The recent declaration by President Paul Biya of Cameroon that he will run for re-election in October, will see him extend his 36-year rule and maintain his place on a shortening roster of long-standing African leaders.
The 85-year-old became president of Cameroon in 1982 after Ahmadu Ahidjo, the country’s first president resigned. Since then, he has refused to relinquish power. He is seeking a seventh term in office that could see him rule into his 90s.
Biya has virtually ruled by decree since taking office, scrapping term limits from his country’s constitution in 2008, allowing him to run again and sparking riots in which over 40 people were killed. He has also secured immunity from prosecution for actions he took while in office.
The election, scheduled for October 7, comes at a turbulent time for Biya and his country. A separatist insurgency in the western English-speaking regions has left scores of citizens dead since September 2017, while a drop in the price of the nation’s key cocoa and oil exports has weighed on the economy.
But Biya explained that he wants to contest again because the people urged him to do so. “I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls. I will stand as your candidate in the upcoming presidential election,” he said.
The explanation is not surprising because other African leaders with inclination to overstay their tenure had equally argued that they provide political stability needed to buttress economic growth and development, although their performance does not support their argument.
No doubt, it is Biya’s constitutional right to seek for another term going by the Cameroonian law, which he succeeded in mutilating to suit his desire, but the fact remains that his quest negates the principle of democracy as government by the people for the people, and there can be no justification for a man who has been in power for over three decades to continue in an emerging world order that emphasises clear-headed and able leadership.
Sadly, Cameroon is one among several African countries that have been subsumed by the will of their leaders. Others are Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, Burundi, Togo and Democratic Republic of Congo. But, at the same time, several countries, including Senegal, Burkina Faso and, most recently, Gambia and Zimbabwe, have seen popular uprisings, forcing long-time leaders to step down.
Before the Arab Spring in 2011, there were 16 African leaders who had been in power for nearly two decades or more. Today, after the exit of Mugabe, there are 10 of such leaders in the region with tenures ranging from 16-38 years. So far, three patterns have emerged for compelling the exit of such long-term serving leaders: popular revolt, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Burkina Faso; threat of use of force by a sub-regional organisation to achieve compliance with electoral outcome, as in The Gambia and military intervention, as in the case of Zimbabwe. Each of these patterns has involved some degree of violence or the threat of use of violence.
It is particularly against the backdrop of violence that usually trail insatiable quest to remain in power that we insist that sit-tight leaders like the Cameroonian president should not continue to hold Africa down. It is our belief that it was time they relinquish power as one major challenge most African countries have continued to face since independence from colonialists is incompetent leadership.
This leadership deficit is so legendary that from all indications and purposes, the continent has continued to lag behind with only backwardness and poverty to show for self-rule, despite abundant human and natural resources.
As witnessed in Zimbabwe, the desire to stay in power for as long as possible, even in the face of obvious poor performance and decline in physical and mental strength, is one of the reasons why Africa will continue to occupy the attention of the rest of world with one form of crisis or another.
To curb this, we align with the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership that encourages excellence in democratic governance and call on African policy makers, under the auspices of the African Union (AU), to develop a policy framework that will pro-actively discourage leaders from overstaying their tenure.
Given that in over a dozen African countries, incumbent presidents have used various legal devices and political manoeuvre to extend their tenures beyond the constitutional limit and that the AU has a plethora of mechanisms for conflict resolution, including unconstitutional changes of government; the new policy framework should detail specific measures for situations involving extension of term limit or refusing election results.
Before Biya plunges his country into avoidable crisis with his ambition to rule for life, he should be made to realise the north-south divide in Cameroon, which could be exploited by agents of destabilization under the guise of a legitimate fighting force for the oppressed and marginalized.
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