But regular transfers of power give citizens hope that new policies, programmes and approaches will be adopted by the new leadership. In turn, this could overturn numerous political, social, economic impacts of uninterrupted strangleholds on power in Africa.
The benefits of frequent power transfers are evident in African countries that have them, such as Senegal; Botswana and Mauritius. Incumbents are kept on their toes because there’s a real chance they can be removed from power if they fail to govern properly.
Term limits have recently become controversial and divisive. Some leaders have used dubious constitutional amendments to extend their stay in power. Usually, governing parties and their leaders almost exclusively pass such amendments with minimal or no opposition participation. That’s what happened in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and Congo Republic.
Similarly, despite constitutional provisions and regular elections, countries such as Angola, Togo, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea are virtually de facto one party or one leader repressive states wherein resignation, retirement and term limits are meaningless.
Leaders have different reasons for refusing to leave office. In some countries, the answer lies in a lack of succession planning to transfer power. In others, leaders blatantly refuse to resign because of their despotic and kleptocratic tendencies. They abuse their states’ minerals, oil and money with their families and friends. Stepping aside would cost them these “benefits”.
For instance, the eventual departure of Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos from office after decades in power has left his family exposed. His children stand accused of amassing billions during their father’s many terms.
Without strong constitutional safeguards and a democratic culture to counter the negative consequences of the “sins of incumbency” – as corruption associated with state power is often described by South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress – can be menacing. It breeds “Big Men, Little People”, to borrow a phrase from the title of a book by journalist Alec Russel.
Kealeboga J Maphunye: Professor, Department of Political Sciences, University of South Africa (UNISA), University of South Africa