Apr 29, 2010

Leadership Pipeline

When Zambia’s now former president, Frederick Chiluba, was making a push to amend the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term, one of his primary arguments was that his agenda was unfinished, and that he needed another term to “improve the conditions of the country”. I have heard echoes of this with the recent re-election of Sudan’s al-Bashir (who has already ruled for 20 years) and from Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi (also at the healm for 20 years).


“Is the need to finish an agenda, a good enough reason to do away with constitutional terms limits?”

No, it is not. Development is a continuous process, and does not revolve around a president and a few key personnel. As a president 'exits the stage' someone else will take over and continue the work that is left to be done. 

With our history of cult personalities and life term president(s) in Zambia, and Africa as a whole, it is critical to prevent these occurrences. Prolonged time in office allows for greater centralisation of personal power and the deeper entrenchment of corruption and cronyism. 

When I hear arguments in favour of no term limits to avoid power vacuums and instability, I see this as self-serving and a symptom of a larger deficiency - a lack of leadership development. A disproportionate amount of power lies in the hands of an elite few, and it is in their best interests to retain power and continue enjoying its benefits. This stifles the growth of new and better ideas, and provides no incentives for new leaders to emerge.  And as a result we continue to recycle the same politicians often with the same failed policies and end up with the same results.  

There are no easy answers on how to move towards true political maturation with leadership renewal and a balance of power that is not skewed to the benefit of a few. 

The following are some conditions that need to exist to ensure strength in a country's foundation and in its democratic processes: 
  • A strong electoral system independent from the Executive branch, and free of political interference. In Zambia, the president has the authority to make appointments to the electoral commission, and in essence can determine the date of elections or even who is deemed eligible to stand.
  • Independent and impartial law enforcement that is not used as a tool of the ruling class to intimidate and harass would-be candidates and their supporters.
  • An independent judiciary which protects the rule of law and civil liberties.
  • An independent media that provides exposure and coverage to all political parties, and representatives.
  • Coordinated and engaged civil society organisations.
At the heart of this discussion is the need to have a competitive political climate; where people have the freedom to seek public office without fear of intimidation or harassment, and where the free exchange of ideas is fostered and encouraged. Only then can we have genuine multi-party democracy.

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