5-year presidential terms are too short

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By Tumusiime K. Deo

Antagonists may argue that having a lengthier Presidential term could be disastrous especially in the event that a given President turns himself into a nuisance. But to look at it that way would be defeatist and unnecessarily pessimistic. Instead, it’s helpful to gamble on a presumption that elected by majority of the population, any President ought to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Going by experience on most of the African Continent and beyond, most Presidents be they dictators or democratic, tend to serve for at least two 5-year terms, meaning that they stay in office for 10 years. And while having elections every 5 years may be as per constitution provided, and for the genuine reason of teasing out the incumbent’s popularity, it is also undoubted that for a President to make any significant impact on a country in 5 years is more than asking too much. These guys need ample time to formulate and action their strategies. In fact, while some may find already functional systems, others usually start from scratch, meaning that they require even more time for them to ground a whole new culture and set of values.

Tanzania’s Pombe Magufuli has for example already made his mark as a reformist, his latest stint going by social media reports being the ban on women wearing miniskirts. Very well and good, but we all must agree that making headway on such a policy takes more than merely asking women to empty their wardrobes of any miniskirts there may be. It’s a cultural change that will come with cultural shock for many, and therefore requires time for the population to appreciate and later adjust. Yet this is but just one of the smaller problems.

A number of Presidential candidates set out sometimes over ambitious manifestos, but often positive aspirations for their people-transforming the economy, revamping education systems, ensuring human rights for all, fighting corruption, name it. What they forget is that some of these issues are ingrained in people’s culture, while others are a result of years of errors implanted by colonial regimes. And I am not suggesting that a given leader should stay in power forever in order to achieve all the transformation there is to be done; but at any one time, individual leaders should be given time good enough to realize a sizeable percentage share of their promises.

From a more practical point of view, a majority of African countries are still largely considered to be 3rd World Countries, remotely implying that they are poor. Annoyingly, these poor countries have a tendency of lavish expenditures at individual, family, community and national levels. I find this very unfortunate. Ever asked yourself just how much money a country could save by allowing a Head of State to rule another term without the rigors of elections? Yet in some cases, it is very obvious that the incumbent will be regurgitated back into his seat. Such resources saved could be ploughed back into the economy and halve the time it would otherwise take a country to leap one step into the future it desires. We mustn’t however look at this whole perspective from lesser political and selfish lenses but more proactive and forward sighted lenses.

Ugandans may be quick to oppose this whole idea claiming that after 30 years in Power, their incumbent leader has not justified my assertions; but the entire ideology needed to have been crafted and clearly agreed upon with measurable targets to assess performance. What has happened in Uganda over the years, has instead been a case of the leader being the [or seen as the] only source of wisdom. This way, his proposals are final and the electorate cannot hold him accountable. In the new arrangement, we would as a country agree with the leader before he assumes office on what milestones must be achieved in a sizeable chunk of time, and with commensurate resources.

What must also be noted is that a President cannot achieve his targets alone. He or she requires the good will and proactive participation of both those who voted him and those who didn’t. If a road is to be constructed for example, we should see the area residents offering a hand without expecting pay or at least offering boiled drinking water to the workers as a morale booster. Working together with the President for a common agreed cause, is the best way to achieve national aspirations; and the only way to justifiably have him out of office at the end of his contract. When he fails, we fail with him; when he achieves, we achieve with him and walk with pride together as a nation. And how can such a leader even refuse to leave office at the end of their impressively served term? I bet even the issue of an extra term wouldn’t require hassling and bloodshed.
Today though, after spending years in the bush to liberate the country with 27 boys wielding 27 guns, no one seems to have the moral authority to ask the President to step aside. The question more than half the population cannot answer remains; Where were you when we went to the bush? Maybe a more logical question for those who weren’t born then [and others] could be…What contribution have you personally made towards the improvements you clamor for?

At the end of the day, I think that we must as a people redefine our priorities, reduce on the too much politicking and redirect our energies to productive engagements. In so doing, we cannot fail to appreciate that there can only be one President at any one time-the rest of us should spend our valuable time working along, other than poli-ticking.

For God and My Country!

(Tumusiime K. Deo is an International Communications Consultant)

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