Is Term Time for Presidents, The Mother of All Corruption?

Abdulai Mansaray, author Abdulai Mansaray, author

Any society which neglects its culture is bound to fail. African societies were founded on the principles of society cohesion, where the left hand knew what the right was doing. With kingdoms, Chieftains, fiefdoms and clans, historians would have you believe that African societies had well established forms of governments well before the term “democracy” was invented by the white man. In Africa today, we have Western governments trying to teach African leaders on the concept of democracy. But with African leaders showing political lethargy to embrace this concept, western countries have found themselves introducing economic caveats into the begging bowls of their African counterparts. Democracy and the rule of law are fast becoming the essential requirements of the never ending political beggars from the continent. Chief among those requirements is the demand that African heads of states should have presidential term times (preferably two) introduced and implemented into the political DNA of their respective countries.

Some people will question the morality of such a carrot and stick approach. But to those who believe in the rule of law and good governance, this may be the only way to force the Mugabes of this world to change. It will be an understatement to suggest that this has met with some resistance. Some African leaders believe that as long as Western governments” have learnt to shoot without missing; they will learn to fly without perching”. It is therefore not surprising that some have tried everything in their political arsenal to circumvent these conditions by erecting political gridlocks along to way; all aimed at maintaining the status quo of the society for self-preservation. President Ernest B. koroma is expected to complete his second and final term in office in 2017. But this has conveniently been shifted to 2018. Among the numerous arguments for this political gymnastics is that, the president has unfinished development business and projects that were significantly hampered by the Ebola crisis. It therefore came as no surprise when the political wordsmiths started injecting phrases like “more time”, “injury time”, “extra time”, “Fergie time”, etc. into our political vocabulary. Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

No one can under estimate the impact of the Ebola crisis on the president’s good intentions for the country. But are we suggesting that the recent and numerous hurricanes and the outbreak of the Zika virus are reasons for Obama to earn a 3rd term in office? Unfortunately in Sierra Leone, we don’t seem to have anyone qualified and able enough to continue the good job that has been done by our president. It is really sad that he is the only one who can fulfill those dreams from the land of “Agenda for Change” into that of “Agenda for prosperity”. Donald Trumpesque comes to mind. Only he can do it. There was a time when you thought that talk of a 3rd term was dead and buried. According to a recent publication, a “State House insider told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that “In February 2018 local elections will be held. In November 2018 general elections will be conducted. And in November 2019, presidential election will take place.” There are already allegations that “a campaign calling for the extension of the presidential term of office from two to three” is under construction. If this is anything to go by, it sounds like some people have learnt to fly without perching. The question is, do term times work for African democracies?

While Western governments have used what some see as “draconian” methods to force our leaders to toe the democratic line, Mo Ibrahim launched his Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The aim is not only to reward and acknowledge former heads of states for exceptional service but also engage citizens in a conversation to change perceptions of African leadership. The African continent has a plethora of countries that work to outstretch the shadows of economic uncertainty and political lethargy. But with their indeterminate strongholds of power, some leaders have difficulty finding their place in the sun. Our leaders are constantly facing the battle with accountability, transparency, and service delivery. Mo’s initiative is also aimed at exploring safety and rule of law, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity, and human development. Nelson Mandela once said that “real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” The idea is not only to sacrifice for one’s country, but also to foster a greater sense of unity within the country. But many political pundits would wonder what will it take for the continent’s leaders to move beyond themselves and their own personal interests? Efforts made by those at all levels of leadership will not reap the rewards deserved without excellent leadership at the top.

The price for achievement in African leadership initiative is US$5 million initial payment, plus $200,000 a year for life; and is believed to be the world’s largest, exceeding the $1.3m Nobel Peace Prize. Sadly, there have been only four winners since it was launched in 2006. These include President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), President Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde (2011), President Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008), and President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007). Nelson Mandela was the inaugural Honorary Laureate in 2007. Unfortunately, there were no winners for 2015; a marked indictment of how resistant our African leaders are to change. “Change itself is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” They say that “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” But change itself must be inculcated into the culture, for “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people (. Mahatma Gandhi).

With such an incentive that should guarantee a comfortable living for life, why do our leaders want to hold on to power by any means possible? Presidential term times seem to be the blueprint for present day democracy. But Presidential term times need the added condition of accountability. African leaders are generally not accountable to anyone or the people they purport to lead. They are usually above the law and beyond scrutiny. Take for example the USA, where every word or action of the President is sanitized by the media 10 times over. Because they are held to account for their role in their office, the chances of corruption are relatively reduced. Now take their African counterparts who assume office knowing full well that in a space of 8 or 10 years, their reign would be over. What would you expect from such a political life span; where there is no accountability? The temptation to enrich themselves becomes second nature; because they know that a day in politics is a long time. The kind of corruption that our leaders allegedly get away with, with reckless abandon is unthinkable.

So is it time for Africa to abandon the very term times that unintentionally create a recipe for CORRUPTION? Just like their leaders, their members of parliament may be inclined to act similarly. Would Africa benefit more if the term times were abolished and emphasis laid on free, fair and peaceful elections? Is it time to lay more emphasis on True Equality which means, holding everyone accountable in the same way, regardless of race, gender, faith, ethnicity – or political ideology? Should the life span of a leader be dependent on the ballot box? And should the Presidential Term times be determined by the outcome of elections that have been determined as free, fair and peaceful by a recognized UN backed body?

It is an open secret that Africa continues to suffer from the terminal disease of corruption, and it is that insatiable greed that generates their umbilical cord to power. Lest we forget, Ex-president Yahyah Jammeh has just been booted out of office by the will of the people. We can say whatever we want about him, but he surprised the whole world when he jokingly conceded defeat to President elect Adama Barrow; a former security office at Argos. Who would have envisaged that? In spite of the victimization and threats against opposition leaders in the run up to the elections, it was conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner. That is what you call a legacy. No legacy is so rich as honesty.” The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind. Are you watching Orbai?

Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you cast your ballot.

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