Since the beginning of April 2012, Macky Sall, the President of Senegal, has had a somewhat fascinating life. Born in December 1961, he has been on the fringes of his country’s political leadership for more than a quarter of a century, serving as city mayor, cabinet minister, prime minister, speaker of the National Assembly and president. During this period, he has been a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS), protégé and later opponent of President Abdoulaye Wade, and since 2008 a founder of a party political start-up, the Alliance for the Republic (APR).
To become president in 2012, he defeated incumbent Abdoulaye Wade, preventing him from seeking re-election to a third term. Now nearing the sunset of his second term, which will end in 2024, Macky Sall wants to scrap his country’s constitution and do what he defeated his predecessor and mentor and ultimately run for a third term. After months of undisguised indecisiveness, he recently confirmed his intention to run for a constitutionally prohibited third term in an interview with the French magazine, L’Express.
Article 27 of Senegal’s 2016 constitution could not be clearer: it sets the presidential term at five years and adds that “[n]No person may exercise more than two consecutive terms.” If McKee were to end his bid for a third term, he would violate this provision.
For the time being, it looks like his plan is much more than just running again. To do so, he is intent on ordering no matter who he runs up against. His strongest opponent is the mayor of Ziguinchor and founder of the ‘Uv Askan Y’ (Free the People) coalition, Ousmane Sonko, whom Mackie systematically sought to oust and oust from the contest with a succession of highly dubious criminal charges. so he could nominate a hapless paper-weight as his opponent.
Macky Sall is the latest in a string of presidents from Africa looking for an endless presidency. If successful, he would be at least the 15th African president to do so in the eight years since 2015. This should not have happened.
In many African countries, independence came as somewhat of a climax. In its wake, constitutional instability established itself as the preferred means of succession of power. In the 50 years from the beginning of 1955 to the end of 2004, West Africa alone reported 169 “military interventions of some kind”, both successful and unsuccessful. Then from 1952 to 1998, 85 successful coups were recorded in the continent. The cost to the continent was incalculable. Ironically, Macky Sall’s Senegal was one of the few countries on the continent that has so far not reported any.
The mutual assurances of non-intervention that had established this toxic trend came under re-examination after the outbreak of the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in 1989. In 1990, Nigeria led the launch of a regional peace-keeping force. intervention in Liberia that changed the way in which the continent responded to internal instability. The following year, African leaders in Kampala, Uganda, diagnosed the Endless Presidency as the epicenter of the continent’s conflict and destabilizing distortions and agreed that “[t]Here the mandate of the political leaders should be renewed from time to time. Also, the term of elected leaders in the various branches of government should be constitutionally limited to a certain number of years.
In the four years that followed, 37 African countries changed their constitutions, 37 of which implemented presidential term limits. At the continental level, regional institutions including the Economic Community of African States, ECOWAS, and the Organization of African Unity, OAU, which became the African Union in 2000, began to develop rules to monitor elections and constitutional instability.
What emerged from the turn of the millennium was a continental package deal by which the leaders of the continent agreed on three things. First, access to political power would be based on political legitimacy provided through credible elections, supervised by regional institutions. Second, the presidential term would be limited to guarantee political competition. Third, in exchange for these two conditions, the continent outlawed unconstitutional changes in government or coups d’état.
As of 2014, the continent moved to make unconstitutional change of government in Africa an international crime. Those involved will be liable to trial before the African Court of Justice and Human and People’s Rights. It was far reaching.
In fact, the prohibition against unconstitutional changes of government in Africa was part of an underlying deal to set up guardrails against abuse of the presidency, on the understanding that those seeking power would have to follow certain set rules to gain access. . These rules were to ensure that they would not try to turn power into endless rule.
But, far from incident, what has happened almost across the continent is that incumbents and their parties, aided by the willing collusion or abandonment of regional institutions, have bypassed norms on term limits and credible elections as well as enforced an injunction against unconstitutional changes. In the government in a rule for the provisional presidency.
In response, coups are making a comeback on the continent at an “epidemic” level. Take Guinea for example. The country had never experienced a peaceful transition of power in more than half a century of independence before 2010, when it installed Alpha Conde as its elected president. Under the constitution, he was allowed two terms of five years each, which was due to expire in 2020. The constitution enables him to rule until at least the age of 94. To ensure this, President Conde deployed the army, killing many protesters against the referendum.
Seven months later, amid even more violent protests and more killings, Conde declared himself the winner in the elections for his penultimate presidency boycotted by the opposition. Neither ECOWAS nor the African Union seemed to remember that there were continental norms against endless presidential contests and rigged ballots. In September 2021, the military ousted President Conde, after which ECOWAS and the African Union quickly rediscovered their voices.
As President Conde was busy securing his endless presidency in Guinea, the ruling party in Mali held elections under cover of COVID-19, to the end of which they used the judiciary to steal seats won by the opposition. What followed was a large-scale rebellion that eventually led the military to oust an unpopular ruling party and seize power. Once again, the AU and ECOWAS, previously completely silent on manipulations and fabrications, suddenly erupted.
By the turn of the millennium, military rule in Africa had well past its sell-by date. Yet since 2002, the African Union has recorded and prosecuted 14 successful coups, most of them against the president’s abuse of power or the design of an endless presidency.
Africa, the continent with the youngest demographic in the world, now has the distinction of having the four longest-serving elective presidencies in the world. In Gabon and Togo, the Bongo and Idema dynasties have each been in power for 55 years. Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea approaches his 44th year as President, while Paul Biya of Cameroon completes 40 years.
Across the continent, elections are being held in disrepute and the practice of eternal presidents is back. Macky Sall of Senegal is its latest poster boy. What happens next year with his attempt to scrap the constitution will be crucial to the fate of the continent.
A lawyer and a teacher, Odinkalu can be contacted at [email protected]
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