Dar es Salaam. The question of presidential term limits is a hot point in African politics. Currently, two East African nations Rwanda and Burundi are at flashpoint over the same matter.
Burundi is passing through a hard time of civil unrest with telltale signs of looming civil war after the country’s President Mr Pierre Nkurunzinza forced a third term in office contrary to the country’s constitution which provides a maximum of two terms.
In neighbouring Rwanda, there is an ongoing process of crapping presidential term limit. Article 101 of the country’s constitution limits the head of state to a maximum two seven-year terms, however millions of Rwandans have petitioned for the removal of the article a move which is supported by both the Parliament and the Senate and it is only a matter of time for Mr Paul Kagame to be allowed to stand for a third term before his current mandate comes to an end in 2017.
It is from that experience that some people in the world that think President Jakaya Kikwete is an exceptional leader by accepting to step out of the office after October General Election. When Mr Kikwete travelled to Australia recently, the country’s Premier Mr Tony Abbott commended him for honouring the constitution and chose to retire from presidency peacefully.
“This is a rare situation in Africa but it is happening in your country and you are accepting it, congratulations,” he said.
However, the tradition which is increasingly being said as rare in Africa has settled in Tanzanian soil for the last 30 years. The country’s first president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere retired in 1985 after two decades in office and the ruling party CCM chose Mr Ali Hassan Mwinyi as his successor.
However, before the succession was finalized by the way of polls in the 1985 Elections, two major changes happened first the introduction of term limits for presidency, where the 1984 constitutional amendment specified that a president could serve a maximum of two terms, five years each. Secondly, the 1985 Elections Act reduced the minimum age for eligible voters from 21 to 18 years.
President Mwinyi was first elected in 1985 and reelected five years later by over 90 per cent of total votes in both accounts. After him came former President Benjamin Mkapa who faced opposition in 1995 and 2000 elections but sailed through and served his ten years in office which ended in 2005.
Mr Kikwete is therefore going to be the third Tanzanian President to honour the constitution as far as the limit is concerned.
For the last 30 years the matter has not been discussed, it is more of a taboo to talk about scrapping the presidential term limit in today’s Tanzania.
As Mwalimu Nyerere once said he was the first and last Tanzanian leader to serve in the office of the President for more than ten years.
Apart from Rwanda and Burundi who are currently walking in that direction, other African countries which have scrapped the limit or have none are Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Comoros and Algeria.