Friday, July 24, 2009

The Third –Term Plot in Niger

Like a recurring cancer, the sit-tight syndrome that has characterized political leadership in Africa for decades is in the making yet again. This time it is happening in Niger Republic. Already, the clandestine moves by President Mamadou Tandja to prolong his stay in power has produced troubling consequences that are set to get worse if prompt actions are not taken from within and outside the country to arrest the malady.
Tandja who is due to step down in December this year after two terms of five years each has now gone the familiar but unfortunate way of dictators. He has unilaterally dissolved the parliament and sponsored the drafting of a new constitution designed to deliver to him a third straight term in office. He has also deployed security forces to beat the increasingly vocal opposition into submission. To further demonstrate his resolve to alter the very constitution that put him in his country’s saddle, he has ignored Niger’s Constitutional Court’s ruling against the referendum slated for August 4, 2009 on the so-called constitution review. And having assumed emergency powers “to safeguard the interest of Niger people”, the world can now expect full-blown dictatorship from the leader of the mineral rich but one of the poorest nations on earth.
This unfolding drama becomes even more ridiculous when Tandja’s rationalizations are considered. The 71-year-old president insists that he needs more time to introduce a full presidential system of government that would empower the president to spearhead comprehensive governance. His supporters point to his achievements, notably a hydroelectric dam, an oil refinery and the 1.2 billion euro Imouraren uranium mine being handled by French energy giant, Areva, and argue for continuity. They also see Tandja as the only one who can quell the rebellion being prosecuted by the Tuaregs north of Niger.
These reasons are, at best, laughable. Whatever project or programme the president has not been able to complete in the one decade of his rule should be left for another person to execute. One lesson Tandja and indeed the ruling elite in Africa should learn fast is that public service can only thrive when institutions, and not individuals, are nurtured and strengthened. Rather than make persons invincible and promote them to tin gods, political and economic structures should be founded in such a way that they become enduring. That way, the absence of anybody would not ground the workings of government. Today, the larger part of Africa is in a deplorable state largely because public positions have been personalized.
With the current challenge posed by Tandja also comes an opportunity for the international community, especially the rest of the continent, to be united against the monster of perpetuation of political power. Violent anti-government protests have been staged by Nigeriens. The opposition has even called on the armed forces to disobey the president and has pronounced a no-retreat situation. Also, in his capacity as the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), President Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria has sent a high-powered delegation headed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar to Niamey to attempt to douse the tension there.
But the task of halting the dangerous trend in the world’s second largest producer of uranium must not end there. If Tandja continues along the present path, he should be ostracized first by ECOWAS and then the rest of the African Union (AU. Niger has had its own share of despots. And even now as before, the continent is host to rulers who have chosen to sink with the countries they are supposed to lead selflessly, preferring to subvert existing laws and further their own personal agenda.
The world should not wait until pictures of despair, disease and death begin to emerge from Niger before acting to save Nigeriens from the ambition of one man.