African leaders need not cling onto power and can still contribute to the continent’s development even when out of office, a senior US government official has said.
Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs, in a teleconference on Wednesday with a group of journalists from select African countries, including Uganda, said they are engaging several governments on the issue of term limits and respecting constitutions.
“Our message is: There is life after the presidency. We encourage these presidents to look for opportunities to contribute to their countries in other ways,” she said, singling out Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, who she said continues to play active politics outside the presidency using his leadership skills.
Africa’s longest serving leaders are Mr Nguema Obiang, who has ruled oil-rich Equatorial Guinea for 34 years, Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola for 34 years, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for 33 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon for 32 years and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni for 28 years.
Yesterday, President Museveni’s spokesperson, Mr Tamale Mirundi, dismissed the call as “rubbish.” “President Museveni is still in power because he has things to do and even before he came to power, he was a busy man but for the love of the country, he took on the struggle to champion for democratic rule,” Mr Mirundi said.
“Uganda is a sovereign state and has never been a colony of the US so we cannot do as they please. Why don’t they ask the same question to the Queen of England because in the UK constitution there is a provision that she/he can abdicate and do other things?”
Ms Thomas-Greenfield said this is a conversation they will continue to have with leaders.
Sudanese communications billionaire Mo Ibrahim in 2007 started a $5 million retirement prize fund for democratically-elected leaders who step down after their constitutionally mandated terms and demonstrated excellence in office. So far, only three ex-presidents have received the prize.
Meeting Ugandans living in the US in 2007, President Museveni said he did not need a cash inducement to retire.
“If you are used to poor leaders, I am not one of them. You better come and visit me. I do not need money to leave power. Therefore, I cannot be a candidate, (for Mo Ibrahim Prize),” Mr Museveni told the meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.
Asked of Washington’s current stance towards Uganda in light of earlier developments such as shutdown of media houses, the anti-gays law and the Public Order Management Act, Ms Thomas-Greenfield said they will continue working in areas where cooperation is already ongoing and engage government where they have concerns.
Commenting on the rationale of choice of African countries recently visited by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, Ms Thomas-Greenfield said Mr Obama had visited countries like Ghana which are exemplary while Mr Kerry went to the likes of DR Congo and Ethiopia because they have been improving.
“We went to DRC because we actually see – again, if I can use the phrase – we saw light at the end of the tunnel. The defeat of M23, the signing of the Nairobi agreements, the efforts to find a solution to provide support to the people of eastern DRC – these are all positive signs that we wanted to encourage, we wanted to support.”
On South Sudan, she warned that President Salva Kiir and his political foe Dr Riek Machar would be held personally liable if the peace pact signed in Addis Ababa a week ago fails to hold.