ivorian constitution, which would allow Henri Konan Bédié, now 86 years old, to again run for the presidency. 

Into what abyss have we been thrown? Into one that denies any future to our youth, now sacrificed by an oligarchy without opposition or challengers.

If we do not take care, soon presidents will not be content just to modify our constitutions, they will make lawlessness, or rather the lack of power-sharing, the standard of our civic life. 

Let’s make sure it does not come to that!

The Manifesto is published in French on Change.Org

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Tierno Monénembo
Tierno Monénembo is a Francophone Guinean novelist and biochemist.

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