Skillful traditional dancer, Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, narrowly danced out of impeachment three days ago. His nimble political feet enabled him by a slim 21-vote difference to continue his performance in office. He has been in office since 2009 and has two years left, but the unrelenting opposition went for an eighth attempt to remove him. National Assembly Speaker, Baleka Mbete, had ruffled the African political scene with an announcement that the latest Parliamentary vote would be secret, which meant that parliamentarians would vote true to their conscience and not necessarily along party lines.
Ruling African National Congress (ANC) Chief Whip, Doris Dlakude, said the real intention of the opposition was to carry out a coup d’état. She lamented that “(The opposition) are using the constitution so to collapse government, deter service delivery and sow the seeds of chaos in society so as to ultimately grab power”
After submitting to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, one million signatures demanding Zuma’s ouster, the parliamentary opposition posted 177 votes, but not enough to surpass the 198 parliamentarians who voted for Zuma. With nine abstentions, it was clear that some lawmakers of Zuma’s ANC, voted for his ouster or were indifferent.
To Police Minister, Fikile Mbalula, this was clearly an attempt to seize the popular mandate given to Zuma: “We were inside (parliament), they said they’re going to topple the President. But with your support, we have defeated them inside. There are those who have been asking (us to vote with) our conscience. We’ve got political conscience to keep the ANC in power forever, and that is political conscience …”
Clearly, there will be more attempts to unseat Zuma, so the question is, will Zuma just sit and wait to be removed or move to ensure he survives until his tenure expires? In any case what do you do with a parliament that is proving so relentless? Zuma might need to learn how his colleague, President Muhammed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania handled the Senate of his country that refused to cooperate with him in his bid for an unconstitutional Third Term.
Aziz, a former Chairman of the African Union had been a leader in the August 2005 coup that removed President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya. Three years later, he unseated President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and in July 2009 was elected President. He survived a gun shot on 13 October 2012. Until today, it remains unclear if this was an accident or assassination attempt.
His maximum two terms expire in two years, but the Aziz insist he has to continue in office beyond 2019. For this, he needs to change the constitution. But the Senate which is the Upper Chamber did not cooperate. So he sold the Senate to the public as a parasitic, useless and costly Chamber which does not deserve a place in governance. He therefore demanded it be abolished. In March, 2017, the Lower House by a wide 121 – 19 margin, voted to abolish the Senate. President Aziz then invited the government- controlled Senate to abolish itself. But 33 of the 56 Distinguished Senators voted against the Senate committing suicide. So Aziz on Saturday, August 5, 2017, held a referendum to kill of the Senate. This was done with a 53.73 percent voter turnout 85 percent of who returned a ‘Yes’ verdict. Although the opposition parties characterized the referendum as an “electoral farce which has given way to open-air fraud,” Aziz has had his way.
The primary lesson President Aziz has taught Africa is that the best way to meet the challenge of opposition, is to abolish it; the best way to treat a Senate that will not cooperate, is to eliminate it.
Aziz is following in the footsteps of President Macky Sall, the Geologist who in 2012, caused a seismic shift in the political calculus of Senegal when he abolished the Senate. He had been a political godson of his predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade whom he served as Prime Minister for three years before becoming the President of the National Assembly. But he revolted against his master and replaced him as President in April 2012. However, he felt that merely defeating Wade at the polls without smashing his power base would be dangerous. So he immediately worked for the abolition of the Senate dominated by Wade supporters. He had an ingenuous excuse; that the abolition will save Senegal $15 million! Money he said could be used to tackle the 2012 floods in the country.
Unlike their Mauritanian counterparts, the Senators in Rwanda have nothing to fear as they are ready allies of President Paul Kagame who like Aziz, is gunning for an unconstitutional Third Term. In reality, the Rwandan Senate virtually does not exist. It is a tiny assemblage of 26 persons with 14 of them appointed. President Kagame directly appoints 8, four are appointed by the Forum of Political Parties while two are appointed by university staff. The remaining 12 are elected from the local level while any former President can apply to the Supreme Court to enlist him as a Senator. This provision might actually be a fallback position for Kagame as his six predecessors except Pasteur Bizimungu, are dead. The latter who was President from 1994, resigned in 2000 over appointment of the cabinet, and Kagame took over.
Bizimungu tried to stand up politically by establishing his own Democratic Renewal Party which was quickly banned. When he persisted on running the party, he was jailed for fifteen years in 2004 for running the party and endangering national security.
Kagame has succeeded not just in bagging the power to run for a Third Term, but in fact to run for three extra terms of five years each. So by the referendum which gave a 98 percent endorsement, he can remain in office until 2032 or a total of 42 years in power.
The National Assembly in Nigeria must have been very lucky to escape ‘impeachment’ by an imperial President who fought to change the constitution and bag a Third Term. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo tried all he could to extend his tenure beyond the constitutional limits, but the parliament frustrated him. The Assembly leadership even accused him of bribing members. Perhaps Obasanjo failed because he merely employed arm twisting methods, some persuasion and political lobbying. He might have succeeded if he had tried the Aziz method; dissolve his opponents and continue in office. Who knows, rather than depart ten years ago, he might still have been in power.
Almost at every turn and curve, Africa has adventurers in power who believe that their countries cannot survive without them. As I wrote in the heady days of the Abacha regime; the grave is full of such messiahs.