As readers will know, the DR Congo is currently embroiled in endless debate over a constitutional revision that dare not speak its name. While neither President Kabila nor his party have officially proposed to change the term limits included in the current constitution, we can safely assume that they are at the very least considering it.
As a reminder: Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, and has been twice elected to 5-year terms (2006-2011, 2011-2016), is bound by the current constitution to stand down in 2016. Not only does Article 70 of the constitution say that the president has to step down after two terms, but Article 220 explicitly prohibits any revision of those term limits.
While some members of Kabila’s inner circle and presidential majority have already come out in favor of a revision of those term limits––none more vociferously than the head of his PPRD political party, Evariste Boshab––many others both among among the president’s allies and the opposition have opposed it. (A list of those positions will be posted here soon).
But the Congo is not the only country facing this problem––many of its peers in Africa are debating similar revisions, and the results elsewhere will certainly have an impact on the Congo. (Listen to Senegalese civil society activist Fadel Barro on this topic here).
- Republic of the Congo: President Denis-Sassou Nguesso, in power between 1979-1992 and again since 1997, will finish his term in August 2016. After that, he, like Kabila, is limited by Article 57 to step down, and according to Article 185 of the same constitution, the number of presidential terms cannot be revised (he is also too old to stand for another term, according to Article 58). However, he has said: “In any case, the constitution, if it has to be changed, has to be changed through a popular referendum. And if there is a popular referendum, I don’t see which is the force of democracy that could be disappointed by the popular will expressed through a referendum;”
- Burundi: President Pierre Nkurunziza is in a slightly different situation––he will have completed his second term in August 2015. However, the Burundian constitution is slightly ambiguous: it says the president is elected by a popular vote to two terms of five years. Nkurunziza was elected to his first term by the national assembly, and so argues he has only served one of his two constitutionally-allowed terms;
- Burkina Faso: Only yesterday, the burkinabé interior minister said that President Blaise Compaoré, in power since 1987, would seek to change the constitution so he could have another term. He currently would have to step down in 2015;
- Rwanda: President Paul Kagame, who has officially been in power since 2003, will have completed the two seven-year terms allowed by the constitution in 2017. It is telling that debate about a constitutional revision has already been raging, a good three years ahead of the end of his term. This week, three smaller parties––all allied to the ruling RPF––came out in favor of a constitutional revision, while Kagame himself has said: “I don’t know of any country where the constitution is immutable;”
If Kabila tries to stay, he would be in notorious company: Eleven countries in Africa have tried to revise the term limits in their constitutions––seven have succeeded (Burkina Faso, Chad, Togo, Namibia, Uganda, Guinea, and Gabon) while four have failed (Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, and Senegal).