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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 12:45 GMT
African leaders: How long should they stay?
Presidents Museveni and Chiluba
In Zambia the issue of how long a leader should remain in office has divided the ruling party, with some members wanting to amend the constitution to allow President Chiluba to run for a third term.

A similar story is emerging in Malawi, with President Bakili Muluzi also said to be eyeing an unconstitutional third term.

In Benin, President Mathieu Kerekou is facing challenger Nicephore Soglo in a run-off election. He has already spent 23 years in power. Another five year term in office will mean he has led the country for 28 years.

The situation is similar in Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni is seeking another term in office - which if successful would give him a total of 20 years as his country's leader.

So, should there be a limit to the amount of terms or years African leaders serve?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

No person should be allowed to be in power as President or Prime Minister for more than two terms

Albert P'Rayan, India/ Rwanda
Whether it is in Africa or in Asia or in any other continent no person should be allowed to be in power as President or Prime Minister for more than two terms. Man by nature is very selfish and if he continues to be in power for a longer period of time, he becomes more corrupt, nepotistic and self-centred. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When a person continues to be in power he becomes narrow-minded and is not open to new ideas and changes. In Uganda Museveni has been in power for many years and their constitution should not have allowed him to contest the recent election. The fact that he has won a landslide victory may make him think that he is the best person to govern/rule the country. It is not the case. People don't have the alternative. If he is really interested in bringing about democracy, he should have retired from politics.
Albert P'Rayan, India/ Rwanda

I am betting $500 if Museveni doesn't form a political party, change the constitution and run for another 23 terms all in the name of a different constitution. If I lose I will give the prize to a charity of your own choice in Sub-Saharan Africa excluding Uganda.
Mwale, Uganda

Leaders in Africa should remain in power only for two terms because the longer you remain in power, the harsher and more undemocratic the regime is. African leaders should organize peacefully the transition and accept election defeat and build up a multi-party democracy.
Hadji Tofik, San Diego, CA, USA

African presidents enjoy too much power and have an unbounded access to government funds and other resources. We can constitutionally limit the number of terms for a given president, but for as long as they assume too much authority they can easily adulterate such a constitution. They easily corrupt a few outspoken but unprincipled members of the electorate. In the end, true democracy in Africa is a mere illusion; it is unachievable.
Uwakutina, Zambia

The world is changing, the system is changing as things goes on, the need for African leaders to change is imperative. No one could believe that Europe could one day become the EU, and heading towards a federal Europe. African leaders must learn from the superpowers and change their traditional way of running the country; the world is moving on. Twice in office is enough - leave others to govern, that's my view.
Kamwanga, UK ( DR Congo)

African leaders should stay in power for two terms and nothing more than that.
Lans Omarr, Sierra Leonean based in Canada

Most often rulers try to let people believe that they are the only ones who could govern/rule a country well; and this has often led to malpractices, intimidations etc, before and even during elections. Until all of us come to acknowledge that we are servants to a diversified community, a community endowed with talents as ours (maybe better but most often not given that chance to exercise), rulers will always load it on others. One term of office (3 or 4 years) and a second if he/she proves capable, is what I believe is a good practice.
David Simon N. Wani, UK/Uganda

A leader can stay as long he wants but he must deliver

Lilian Kimeto, Kenya
A leader can stay as long he wants but he must deliver. Sometimes we are quick to think change is equivalent to better leadership. I'd rather have the devil I know than the angel I do not know. If Museveni can help Uganda be healed why not have him? The question should not be for how long but how much.
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya

Whether a leader of a country or a C.E.O of a company, his/her competency in leading in the right direction degrades and ages with time. Hence, even for the sake of the leader it is required that he serves a certain position for not more than 8 to 10 years. However, the human nature is blindly selfish and even though our African leaders know, in their deep heart, that they are no more effective as a leader they prefer a die-hard attitude and ultimately destroy themselves, their beloved people and country. See what is happening in Zimbabwe and Kenya. In 1974 Ethiopia failed in the hands of dictators due to the fact that the former aged king did not allow or do the right reform at the right time. Let us not forget also the historical role colonial powers played/ are playing in prolonging the life of dictators in Africa. May God help Africa!
Kinfe, Ethiopia

A president should serve only two terms in office. That is to say, if a term is to be five years, he/she should be in office for 10 years. This includes years that he/she has been in power before elections are conducted.
Jimmy Buyondo, Ugandan in USA

African leaders insist on remaining in power because they fear from being held accountable for the political crimes they committed

Dagne Tolla, Ethiopia
One of the most serious factors affecting development in Africa is the greed of leaders to remain in power forever. Usually, African leaders insist on remaining in power because they fear from being held accountable for the political crimes they committed, the social and economic mess they have created when in power. Therefore, they create all loopholes and perform all unimaginable manoeuvring not to release the lid of power. Such selfishness usually leads to guerrilla warfare and ethnic problems, non of which could be cited as a good examples in any African country. Therefore, if anybody who climbs the ladders of leadership in Africa is genuine for the development of his country and the well-being of his people, he should not attempt to be elected for more than two terms of 4 or 5 years. After that let him sit around and assess what he has done for his citizens and write books based on his experience so that future leaders will learn from his mistakes and also build on his strong achievements.
Dagne Tolla, Ethiopia

As long as they are accountable, transparent and competent in their work, I have no problem with them staying in power.
Alisdair Menzies, Switzerland (ex Zimbabwe)

African leaders need to be limited to two terms in office. This will not only increase democracy but it will also reduce tribal tension.
Oyoromogi, Uganda

The leadership in Africa is the cause of so many problems. As an African, I think we should mandate presidents to be in power for only four years. If those four years passed and he did good job for his country, he should be considered for a second term. Otherwise he should pack his bags and hand over power to others.
Abdulai Barrie, United States

Term limits may or may not be one of the elements guarding against dictatorship

It appears that term limits don't have precedent in traditional African leadership, and are borrowed from Western democracy. People should choose how long they want their leaders to rule them. Generally, I also favor mechanisms that guard against repression and electoral subversion - term limits may or may not be one of the elements guarding against dictatorship. In Zambia's case, I don't understand how opposition members who've called on their courts and other institutions to follow the recent example of the courts in the American 2000 presidential election with regard to the 3rd term debate, can perceive themselves to not have impaired the democratic process of that country. In touting so-called Zambian democracy, some of the opposition members have given their endorsement to electoral subversion in America, to attempt to enhance democracy in Zambia. They are as guilty as they would like to portray Chiluba in impairing democracy in Zambia.

Not more than two terms, a total of 8 years. Because most of African leaders are worried about how long they can keep the power not what they can do for their country
Koshin Mohamud, Mogadishu, Somalia

Most African rulers (leaders?) are the product of coups or rigged elections. Pressure has to be brought to bear to make them leave office. Rather than limit terms of office, their remuneration while in office should be performance based. Like 0.5% of GDP or something. Bonuses should be for ensuring peace and stability, fighting corruption, etc. Then the duration of the term would be neutralized.
Nnyombi-Kaggwa, Canada

Leadership in Africa is nothing but a hot private business

Zeus A, USA
Leadership in Africa is nothing but a hot private business. Asking a corrupt leader to resign is like telling him to hand over his personal wealth - to which he responds with guns and tanks.
Zeus A, USA

The issue is not how long they should stay but amending the constitutions to allow them to stay. If they are doing a good job and people want them to stay then that's fine. However, the majority of them are just useless and seem to force everyone to accept them as life presidents.
Leslie, UK

With the kind of power-thirsty and money-hungry leaders that we have in Africa, how does half a term sound to you my fellow Africans??
Nebro, Ethiopia/ USA

African leaders need to develop a culture of democratic ideals. They should not be allowed to be in power after two terms in office and should abide to the constitution of those countries. When a leader stays in power for too long he gets corrupted, arrogant and thinks that he/ she is the only person that can lead that nation.
Hilary Binta, USA

When Africa prospers it is a collective effort. We don't remotely need a third term for African presidents - we need a third jail term for most of them.
Eutycus Kariuki, Kenyan in New Zealand

We must give democracy a chance

Sedinam Akpedonu, Ghana
African democracy is in its early stages and therefore must be given enough chance to grow. The continent is now going though an era of transition from the military days to the rule of law. In order to avoid the mistakes of the past, African leaders should not be given the mandate to rule for more than four years. The longer they stay in power the more complacent and less popular they become. We must give democracy a chance.
Sedinam Akpedonu, Ghana

As I see it, democracy can only really emerge once the foundations have been firmly laid. And these foundations include a vibrant civil society, correction for past injustices, education, free press, etc. It seems to me that crime is a natural consequence of a poorly constructed democracy (examples abound). Hence the reason I think some enlightened leaders choose "guided democracy" to create the right conditions for "genuine democracy".
Garth, Zimbabwe

Just consider the situation in the UK. Constitutionally, how long can a British Prime Minister remain in power? In theory, there is no limit, and I think it is preposterous to expect African leaders to limit themselves to two 5-year terms while leaders in UK have no such limits!
G. Wanyembi, Kenya

The only reason why our leaders stay on for life is that "we the people of Africa" allow them.
Babatunde Taiwo, UK

The real issue should not be how long African leaders stay but how effective they are in power

Hamilton Arrey Ayuk, Cameroon/ USA
The real issue should not be how long African leaders stay but how effective they are in power. The notion of time in Africa is quite different from that of the rest of the world. Africans see it in terms of work done while the West tends to look at it in terms of money. Take for example the United States. People are punctual and regular at work not because they really like to work but because if they don't their pay cheques will suffer. This same notion should be the one by which we judge a president.
Hamilton Arrey Ayuk, Cameroon/ USA

I wish to inform you that those people who group Uganda in that category are wrong and misinformed. Uganda had no proper constitution until 1995 and President Museveni has just ended his first constitutional term. In the last election the people of Uganda gave him another term of five years. After which he has no constitutional rights and no plans to influence a change in the constitution to suit his wish to cling to power.
Katureebe Tayebwa, Ugandan leaving in the USA

Looking at the way many African leaders treat their people I sometimes feel that they should never have had even a day in office. It is surprising how some of them change from the opposition to becoming leaders. However, I feel that two four-year terms should be a maximum, with a chance to get rid of them even before if they do not behave themselves. Chiluba should now go and let others take over.
Anthony, Norway

A two-term limit might encourage the development of viable opposition parties

Lionel, Zimbabwe/ USA
A two-term limit might encourage the development of viable opposition parties and discourage the culture of corruption that leads to people like Robert Mugabe building themselves and their wives Z$200 million mansions when their constituents are close to starvation.
Lionel, Zimbabwean in the USA

The main problem facing African leaders is a survival dilemma. Traditionally, the power structures of many African communities was a "chief" or "tribal" model where the ruler held power until he died and then it passed onto his sons. Perhaps this is, in a small way, why leaders cling to power. We should not judge African democracy by the same standards as European democracy. Not because it is inferior, but simply because it is different.
Christine Davis, Canada

I think if leaders have proved to be a stabilising influence for their countries such as in the case of Museveni of Uganda, and if stability is at issue, then people should be allowed to make the decision to let them stay in power for as long as it takes. We cannot use the example of Nelson Mandela because the man is old. This is not the case with Museveni of Uganda!
Sam Mugenyi, USA

Give African democracy a chance

Njabulo, Czech Republic
Give African democracy a chance. It took a number of centuries and two world wars to bring democracy to Europe, and most African nations are still reeling from the aftermath of an undemocratic colonial past. Much as it hurts, Africa is not ready for western style democracy, not yet.
Njabulo, Czech Republic

I think the determining factor in this matter is this; what is the level of contribution by the African president to the development of his country? If the president has been making tremendous impact on the lives of his people, they will want him to stay in office for as long as he desires. But there are very few African presidents that can lay claim to the fact that their stay in office has impacted positively on their people.
Nwachukwu, Nigeria

I firmly believe that African leaders should serve at most 2 terms. The amending of the constitution by some power-hungry leaders so as to prolong their undeserving stay in office is a troubling trend that should be condemned and curtailed. If such crookedness is left unchallenged, there is no doubt these leaders will plunge their countries back to the era of dictatorship. It's therefore critical that the international community at large puts its ubiquitous influence on these leaders so that they leave office gracefully. Africa has enough dictators without the "new African democrats" putting their names to the list.
Solomon Yohannes, North America

What have they done to satisfy even the most basic needs of our people?

UE, UK/ Nigeria
Almost without exception, they are a big disgrace to humankind. Apart from indulging in their usual foolish rhetoric, what have they done to satisfy even the most basic needs of our people? When I visited my own country (Nigeria) recently, only the foreign NGOs and such international institutions as the World Bank (yes, the World Bank) could be seen attempting to help our people through various (although understandably unsuccessful) initiatives. Our own "leaders" were busy enjoying the trappings of power and blaming the West.
UE, UK/ Nigeria

The hunger for power is the root of most of Africa's problems - the inability of African presidents to let go of office in time,
Francis Ezeu, Uganda

What we are seeing in Africa is a lack of vision. No one is born with presidential qualities, they are acquired skills. Besides a president does not operate in a isolation, he works in partnership with others. It means therefore that anyone can do the job. If Presidents Chiluba and Bakili Muluzi want to go down in history as great leaders, they should bow out now and let others take over. Lessons should be learned from great retired leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Jerry Rawlings and Masire of Botswana.
Viv Thunyani, UK/ Malawi

Presidents for life should be a thing of the past

Janita, Zimbabwean in USA
African presidents must learn to realise that they cannot rule indefinitely. They should be limited to two 4 or 5 year terms and it must be made absolutely clear that there is to be no re-election after that. Presidents for life should be a thing of the past.
Janita, Zimbabwean in USA

Allowing African presidents more than 2 terms will automatically create more tyrannies and autocrats, election-rigging etc. It's political suicide to even think of it.
Luwero-diehard, USA

There should be a limit, but one can run for a third term if people want him to - because of the circumstances in that country or his qualities. Like in Malawi now, I don't see any presidential material apart from the current incumbent.
Eunice Chipangula, Malawi

I sincerely believe that African leaders' tenure in office must be limited to two terms regardless of their popularity or the success of that regime. History has shown that the longer a ruler stays in office, the more there is a tendency for him to become corrupt and develop dictatorial tendencies as he begins to see the throne as his personal property and makes every effort at consolidation of his power and position.
Ernest Cole, The Gambia/ Sierra Leone

See also:

12 Mar 01 | Africa
Decision day for Uganda
12 Mar 01 | Africa
Run-off for Benin
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