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Why the tide is turning

Publish date: 12 March 2018
Issue Number: 765
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: General

Recent constitutional changes have marked a consolidation of what Gabon’s opposition has called a ‘power grab’. The changes remove presidential term limits, effectively allowing President Ali Bongo Ondimba to rule for life. In an analysis on the News24 site, David Kiwuwa notes that the highly controversial constitutional amendments had minimal public input and were designed to consolidate the power of the executive. ‘This will allow the president to rule without consultation, a kind of untamed presidency. The opposition has pointed to changes that undermine democracy and good governance. This is especially the case because some of these changes require Gabon’s defence and security heads to take an oath of allegiance to the president. While some compromises have been reached between the government and the opposition, for instance the agreement to reinstate the electoral run-off system that had been replaced with a single round of voting, the overriding impact of the amendments will be to concentrate power in the presidency. This will constrain institutional oversight and consultative governance. It will also limit the role of the opposition in holding the government to account. The net effect of these changes is to give the president the powers of an absolute monarch.’ Kiwuwa questions how Gabon will cope with a constitutional autocracy and what impact will an unconstrained presidency have on the tiny West African nation. ‘Gambia’s current constitutional changes mirror trends in some African countries where incumbents have tinkered with their constitutions to weaken oversight systems and systematically erode democratic principles. Some of them, like Burundi, have removed presidential term limits, and others like Uganda, presidential age limits. But I believe there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud over Africa’s politics. African autocrats are slowly being eased out. Incumbents might tinker with the rules of the game, and shift goal posts but they cannot escape the inevitable: Change will come. It’s only a matter of when and how. Just look at Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Angola’s José Eduardo Dos Santos, Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaoré. The pressure is also rising on the presidents of Togo, the DRC, and Cameroon.’

Full analysis on the News24 site