Africa has one seemingly terminal disease and, no, it is not coronavirus. Bad leadership has been the most formidable impediment to Africa’s development. I have heard cynics say that God gave Africans everything except good leaders. Bad leadership comes in numerous forms, ranging from authoritarianism, unresponsive governance, corruption to the retention of power beyond constitutional permission. The latest and current attempt of an African leader to extend his power comes from Guinea’s President Alpha Condé. When Condé became president in 2010, he was the first freely elected president in Guinea and, with that feat, his country joined the ranks of a growing number of African countries that are making a tilt towards democracy. His reelection in 2015, which saw a boost in his support from 52% in 2010 to 58%, was a tacit seal of approval from his citizens. It is also noteworthy that he served as the head of the African Union in 2017.
Despite his comparatively positive presidency, Condé has succumbed to the temptation that seems to be the Achilles heel of main African leaders; the extension of power. The Guinean government is currently mooting a new constitution. To be fair, the proposed constitution has some laudable clauses such as ending child and forced marriages and the abolition of female circumcision. However, the protests that have erupted in Guinea are directed towards the reasonable speculation that through this constitution, Condé is trying to fashion a move that will see him continue to be president beyond his current limitation to ten years which ends this year. This is a rational fear because a new constitution would entail a new republic and this would mean if Condé stands again, he would be doing so as a first-time contestant and would be eligible for two terms if elected. Furthermore, the proposed constitution seeks to extend presidential terms from five to six years. If the incumbent octogenarian got his wish and went on to rule for twelve years, he would have been president for more 22 years. Seen from this perspective, current protests in Guinea, that have claimed more than 30 lives, take on a more rational expression.
It is quite disappointing that Condé is marring the progressive facets of the proposed constitution with his ambition. It is even more disappointing for him to seek to hang on to power when his assumption to it was supposed to be a clean break from his country’s history of military and dictatorial rule. Condé and many other African leaders who have extended their rule through constitutional changes and military force seem to have been hewn from the same wood. In the twenty-first century, one would expect that current stewards have learnt from the mistakes of previous African leaders who, within a space of a generation, moved from hero to villain. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is one such tragic example. If Condé follows through with his suspected machinations, he would be tending in Mugabe’s direction and, by that same token, hurtling towards the wrong side of history. African leaders also ought to understand that their ambition to extend tenancy of power is an indictment on one’s legacy; it is an indirect admission that one, they have not been successful in grooming potential successors and, two, that one has not managed to build strong national institutions that can stand and develop the country beyond the incumbent’s tenure of office.
Condé’s announcement that the parliamentary election and the constitutional referendum have been suspended gives a glimmer of hope that perhaps he might reconsider his real intentions with the constitutional proposes. The people of Guinea will have to be the last deciders of what they want for their country because, as aforementioned, the proposed constitution has to redeem features that are worthy of adoption. The African Union and ECOWAS will have to monitor the happenings in Guinea and encourage the president of that country that, as Africa is girding to fight coronavirus, let him not compound that task.
Emmanuel Matambo is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS), University of Johannesburg