READING news from other countries on the African continent about how leaders are leaving office gives a chilling feeling. President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, announced around midnight on Tuesday that he was resigning from his post, saying he did not wish blood to be shed following a military mutiny that plunged the country into a political crisis.
“Today, certain parts of the military have decided that intervention was necessary. Do I really have a choice?” He wondered, adding: “I have decided to give up my duty from now on because I do not wish blood to be shed.”
This is a very sad development. History shows that countries that undergo such forced change of leadership fail to retain political and economic stability. In a democratic country, guns should never be used in the process of changing government leadership. It is good that all regional and international bodies, such as ECOWAS, African Union, European Union and the United Nations have unanimously condemned the arrest and ousting of the Malian leader.
But there are some ways in which our African leaders can avoid such endings. The events in Mali came in the face of a protracted political crisis that saw protesters taking to the streets to demand the departure of Keita, accusing him of allowing the country’s economy to collapse and mishandling a worsening security situation. This political tension has been simmering following the re-election of Keita in 2018, in a poll that opposition parties said was marred by irregularities.
The ‘resignation’ of Keita is an exact replica of Robert Mugabe’s downfall from the helm of Zimbabwe. It took soldiers to extract that surrender, such developments take away so much from the democratic gains that our continent has achieved. Malawi is another example where chaos ensued before the will of the people could be achieved. Why do our leaders insist on sticking to power even when they can see that the people they are leading have rejected them?
In the case of Zambia, we say no to such development. We love our peace and nothing should disturb. We are okay with a battle of opposing political views, but nothing else. Of course we cannot bury heads in the sand and pretend like everything is okay. We have a potential crisis which could erupt if our leaders do not respect the will of the people. Our case is beyond just the mismanagement of the economy, as Malians were complaining. Ours is a much more complicated situation where our legal minds are divided over the definition of term limit in the Constitution.
Term limits regulate leadership succession. They are meant to counteract leaders’ temptation to overstay their welcome. This helps to consolidate and legitimise democratically elected leadership. Indeed, as Kealeboga Maphunye wrote in The Conversation, weaning African leaders off addiction to power is a real struggle, but this struggle must not be left to overshadow the good progress that Africa is making towards sustainable development.
Regular transfers of power give citizens hope that new policies, programmes and approaches will be adopted by the new leadership. We totally agree with Maphunye that the benefits of frequent power transfers keep the incumbents on their toes because there’s a real chance they can be removed from power if they fail to govern properly. Our leaders must not feel so comfortable and start treating the electors like beggars.
Unless this Bill 10 nonsense is stopped, Zambia will fall in the category of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where leaders have used dubious constitutional amendments to extend their stay in power. Like was the case in these countries, what we are seeing in Zambia is that the governing party and its leaders almost exclusively want to pass such amendments with minimal or no opposition participation.
When you hear the Patriotic Front say that they will rule Zambia for the next 100 years, they are looking at countries such as Angola, Togo, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea as their ideal kind of democracy, when those countries are in fact virtually de facto one party and one leader repressive states.
We don’t wish for what has happened in Mali or what happened in Zimbabwe to happen in Zambia. We don’t wish for a violent uprising to happen in Zambia and we want to challenge our leaders to ensure that this peace we are enjoying is maintained. The ball is in the incumbent President’s hands. It’s up to him how he wishes to lose power. When President Edgar Lungu reads the news from Mali it should disturb him and he must seek sincere answers about what the people really want.