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AU must prevent third-term bids from destabilising Africa
11 June 2015

Pretoria, South Africa – African leaders’ attempts to change constitutions to allow them to stand for third terms will become the next big threat to peace and security on the continent.

This was the view of Institute for Security Studies (ISS) experts at a briefing on African crisis hotspots on the margins of the 25th African Union (AU) Summit.

‘If left unchecked, the third mandate issue will be the next cause of war in Africa’, says ISS senior research fellow David Zounmenou. ‘African leaders must speak out quickly and decisively against bids to extend term limits’.

With heads of state meeting in Johannesburg this week, this issue should be on the AU agenda, according to the ISS. This is a view shared by South African President Jacob Zuma, supported by Ghana’s Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, who both agreed, during a panel discussion on Burundi at the World Economic Forum last week, that presidential term limits must be discussed at the AU summit.

The AU African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance condemns major forms of unconstitutional change of government and spells out undemocratic ways to acquire and maintain power, and how these should be avoided. Despite this, new research shows that out of 16 attempts at constitutional amendment to allow for the third term, 10 were successful and 6 failed.

The question of third terms becomes even more relevant given that seven African countries will be having elections in the next two years; including Burundi and Central African Republic in 2015, and Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in 2016.

In Burundi, the issue of a third mandate has had a dramatic influence on the integrity of the electoral process as a whole.

‘Even if current President Pierre Nkurunziza pulls out of the 15 July elections, which is highly unlikely, there has been no political space for the opposition to campaign freely and no independent media covering the elections, which raises questions about the possibility of fair and credible elections’, says Yolande Bouka, an ISS researcher based in Nairobi.

‘Although the AU’s stance on a third term is clearly set out in the Arusha Agreement, the East African Community is avoiding the issue, calling instead for a postponement of the elections’.

Meanwhile, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region is exploring the possibility of a transition period with a power-sharing government.

‘Attempts to stay in power beyond two terms raise serious concerns for democratic processes on the continent, especially in post-conflict countries’, says Stephanie Wolters, ISS division head. ‘Leaders are failing to respond decisively to third term debates, leaving citizens vulnerable and making the ground fertile for conflicts’.

Many African countries continue to be challenged by a lack of constitutional integrity and experience difficulty in transferring power peacefully. There is also not enough support or pressure from regional bodies to uphold the commitments of the AU Charter.

Experts at the seminar strongly urged the AU, together with African regional organisations, to take urgent steps to prevent leaders from extending their leadership terms.

African states must honour key instruments like the African Charter, while respecting sovereignty and their own democratic principles. By putting in place election observers, making better use of the expertise in the AU Panel of the Wise and bringing in civil society as an ally, these bodies may be able to stop the third-term trend from becoming a full blown phenomenon.

This event was one of a series of side-events hosted by the ISS on key topics that are, and should be, on the AU agenda.

For more information, contact:

David Zounmenou, senior research fellow, ISS: +27 72 216 4295, dzounmenou@issafrica.org

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