Sunday, July 03, 2005

Africa's next president-for-life

Following then-French president François Mitterand's noteworthy La Baule speech and the fall of the Berlin Wall (which decreased western communists for so-called anti-communist dictators), a wave of pseudo-democratization swept through Africa in the early 1990s. Many national constitutions were written or revised to limit presidential terms to two.

In recent years, as many strongmen have reached the end of their second term under said constitutions, they are increasingly pushing to eliminate those wise limits. And it's worth noting that most of those who've forced through the elimination of presidential term limits are military men who arrived in power via a coup. Tunisia's Ben Ali, Guinea's Lansana Conté, Chad's Idriss Déby. A pair of leaders who arrived to the presidency as civilians and via elections tried to eliminate term limits but failed, most notably in Zambia and Malawi.

Now, Uganda's leader Yoweri Museveni has joined this undistinguished crowd. Not content to ban political parties, Museveni's minions in parliament have rammed through a bill to eliminate the two-term limit on Uganda's head of state. Not coincidentally, Museveni is nearing the end of his second term. Not coincidentally, Museveni is a former guerilla leader who arrived in power via the barrel of a gun.

His spokeslackey defended the move with the usual baloney. He didn't want a third term but the people begged him, blah, blah, blah.

It's astonishing they think anyone believes this hogwash.

If after 19 years of Museveni in power, Uganda is still so fragile that no one can conceive of life without the Leader, then his reign has clearly been a failure.

I've often said that Nelson Mandela's greatest contribution to South Africa was to serve a single term. He served five years, did as much as he could and then gave someone else a try. Like any truly great leader, he did not make himself indispensible. I can't overstate how important such a move was in advancing the political development of South Africa. Sadly, most of his would-be peers on the continent are not endowed with such wisdom, humility and restraint.

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