Constitutional Coups in Africa, One of Many Democratic Issues

Kamissa Camara penned an overview on one method of sustained legal power by African presidents. They change the country’s Constitution so that there aren’t presidential term limits. Her list from the last 10 years doesn’t include the extended reigns of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola.

Between 2005 and 2015, presidents in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Congo Republic, Congo, Uganda and Rwanda attempted to extend their terms in office through constitutional or other legal amendments.

To expand on one example, the depth of the issues these countries face can not and should not be left to only Constitutional changes.

In the case of Uganda, president Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1985 in a coup d’etat of Milton Obote. He was a non-Constitutional president from 1986-96, then started his first constitutional term. In the original Constitution, there was a two term limit. In 2005, when it was passed, many claimed that Museveni was pulling the parliamentary strings to make it happen, as he was head of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.He had decent popular support, but as his tenure has extended, he has resorted to force upon the populace more often.  Human Rights Watch wrote a piece surrounding the 2016 election campaign. Uganda, and the NRM deployed volunteer ‘Crime Preventers’ in preparation for the election. They were deemed to be partisan bullies as opposed to a real force for stability. Presidential candidate Kizza Besigye has been arrested multiple times for his protests to the election results.

The ability to express opinion in Uganda is suppressed, and has been for some time. The ability to change to the Constitution by a president, technically through legal means, is simply one problem of an overarching problem. The autocratic, paternalistic, and hegemonic regime of Yoweri Museveni is one example of a group of young countries in Africa struggling to secure stable democracies. Pointing to Constitutional changes in term limits is an easy example to point out.

Democracy is hard. Before Western observers get too critical of African nations, let us remember that it took the United States 163 years before there was a presidential term limit, 131 years before women could vote, and 82 years before non-whites could constitutionally vote.