Chris Zumani Zimba, Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer and Consultant

Burundi's Nkrunziza, 2017The critical challenge at hand across Africa remains that, many countries have a presidential system as opposed to a parliamentary system which is dominant across Europe. From the onset, I want to make is clear that, I am a strong believer and advocate of a parliamentary system and have serious issues with the dominant American model presidential system in many parts of Africa. To this end, I wrote, published and launched one of my favorite books entitled:  “Twenty (20) Reasons Why a Parliamentary Democratic System is Better for Africa than A Presidential System”. But let us get to the issue at hand today: “Abolishing the Presidential Term Limits seem to be a natural African Model of Democracy, Respect It as Multiple Democracies”.

The question of abolishing presidential term limits in Africa has been done and successfully achieved in Cameroon under Paul Biya, Uganda under Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda under Paul Kagame, Algeria under Boutaflika and technically shaping up in DR Congo under Laurent Kabila. This tells us a real political story that many African leaders, political parties and cadres are driving their presidential democracies into a German style of a parliamentary democracy where the leader of a political party has no term limits both at party level as well as at state and government level. Interestingly, this new political path Africa is taking of abolishing presidential term limits is essentially more indigenous and compatible to the continent as it speaks to traditional governance foundations of Africa where the majority people were ruled under the auspices of hereditary royal kings, chiefs and emperors.  Thus, even as Africans modernize and democratize, we need to appreciate that some are still being influenced or tormented by their traditional political values and cultural governance systems.

The ironic side of life stands that, Angel Merkel, the German Vice Chancellor who has been the Head of Government for more than 12 years now, does not receive any criticism or despotic names from her fellow Western peers or anyone anywhere while many African leaders who remove or propose to amend their republican constitutions to change or abolish term limits or desire to extend their rule in whichever political fashion are called rainbow colors of ‘dictators’. For example, when the Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza launched a campaign to promote a referendum to change the Constitution in 2018 that could see him rule until 2034 when addressing a crowd of thousands of farmers in the central Gitega District on 12th December, 2017, the West were quick to denounce and condemn him as another emerging dictator in East Africa. Of course they were comparing and aligning him to Museveni and Kagame who have already abolished presidential term limits.

This Western monopoly and Eurocentric position on how Africa is governed is a huge stubborn problem at hand that must be opposed and rejected. Given that in October, 2017,  the government of Burundi adopted a plan to revise the constitution in order to allow Nkurunziza to serve another two seven-year terms from 2020, the question of subjecting this plan to a national referendum must be commended as it speaks to democratic values of popular participation and mass consultation on key public policy matters. If Nkurunziza just like his East and Central African peers want to debate and determine whether to keep or abolish the presidential term limits via a credible national referendum, then we should all respect their democratic discourse and path as a people, country and sovereign state. In fact, we need to allow as many African states as possible to begin to do what I call ‘redemocratization of the continent.Thus, ‘Redemocratization of the continent’ should be taken to mean a consistent quest to debate, review, rethink, guarantee, improve, strengthen and sustain liberal democratic tenets and practices in Africa while taking into account diverse local governance needs as well as political, traditional, cultural, religious, economic and social conditions in each respective sovereign state.

What is happening in Burundi, DR Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Algeria or Rwanda fits well into my 2012 concept of “Multiple Democracies”.  This concept implies that the type of democracies that are being piloted and established in different parts of the world are and would not all be the exact ‘copy and paste’ of ‘western liberal democracies’ in outlook and tone, but are and shall be ‘multiple democracies’ in nature and quality because the operationalization of democratic promotion or consolidation has been curved in such a way as to be shaped by the tone, dogma and face of the dominant religion, traditional or social-cultural values of each respective society. This means that the type of democracy that will emerge from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, China, Zambia, Iran, Canada or Cuba even after 100 years will and cannot be the same as the democracy of North Korea, UK, Lesotho or US. However, many African political followers have been misled by the West to think and believe that Africa can have the same ‘face of democracy’ as the one prevailing in France, USA or Australia-totally wrong and false.

In this regard, as we debate the political case of Nkurunziza, Museveni, Kagame, Paul Biya or Boutaflicka for Africanizing the presidential term limits through constitutional amendments and political manipulations to change or abolish them, let us remember that, in Europe, Angela Dorothea Merkel, a German politician serving as Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and leader of the Centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000 has been in power for more than 12 years and no one in the West is criticizing her or the Germans.   By the way, Merkel is widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union and the most powerful woman in the world while she has more years in power to rule. In all these debates, we believe that ‘Multiple Democracies’ seem to be the most suitable pragmatic concept and honest conclusion to analyze and foster a health political discourse.

Thus, as liberal democracy is being exported and transported from the western culture and religious environment, we conspicuously identify and confidently advance that its theoretical promotion and pragmatic expansion in other parts of the world is and will inevitably be encountered by many political problems, certainly challenged by multiple belief systems and undoubtedly distorted by many cultural-religious dynamics. This simply mean that some visible hostile or friendly local traditional structures; compatible or incompatible religious values and rigid or flexible social-cultures practices will consequently make the establishment and configuration of liberal democracy in such regions or states either easier or difficult to the extent that in some cases, what is and will be established is not necessarily  going to be ‘liberal democracy’ nor ‘totalitarian’, but something else that is still democratic enough in the elective sense but not in the ‘liberal sense’. And the question of ABOLISHING THE PRESIDENTIAL TERM LIMITS SEEM TO BE A NATURAL AFRICAN MODEL OF DEMOCRACY, LET US ALL RESPECT IT AS LONG AS IT IS DONE IN A DEMOCRATIC MANNER. It is simply an African approach and path to democracy as opposed to a Western approach to democracy as the one size fits all has no practicality truth in most parts of the world.

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