On The Dire Need of Respecting the Constitutional Limit of Presidential Terms
The day was fully bright under the shining sun, and the air gay. It was not the least common thing of the usually heating summer days in the town. By now, however, the air in our sitting room seemed to have relaxed, too. But then, “you’re all wrong about everything you have been saying” was the acerbic conclusion a friend came up with.
As if we have been electrified, as if everything around us and well beyond has been paralyzed, there was a sudden stillness, an unsaid serenity. Indeed, as far as my memory can allow me to recall, it was the only moment we all agreed about or, rather, acceded to doing something at once—that is—doing nothing. We have been heatedly and passionately debating on the necessity of constitutionally limiting, and the dire need of respecting, the presidential terms in general. Yet our (in)famous case study was, naturally, Africa. For many (myself included), the problem is not to merely have a constitutional limit for the presidential terms, but that that limit should be unconditionally respected. An elected president, we argued, should not serve more than what the constitution allows him/her. We said, “UNCONDITIONALLY”—and I cannot emphasize it more—for there is no excusable reason, whatsoever, for that limit to be extended, the constitution changed. In the African continent, we contended, it is even imperative to abide by the said limits; and those countries whose constitutions lack such provision ought to incorporate it. For one, democracy in the continent—where it can be said to exist—is still meagerly fragile, and only with political alternation could it be consolidated. Indeed, most (if not all) conflicts and social unrests, throughout the continent, stem from political deprivations, the lack of genuine representations. If so, our unshaken conclusion was that political alternation, which allows participation, the respect of the constitutional limits, and free and fair elections would be the ultimate solution for the necessary stable environments to usher in prosperity and sustainability.
Despite this obvious fact, some would point to advanced democracies like Germany, or Britain to back up their sloppy position. They would also argue, yet selectively, that a leader may be doing well and that the limited terms might lead to an unfinished business; for them, therefore, Paul Kagame—who has worked to transform Rwanda from a genocide-ruined country to a model, a successful story of economic development—is justifiably defensible for extending his terms in office beyond the constitutionally set limits. Yet, how praiseworthy is a leader who is unable to inspire and raise young people to leadership so that they carry on the deeds already started? These line of thoughts imply that such a leader is the only one capable of constructively effective leadership and that when or if s/he dies the leadership, the nation, progress and development, too, dies along with him/her. To be blind is one thing, but to choose to be blind mentally or not to see what is too obvious is the bottom of blindness.
To me, it is, indeed, very intriguing that so many people fail to see (or at least seem to do so) that a constitution, like any other law, is written to be abided by, and not be used as a tool, a means for mere personal political gains. Yes, any law—if it is to be useful at all—should be subject to interpretation and, if need be, amendments or changes to reflect the social, ideological, and political changes of its time. Evidently, should that not be the case, there would not be any need for constantly electing and reelecting lawmakers in the first place.
Nonetheless, these amendments and changes become problematic in themselves when used demagogically to serve the narrow interests of a single or group of individuals. Here, Emmanuel Kant’s categorical imperative is a useful concept not for morality’s sake, No! but for the self-interestedness of each of the involved actors. To say the same thing differently, John Rawls’s veil of ignorance can equally illustrate what I have been alluding to. In a Rawlsian original position, for instance, certainly, no single individual (including this army of failed leaders that has mostly characterized the African continent) would accede to constitutional change at the will of the leader.
Logically, the same reasoning is equally applicable to settle the debate on whether democracy should be Africanized or Africa democratized. My honest view, to be blunt, on this particular subject-matter, is that it is a useless debate. In fact, if I had thought of it, as Chimamanda thought of Post-colonial Theory, I could have said that these concepts were created, primarily, by the African politicians to unabashedly excuse themselves for their glaring failures to ever deliver.
I ask anyone who contends that democracy is not compatible with African culture (if there is anything as a single African culture!) to explain the rationale for the erstwhile—in this particular case—African dictators, when ousted, to desperately seek amnesty, personal safety, and free of pursuits. If democracy is only for “others” and not for Africa, why would they be so scared of paying for their wrongdoings? Isn’t it damnably paradoxical to deny others what one wants for oneself: the right to life, property, and liberty, the freedom of thoughts and ideas, etc.?
These reluctant friends of mine were, by now, obviously annoyed. And I still wonder about what that comrade meant by “you’re all wrong about everything you have been saying”, for nothing else was added—not a word, nor an explanation, not even an explanatory gesture—about the subject before we departed.
It is an unfinished business, which may never be settled; yet it keeps turning!