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Scourge of third termism in Africa



as Mnangagwa intensifies campaign

ZIMBABWEAN President Emmerson Mnangagwa has drawn battle lines as he intensifies his campaign for a third term in office amid a the complex scourge of third termism across the continent.


His campaign has been backed by Zanu PFlinked youth organisations and other affiliate entities despite the political and legal minefields which he is likely to face in this bid.

 Mnangagwa, who controversially won the disputed August 2023 general elections, is already touted to use his countrywide “Thank You” rallies to push for his third-term bid.

 He has also received a lifeline after Zanu PF clawed back a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, through controversial recalls on elected opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) MPs by the party’s self-proclaimed secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu. 

 This gives Zanu PF a chance to amend the constitution at will. Since the last by-elections held on 3 February, Zanu PF bigwigs, including vice-president Kembo Mohadi and Masvingo provincial minister Ezra Chadzamira, have been chanting the “Mnangagwa 2030” slogan, calling for a third term for Mnangagwa.

 Last week, Zanu PF’s Masvingo provincial chairperson Robson Mavhenyengwa and the Zanu PF youth league for Masvingo province also called for the extension of his term last Wednesday at a National Youth Day event in the southern city.

Southern Africa

Should his bid be successful, Mnangagwa will join the likes of former Namibian president Sam Nujoma and Robert Mugabe, who have legally but controversially run for over two terms. Before he was deposed by Mnangagwa in a military coup in 2017, Mugabe had held on to power between 1986 and 2017.

In 1998, the Namibian parliament passed the controversial Namibian Constitution First Amendment Bill via its national council by 19 votes to four, to change the country’s constitution to allow Nujoma to serve three five-year terms.

However, future presidents would be restricted to two five-year terms. In 1999, Josephine Hamutwe, a member of the Namibian National Council, the country’s upper house of Parliament, called for Nujoma to be made president for life, sparking an outcry from the opposition.

“Given his able leadership and as long as he is physically fit, we want to see him not only restricted to three terms, but [to serve] for life,” Hamutwe told the council.

However, Nujoma retired in 2007. In 2001, Zambia’s second president, Fredrick Chiluba of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, was forced to rescind his ambitious third bid, in the face of threats of impeachment, after having been at the country’s helm between 1991 and 2002.

Chiluba’s bid was disastrous, with nine government ministers and 12 legislators being fired for opposing his move.

 However, Zambian legislators intensified the fight, and moved to have Chiluba impeached for flouting the nation’s constitution.

“I will leave office at the end of my term,” Chiluba said in a late-night television address to the nation. “That had always been my position, and I have never said anything to the contrary. I still stand by my word.”

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who ia considered by some to be a poorly performing leader and yet by others as the man who actually saved the ANC from internal implosion, is set to make history as the first South African president to serve for two terms, should his bid be successful in May.

 The first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, served one term from 1994 to 1999 and left voluntarily. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki and after him Jacob Zuma, failed to complete their respective second terms due to internal power struggles in the governing Africa National Congress.

In the interregnum after Mbeki resigned in 2008 after being recalled, there was an interim president, Kgalema Motlanthe.

East Africa

 Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been at the helm since 2000, has been the de facto leader since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

 Kagame is one of a number of African leaders who have prolonged their rule by pursuing changes to term limits. In a 2015 referendum, Rwandans voted to lift a two-term limit. The referendum authorised him power to run until 2034.

 Uganda has also been subject to controversial amendments to the national constitution. For instance, in 2018, the country had a Constitutional Court ruling, opposed by legislators, the Uganda Law Society and civil society groups, that upholds a constitutional amendment to remove the presidential age limit, which has allowed President Yoweri Museveni to extend his 32-year iron grip on power.

Uganda’s Parliament amended the constitution, removing the article that limited anyone from serving as president past the age of 75, prompting widespread protests from opposition lawmakers and rights groups.

The constitutional amendment guarantees 73-year-old Museveni lifetime rule over the country, they said.

West Africa

 Countries in the region have had a fair share of instability brought about by third-term bids by long-serving presidents like the deposed Alpha Conde of Guinea and Paul Biya of Cameroon.

 In 2008, Biya, now Africa’s longest-serving head of state, signed into law a constitutional change which removes a two-term limit, allowing him to extend his rule over central Africa’s biggest economy, according to Reuters. His bid was shoved through by the country’s parliament, then dominated by his People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) with a majority of 153 of the 180 seats.

Former Guinean president Alpha Conde, who was controversially elected for a third term in 2020, was deposed by the military two years after being prosecuted for corruption, murder, rape, kidnapping and other crimes.

North Africa

In North Africa, other presidents could run for longer terms, before the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s which began in Tunisia in response to corruption and economic stagnation.

For instance, Libya’s former president Muammar Gaddafi ruled the country from 1969 until his death in 2011.

 Though Gaddafi did not have an official title or hold public office since 1977, he was accorded the honorifics “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” or “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution” in government statements and the official Libyan Press. He was killed in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2011.

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