It is of less controversy that democracy is a better system of government gauged by many standards. Democratic countries tend to accord more protection of human rights to their citizens, to be more peaceful, to be less corrupt, and to have better economic, social, and cultural developments. It is no wonder today that more people are demanding a democratic system of government in their countries.
However, democracy has seldom been realised by popular demand only. The genuine will of those in government power is also crucial for a smooth transitioning to democracy. This element is lacking in many of our leaders though.
As such, most of the heads of governments of African states have been diagnosed with one common problem: stayism. It is unfortunate that this syndrome has not been cured yet, long after independence.
Most of our leaders have always been tempted to hold ‘perpetual’ power. One may be tempted to ask ‘is Stayism in the African leaders’ blood?’.
This is astounding especially when we note that almost all African states have constitutions that in one way or another, limit leaders’ power.
However, it is regretful that mostly, we have ‘constitutions, but not constitutionalism.’ This is why we witness presidents for life, prime ministers with virtually unlimited power, and the recent amendments of constitutions to change term limits of presidents.
The good news is that there are developments in the African Union (AU) to democratize member states. The adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG); the Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002), and the (OAU) Declaration on the Unconstitutional Change of Government (2000) could be mentioned as a positive move by the AU in the democratisation process
As many African states’ leaders have the stayism syndrome and because it is easy for them to influence their electoral systems and always ‘win elections’, it is alleged that there are almost no peaceful mechanisms to change governments.
It is argued that the true reason why these leaders came up with the Declaration on Unconstitutional Change of Government is because they know that the domestic system favours themselves, and that they wanted to condemn anyone who seeks to overthrow them by unconstitutional means.
But bear in mind that amending or revising a constitution or law in order to run for additional period also constitutes an unconstitutional change of government (ACDEG Art 23/5).
And an unconstitutional change of government is an international crime (as per the draft amended protocol to the protocol on the statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights-not adopted yet, not binding).
But it is not an international crime under the established criminal law jurisprudence. As the problem of stayism is more pronounced in Africa, making it an international crime is a step forward to an ‘African solution to an African problem.’
Mr. Nkurunziza has finished his term of office, and he is supposed to step down though he chose to push boundaries when he wanted to run for election by amending the country’s Constitution. The AU has condemned the act, though merely condemning would not change a thing in this case.
There are robust measures that the ACDEG provides. One of these measures is suspension of the state from membership. The AU can also take Punitive economic measures. Most importantly, state parties to AU have the duty to extradite the perpetrators this crime, and to bring them to justice.
The AU response should be stern, and it should reflect the growing concern of AU over democratic regression. It should take steps and give meaning to all those legal instruments adopted in Addis. Mr. Piere Nkurunziza should be held liable for the loss of the life of civilians, the political, economic and social turmoil in the country.
Post by: Abiy Alemu Ashenafi is a former Law lecturer in Jimma University, Ethiopia. He is currently in a post graduate study (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) with the University of Pretoria and the University of the Western Cape. Email: Abiyvesta@gmail.com.