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Clinging to power in Africa via constitutional reforms

People walk past a banner calling for a ‘Yes’ vote on an upcoming constitutional referendum and featuring Comoros’ President Azali Assoumani in Moroni © AFP/File / TONY KARUMBA

Moroni, Comoros, Feb 24 – Monday’s controversial referendum in the Comoros could allow its president, Azali Assoumani, to seek re-election and retain power beyond 2021, when his currently non-renewable term would otherwise end.

Several other African leaders have also sought to hang on to power through changes to the constitution.

Here are some examples.

– Success –

– In Rwanda, voters in 2015 overwhelmingly backed a referendum that removed term limits from the constitution, allowing President Paul Kagame — in power since 1994 — to potentially rule until 2034.

– The same year the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) voted by a landslide on constitutional changes that would allow veteran ruler Denis Sassou Nguesso to run for a third term. He was re-elected in 2016.

– In Zimbabwe a new constitution adopted in 2013 let Robert Mugabe stand in another election, which he won. He was forced to step down in 2017, after 37 years in power.

– Chad’s Idriss Deby Itno has been in power since 1990 thanks to a constitutional revision in 2005 that was adopted after a disputed referendum.

– In Uganda, also in 2005, a constitutional reform scrapped limits on presidential terms. Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, was re-elected to a fifth term in 2016.

– In Togo in 2002 a constitutional amendment allowing the president to seek reelection without limit paved the way for Gnassingbe Eyadema, in power since 1967, to win another term.

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When he died in 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbe took over and has since won three contested elections. The opposition is seeking a return to a two-term limit.

– Crisis –

– Burundi was plunged into a bloody political crisis after Pierre Nkurunziza won a highly controversial third term in 2015, which the opposition said was unconstitutional.

In May 2018 Burundians voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in favour of constitutional changes that included extending presidential terms, potentially allowing Nkurunziza to stay in office until 2034.

But a month later Nkurunziza announced he would step down in 2020.

– The Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila was obliged — but refused — to step down at the end of 2016 after he reached his two-term constitutional limit.

The Constitutional Court ruled he could remain in office until his successor was elected.

After much delay, sparking deadly protests, a vote is scheduled for December 23, 2018.

– Foiled –

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– In Burkina Faso, the announcement in 2014 that long-serving president Blaise Compaore sought to extend his rule beyond 30 years brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets. Compaore was forced to stand down.

– In Malawi, the parliament in 2002 blocked Bakili Muluzi from seeking a third mandate in 2004.

– Zambia’s then president, Frederick Chiluba, tried in vain to change the constitution in 2001 in order to get a third term, but was forced to bow to popular pressure.


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