Over three days of meetings at the recent U.S.-Africa’s Leaders’ Summit, President Obama and leaders from across Africa discussed strategies for stimulating growth and supporting an enabling environment for the continents’ current and future generations. In these talks, a central component was democracy. Large majorities of Africans want more of it. Support for democracy and free and fair elections are at the heart of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and reflected in polling data from across the continent.
Fundamental to these demands is a need for presidential term limits. Constitutional restrictions on how long a leader may hold office provide a mechanism for government accountability, reduce the tendency toward corruption, and give new generations of Africans the opportunity to compete for political office and choose new leaders. Fourteen presidential elections are scheduled to take place in Africa between now and the end of 2016. Several will occur in countries such as Tanzania, Namibia and Benin where presidential term limits are already deeply woven into the national political fabric.
Elsewhere in Africa, however, term limits are under threat. Changing constitutions and eliminating term limits for personal or political gain is inconsistent with democratic principles, reduces confidence in democratic institutions, and weakens overall governance. In democratic systems, strong leaders abide by their constitutions, step aside when their terms of office come to an end, and support a free and fair process to elect a successor.
The United States will continue to stand up for constitutionally mandated term limits in Africa and around the world. We cannot realize President Obama’s vision of elevating strong institutions over strong men if leaders alter their constitutions to indefinitely prolong their stay in power.
Respecting presidential term limits and constitutions as they are written is crucial for realizing the aspirations of Africans across the continent, and strengthening democratic institutions for the next generation.