The temptations of third-termism

By Jaysim Hanspal

Posted on Friday, 3 February 2023 15:03, updated on Monday, 6 February 2023 09:27
Central African Republic's President Faustin Archange Touadera arrives to address the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, U.S., September 20, 2022. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

As election fever sweeps the continent next year, many leaders are attempting to run for a third term, despite their countries’ two-term constitutions.

Presidential term limits, which those in power may seek to argue as unnecessary, were designed to minimise abuse of office, open up governments to innovation, and create a more even playing field where representation is key.

As many African countries fight hard for their democracies, the danger of terms turning into dictatorships is a very real concern among the people who campaign for their voices to be heard.

However, this is not the first time presidents have manipulated constitutions in their favour. In 2021, Tunisian President Kais Saied abolished the country’s constitution, while in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Uganda, constitutions have been rewritten to reset the presidential term limits.


President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the Central African Republic is attempting to pursue the same tactic. In September, CAR’s Constitutional Court ruled that the incumbent’s attempts to change term limits through a commission for constitutional reform were “unconstitutional”, and warned Touadéra against it.

Now 65, the president was elected following a civil war, but his reelection in 2020 sparked violence in the country. His followers stormed the courts before they were stopped by UN peacekeepers. Touadéra’s relationship with the Moscow-linked Wagner mercenaries may give him the edge against his opponents as this plays out.

Sall won’t back down

In Senegal, President Macky Sall is also attempting to go for a third term. Changes to the country’s constitution in 2016 shortened presidential terms from seven to five years, which his allies argue allows him to run. The country has been staunchly anti- term limits in the past, recently blocking efforts by the Economic Community of West African States to revise its Democracy Protocol to limit presidential terms to two in all member states.

In response, opposition candidates are coordinating to form an alliance in an attempt to block the changes that would allow Sall, the current head of the African Union, to stand in 2024. He has faced opposition from all sides, including from former prime minister Aminata Touré, who is strongly against the move.

President William Ruto’s coalition, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) has also mooted a possible plan to remove presidential term limits in Kenya and impose an age limit of 75 on presidents. If it became a reality, this new system would allow Ruto to run another three times, effectively wiping out his competitor Raila Odinga.

Despite the chaos that this idea has stirred up, it appears Ruto himself is not interested. He asked the UDA to stop “pushing for selfish and self-serving legislation like changing the Constitution to remove term limits”.

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