PRESIDENTIAL TERM LIMIT: AN ETHICAL POINT OF TRANSPARENT LEADERSHIP

Listening to a short but much thought provoking dialogue with a friend, we both couldn’t avoid bringing ethics into the subject. The discussion was centered on a highly sensitive subject among Gambians (people of my country). As usual, we changed the topic to a broader coverage almost applying it to the whole continent or (more accurately to countries without presidential term-limits). My friend told me that he believes that term limits for politicians especially for presidents could be a good way of improving governance as political figures will likely be more transparent if they know that their positions as president is not a permanent contract. If this is so, I told him that it both has tremendous chances of improving accountability but it does not also go without institutional challenges and political will to move on with such arrangements. Then we shifted our focus to a more recent example of our subject: elections in Zimbabwe!

In 2008, Zimbabweans like this 31st of July, 2013 went to the polls to elect their president and members of parliament. Both elections have been marred by controversy but the latter been more peaceful. Despite this fact, this 2013 election is also a subject of disagreement especially among the major opposition and some Western commentators. Some of them have reported that the election was set in a way to favor the ruling party and its aspiring candidates as members of parliament which was characterized by violence and wide intimidation of opposition figures and their supporters.  Some sources have also reported that the election happened in an unorganized manner where the needed political and security reforms have not been initiated to support a free and fair election that gives equal opportunity to the participating parties and candidates.

In power since 1980 (as the only known leader of Zimbabwe after gaining independence from Britain), some commentators both within and outside Africa criticize Mugabe as power-hungry even though his ‘iron fist’ ruling has led to economic  decline, increased poverty and widespread unemployment. Mugabe and his regime have been accused of corruption at the expense of the poor masses. Due to allegations of widespread human rights abuse, the regime has faced isolation especially from Britain and by extension the EU thus increasing the pain of economic decline. In the past few years, however, there has been improvement on production and trade mainly from natural resources. Despite this, poverty is common existence and economic isolation is yet to be history especially among the poor who are less-connected to the regime.

True, Zimbabwe as a nation has gone through some political turmoil that has in no small way impact on the economy and living condition of the majority of the people. However, I wonder if some African countries will be able to improve the challenge of ‘good governance’ through limiting presidential terms (likely to two terms). With a report of the electoral body declaring Mugabe with a 61% of votes and a parliament victory of two-thirds for his ZANU-PF party, what will be the faith of the nation in the next five years may be too early to conclude. However, I believe that there should be key priorities of economic growth, eliminating corruption, improving the human rights situation and constitutional supremacy among other important agendas. Accept it or not, the results of this election has brought new amid continuing controversy against Mugabe as a ‘nationalist’ he has claimed to be or an official of the few elite against the interest of the poor majority.

As mentioned earlier, while some reporters claimed that the electoral process was more peaceful than the 2008 one, some have labeled it as ‘widely flawed’ and the main opposition declaring the results ‘null and void’. Against all odds, Mugabe is sworn in for the 7th time as the leader of Zimbabwe and shall reign for the next five years. At this crucial moment for the county’s political life, it is now time to work on national reconciliation and interest. Attracting investors and donor commitment for nation rebuilding should be high on the agenda of President Mugabe as the holder of Zimbabwe’s highest office for the next half a decade.

  1. What ethical thoughts come to your mind when there is a question about term limits for politicians (presidents)?
  2. Is it ethical to judge that the voters have ‘wronged themselves’ for exercising their political right because Mugabe might not be the choice of the outside audience?
  3. Is it acceptable to challenge Mugabe as a participant in the past election because of his 33 years tenure in office as president?
  4. Is it part of ‘moral leadership’ to lead a country and voluntarily step down with or without a term limit?
  5. If there should be a continental activism about the feasibility of presidential term limit in Africa, I assume there will be leadership reaction (among those not practicing term limits) challenging such as a Western induced phenomenon to cause social upheaval. What are your thoughts?

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Comment by Oumie Sissokho on August 22, 2013 at 10:14am

Interesting analysis! 
I hope that we're able to relate this case to other countries too. Perhaps, it might be too early to finalize but with a combination of ethical responsibility to the ruled/subjects coupled with term limits, some countries will register progress on governance improvement. The Senegalese for instance one year ago, had to get to the streets to demonstrate against President Wade's intended extension of his presidency beyond the two term constitutional limit. 
The masses were able to prevent this. However, such mass mobilization could only work in relatively advanced democracies in Africa and not those still characterized by military or post-military dictatorship where the will of the people do not equal to any meaningful call to the dictators!

Comment by Valentine Olushola Oyedipe on August 20, 2013 at 8:09am

Your post is such an interesting one showcasing the  'Sit Down Tight Leadership Style of African Leaders'. Mugabe has institutionalized himself in Zimbabwe.As an African my self, I am quite familiar with the 'operational  electoral mechanism' that has been term 'electoral flaws' in Zimbabwe and generally in  African Democracy.There is no gainsaying fact that the future of a great number of persons in Zimbabwe has been mortgaged and conscience have been sold out courtesy a tiny fragment of the Zimbabwean population whose actions was morally questionable. At any rate, the only invariant phenomenon in life is change, in which case, time shall tell and as Gabriel aptly commented that the situation in Zimbabwe has to be judged in its own ethical context given the relativity of culture. Good! But at the same time, we rely heavily on positive dynamism of culture to rise on behalf of the powerless minority which is our hope for moral leadership in Africa regarding situations like this. A living example in this respect is Dr. Nelson Mandela who has demonstrated moral leadership in all its ramifications. Specifically, Mandela never agitated for another term despite his protracted struggle for moral order in South Africa having got to the apex seat of power.

Second, regarding the time limit of a thing, my take here is that human social actions are not objectively directed as you have conceived but rather subjectively directed. What I am saying in effect, is that the political instruments through which powers are derived and exercised is developed through a social process and this process is subject to infinite change. Hence, the instrument cannot be objectively  evaluated outside the historical context that first brought it to bare but can be objectively practiced with the proviso that the practitioners  are morally upright.Examples abound in Africa where some leadership, though, some Military juntas had continually alter the constitution of the state to favour them thereby deceiving the citizenry of the political agenda. Consequently, giving a time limit is never an end in it self in this context. There is need for moral overhauling and revolution which can bring the idea of time limit to a moral perspective.

Comment by Gabriel G. S. Lima de Almeida on August 19, 2013 at 8:34pm

I really enjoyed your post! It makes me think about the limits of democracy, or putting in another way, how legit is a democracy when it comes not to have all usually characteristics of it. 
A term-limit, specially for President, seems to me a need for prevent corruption and stability of a democratic system. Power for a long time becomes to personal I guess, and perhaps it is difficult therefore to promote and maintain strong institutions.
Responding the second question you have made, I think we cannot judge those electors, since we are talking of a democracy, and the sovereignty relies on people. Another reason is that ethics, in this context, has to come along with cultural characteristics, and because of that, has to be judge in his own "ethical context". 

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