Former UN chief Kofi Annan is calling on Africa’s “presidents-for-life” to retire as a safety valve against rebellions on the continent.
Speaking at a conference on security in Ethiopia, Mr Annan said Africa’s progress towards stability is continually being held back by leaders who want to stay on forever.
“I think Africa has done well…the coups have more or less ended, generals are remaining in their barracks, but we are creating situations which may bring them back,” he said at the 5th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa in the Ethiopian north-western city of Bahir Dar.
“If a leader doesn’t want to leave office, if a leader stays on for too long, and elections are seen as being gamed to suit a leader and he stays term after term after term, the tendency may be the only way to get him out is through a coup or people taking to the streets.”
The former UN Secretary-General who currently chairs the African Progress Panel admitted that unconstitutional change of governments cannot replace democracy, but argued leaders have to lead by example in obeying the same constitutions.
But Mr Annan, a keynote speaker at this Forum on “Africa in the Global Security Agenda,” was simply revisiting his previous jibe at leaders who have either come on through coups or removed term limits to remain in office.
While serving as UN top diplomat in 2001, he told an African Union (then known as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)) summit to reject leaders who had forced their way in.
Annan’s advice was never heeded and recently countries such as Central Africa republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, South Sudan, and Burundi have experienced conflicts related to coups or attempts.
Since 1960s, Africa has experienced about 200 coups or coup attempts. And though leaders in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo Republic have all managed to stay longer in power by manipulating the constitution, their argument has always been that it is their people keeping them in power.
The former UN top diplomat argued the structure of African elections where winners exclude the opposition has contributed to raising tensions around elections.
This year’s forum is the fifth such conference since it was launched by former Ethiopian Prime Minister, the late Meles Zenawi and is organised by the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of Addis Ababa University.
Though its deliberations are not binding, the forum has acted as a platform for leaders and experts interact on issues affecting the continent.
Top on the agenda at this forum is the weaknesses of African which seeks sovereignty but has no money to run its own affairs especially in security.
The former UN top diplomat said leaders must find a solution to perennial funding challenges as a way of attaining the independence they want.
“We cannot always pass a hat around and insist we want to be sovereign, we want to be independent. We should lead and get others to support us — that support will be much more forthcoming when they see how serious and committed we are,” he said.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is the chair of this year’s forum that has also attracted leaders such as Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe, Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Sudan’s Omar al Bashir.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Festus Mogae of Botswana, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Pierre Buyoya of Burundi and Joyce Banda of Malawi are also taking part.