In his speach at the African Union on July 28, 2015, President Obama addressed a specific African democracy crisis: the issue of presidential term limits. “I have to also say that Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end … I don’t understand why people want to stay so long… When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife.” In 2009 during his first visit to Ghana in West Africa President Obama addressed the same topic: “History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Two days after President Obama denounced lifetime presidency on the African continent during a speech at the African Union, Africa Faith & Justice (AFJN) and partner organizations submitted a proposal to US lawmakers to ensure the US government does not continue to support the very dictators it criticizes.
In the letter sent to members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives who are on the Subcommittee on Appropriation and/or Foreign Affairs AFJN said: “Similar to the “Military Coup” clause found for example in the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, (Public Law 110–161 Section 608), and the “Leahy Amendments” (Section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961) which are always attached to defense appropriation bills, we recommend that the US congress propose a “Presidential Term Limit” clause to further support the US’s commitment to advancing people-powered democracy in countries where the people are held back by lifetime leaders. Under this clause, if a president whose government is receiving US aid violates, changes, or is in the process of changing the country’s presidential term limit law or constitution in order to stay in power they would lose critical non-emergency development aid funds.”
Like many Africa advocacy organizations, AFJN believes that the lack of peaceful and democratic transfers of power is a top threat to economic growth and political and social stability in many African countries. We make the case that “US foreign policy should not ignore the fact that African peoples are more determined than ever to stop lifelong presidencies. Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now Burundi are evidence of a popular wave of support for upholding presidential term limits.”
Furthermore we explain that “On May 20th, in Accra, Ghana, the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) discussed a proposal to ban presidential third terms within the region. Although it was tabled and sent back for further consultation, discussing it in the first place is a step in the right direction.”
On June 30th on the occasion of 3rd African & African- American Diaspora Working Group meeting held at the Department of Sate and chaired by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas Greenfield, AFJN’s Policy Analyst Jacques Bahati handed her our coalition letter and made a presentation about the need for better US policies in relation to presidential term limits in Africa.
Here is a selection of our recommendations:
1.For any African government receiving US aid, rigorous stipulations should be added. A leader who violates or attempts to change their people’s constitution in order to stay in power beyond the specified terms should lose direct and critical government aid funds.
2.Reexamine bilateral cooperation (military, economic, political, and diplomatic) with all African nations whose presidents have attempted or successfully changed the constitution to remain in power.
3. Encourage and support those advocating for the reinstatement of presidential term limits in nations where there is no such provision or such provision was removed.
4. Call on the US Department of State to engage and encourage individual nations within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to ratify the presidential term ban.