Botswana is hosting an international meeting aimed at strengthening democracy and adherence to constitutions in Africa. Participants are calling on African militaries and leaders to respect term limits after several recent coups and efforts to extend time in power.
The three-day summit, organized by Botswana and the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), has attracted former heads of state and civil society activists from across Africa.
Niger’s former president, Mahamadou Issoufou, speaking via videolink, said there is concern over the state of democracy in Africa.
"We have some … results from certain countries, but democracy is regressing in certain countries, and especially through military coups,” he said. “I am happy Botswana and Niger are speaking with one voice." Countries have to respect the two-term limit, he added.
Issoufou left office after two terms in 2021 and was awarded the five-million dollar Ibrahim prize for good governance.
Botswana’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, said his country, Africa’s longest-running democracy, was the ideal location for the meeting.
He said Africa requires strong institutions to promote constitutionalism and to ensure democracy flourishes.
“We remain resolute in the belief that we are better served by strong institutions rather than strongmen or women or anything in between,” he said. “My firm belief is that this summit represents our strong partnerships to renew and strengthen efforts to respect constitutional term limits as a pillar of democratic governance and peaceful political transitions across our continent.”
Peaceful political transitions remain elusive in some African countries. In the last 16 months alone, leaders have been ousted by coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Sudan.
U.S. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, in a recorded statement, said her country will continue to support Africa’s efforts to uphold democratic principles.
“The United States is proud to support today’s convening and we will continue to back our partner’s efforts to bring attention to the efforts of constitutional term limits as they are key to democratic governance,” she said. “We all know from public opinion research that constitutional term limits have widespread popular support across Africa.”
National Democratic Institute President Derek Mitchell said the Gaborone summit comes at an opportune time.
“There is no more important moment to reaffirm and embrace the eternal truth than today when democracy is under attack in so many corners of the world,” he said. Democracy must be protected, defended, cultivated through regular civic practice and education. Respect for constitutionalism promotes rule of law and political accountability.”
The Gaborone meeting is a follow-up to a 2019 summit held in Niger to promote the respect of constitutional limits.