Nkurunziza’s Promise Of Stepping Down In 2020 And The Controversy Of Political Promises In Africa
In political life, promises have become the carpet on which politicians walk on into power. These promises are mainly made as a means to lure the masses to either vote for them, or give them their total support so as to stay in power. However, the problem is not the number of promises made and at what time, but the respect and implementation of these promises by the very authors. In most cases, there is always a very huge challenge and a big gap that separates the political discourse endowed with promises and the realization of these promises on the ground.
African politicians, past and present have mostly been caught in the web of political promises made especially before they ascend the throne and the realization of these promises. Cameroonians would remember how Paul Biya, while taken office in November 1982 promised to clean the system of corruption under the banner of what he termed “rigour and moralization.” However, it is still under his reign that the country is one of the most corrupt in the world. In 1986, while ascending the throne after a bloody guerrilla war, President Yoweri Museveni declared that most African leaders have overstayed their welcome which according to him was the cause of economic hardship. However, 30 years on, the same Museveni is still in power.
In some cases, the promise is that of respecting the constitution. This was the promise of President Olusegun Obasanjo while taken office in 1999, to respect the constitution and the two term limits of the presidency. But by mid-2000s, absolute power had absolutely corrupted Obasanjo and he attempted to modify the constitution so as to run for the third term. This continuous divorce has accounted for the loss of trust in politicians in Africa to the extent that a promise is always taken with a pinch of salt. That explains why the recent promise by President Nkurunziza of Burundi to step down in 2020 is being seen as a myth until it becomes reality in 2020.
Breaching The Relay Between Promises And Realizations
One of the main reasons why politics in Africa is considered as a “dirty game” is because of the divorce between promises and realizations. The two, even though are supposed to be buried in a relay race where one starts and the other ends the race, they have however been very divergent and with little or no meeting point.
In their much needed quest to seduce masses for their votes and support, politicians make huge profit out of the manipulation of the psychology of these masses. Politicians tell the people what they want to hear and not what they can do. Politics is a game of power. It is principally geared at achieving power and staying on top using every means available, sometimes even unorthodox means.
In the case of Cameroon, Paul Biya, a Southerner took over from Ahmadou Ahidjo a Northerner in a process void of contest. It was a time when the outgoing President was being criticized for maintaining a college of corrupt bureaucrats who were ruining the nation’s economy. In order to present himself as the person with the messianic solution, Paul Biya quickly made use of the witnesses of his predecessor. Knowing that the people were thirsty for an anti-corruption discourse, he immediately presented one to them.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda who took over after a bloody war wanted to present himself as the “Father of Democracy” not just in his country but for Uganda to serve as an example for Africa. Hence, he quickly challenged African leaders who had been in power for many years, promising to make Uganda different.
It was a similar weakness exploited by Olusegun Obasanjo when he became President in 1999. Knowing that the country was coming from a bloody past marked by the passage of many military juntas and the absence of democracy, Obasanjo quickly made used of this lacuna to position himself by promising to be the “Father of democracy” in a “New Nigeria” which marked the beginning of the third Republic.
Coming 8 years after Obasanjo, President Muhammadu Buhari also seduced the Nigerian electorate by declaring that him alone has the panacea that can cure the malady imposed on Nigeria and neighbouring countries by the Islamist group Boho Haram. Prior to his accession to the throne, Boko Haram had been very active for about 6 years and his predecessor had proven not to master the art of war and conflict management. Buhari immediately made use of his military past to seduce Nigerians of the annihilation of the group once he is made President. Having suffered from the menace of Boko Haram, Nigerians easily gave Buhari the benefit of doubt and for a rare occurrence in African history, an incumbent President was defeated by the opposition candidate. However, months to the end of Buhari’s mandate, Boko Haram is still waxing strong and not even the much celebrated Chibok girls have all been secured from the group’s den.
When Zimbabwe had its independence in 1980, its imposing and charismatic leader, Robert Gabriel Mugabe with his high sense of humour and mastery of the language made the Southern African populace to belief that they would become an paradise on earth. Truly it emerged that Zimbabwe under Mugabe was becoming the breadbasket of Southern Africa but later on, it became clear between promises and realization there is a big gap. And gradually Zimbabwe was drowning and even the relics of the celebrated revolution could no longer be protected. In the meantime, leaders are now bent on using force and violence to get the people under their control who have now become frustrated because of these fails.
The Ill-Baked Promises, African Leaders Victim Of Their Promises
Since President Pierre Nkurunziza’s public outing where he promised not to stand in for elections when his third term mandate finishes in 2015, there has been much talk about the promise. Many have criticized the President for making promises that he cannot uphold. Some see it as a means to calm down the tension and political violence ongoing in the country which has claimed tens of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Pierre Nkurunziza’s Presidency was born out of the famous Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accord which his CNDD-FDD endorsed and promised to respect the tenets of the accord. The Arusha Accord was a milestone for Burundi which was coming from years of violent and outrageous conflicts. The Accord was greeted with joy because it attempted to manage the minority and power-sharing issue of Burundi. However, its implementation largely depended on the bonafide consciences of signatories to the Accord who all promised to uphold it so as to guarantee a peaceful and stable Burundi.
Top on the highlights of the Accord was the limitation of power to two successive terms of office of five years each; meaning a President could not stay in power for more than 10 years. It was on the foundations of this Accord that Pierre Nkurunziza was elected through a parliamentary vote in 2005 as the first post-war President of Burundi, for a mandate of 5 years renewable once. In 2010 incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza won the elections after having been voted by a universal suffrage. All seemed well not until 2013 when it became evident that Pierre Nkurunziza was still interested in the Presidential seat.
Surprisingly in 2015, Nkurunziza ran for the election in a very tense atmosphere with many opposition leaders fleeing the country, and he eventually won. Nkurunziza and his cohorts argued that his election in 2005 was not based on universal suffrage as it was conducted only in the parliament. He held that his “popular” mandate began in 2010 and so he is entitled to a “second” mandate in 2015. However, it is noted that while running for elections in 2005, Nkurunziza promised to respect fully the 2000 Arusha Accord. In order to seduce the electorate and the international community which was heavily backing the process, he did not pose any objection to the 2-term limitations or argue for a clarification of terms. Rather, he promised to transform his armed group into a political party that would respect not just the constitution but the Arusha Accord.
At every instance, Pierre Nkurunziza was able to interpret the Arusha Accord to suite his wishes and not the wishes of the Burundian masses. While vying for Presidency in 2005, he interpreted it to please the people, and once in office, he interpreted it to his favour. Moreover, Pierre Nkurunziza certainly did not know that ten years may just be near the corner, so he went on in 2005 to make promises that were to mature ten years after. With such a very shaky background it becomes difficult for Pierre Nkurunziza’s promise of stepping down in 2020 to be taken seriously. Burundian politicians, mainly from the opposition have also expressed their reservations to his promise.
Many African leaders have also fallen into the trap of making ill-conceived promises and sometimes interpreting the present happenings to their favour. Paul Biya stands out as one of the longest serving Presidents in Africa (36 years in power) and still interested to stay on despite the downward trend of the country’s economic and political life. He propagated a massive project of rigour and moralization and even wrote a book that was widely circulated in public. But in recent years, Paul Biya’s promises of making Cameroon great void of corruption has become bigger than the him. Yoweri Museveni has also become a victim of his own promises as time has become faster than he thought. In 1986, the young Museveni (42 years) went ahead to declare promises before thinking about the consequences. He based them on time because to him many African Presidents had overstayed their welcome which was the main reason of economic hardship. But more than 30 years after, Museveni is now relying on the discourse of “unfinished projects” which are still keeping him in power. However, he failed to realize that the same Presidents he criticized in 1986 may also have had “unfinished projects” which is why they were still clinging to power. While he was running from office just after he walked out of prison, Olusegun Obasanjo interpreted the taste for newness in Nigeria to promise to step down after 2-successive mandate (8 years). 8 years was also a long period which he knew was not fast approaching, not until sometimes around 2005 that Obasanjo realized he had just two years in office. Recently, President Buhari seemed to have fallen into the pit of his own promises with very disastrous consequences. He promised to outwit Boko Haram by the end of 2015, yet close to 3 years after and with his mandate fast drawing to an end, Nigeria is still counting its dead as a result of continuous Boko Haram attacks. Buhari certainly underestimated the project of annihilating Boko Haram and went ahead to promise before considering the consequences which are becoming enormous, with many calls for him not to dare seek a second term in office in 2019.
Even though some few African leaders like the iconic Mandela kept to their promise of not clinging to power building a multiracial South Africa, many more leaders are making promises that they cannot respect. However, political promises are not just the prerogative of African politicians. The Western world has its own share of the discourse. In 1940 President Roosevelt of the United States declared that his country was not going to enter World War II. But just one year after his declaration he drew the boys into battle. George Bush Senior followed in his footstep by developing a catchy phrase in 1988, “read my lips, no new taxes.” But while in office he immediately raised taxes.
Most often, these political promises are ill-conceived just to seduce the electorate and secure more powers for the leader. Sometimes, these leaders erroneously think that time would eternally be on their side. In most cases, the promise of great tidings crumbles like a miscalculated fairy tale.
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