In a time of coups, military takeovers, and elected officials manipulating to give themselves endless rule, Africa's pro-democracy forces are in Botswana making their voices and positions heard.
The Summit on Constitutionalism and Democratic Consolidation in Africa was organized by Botswana's Government with the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. Numerous leaders, democracy activists, and critical thinkers are there to take on the continent's pressing issue: governance.
Along with several former heads-of-state, the summit is attended by regional institutions such as the Nairobi-based Katiba Institute, Africtivistes, Tournons la Page, the Presidential Precinct, and the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers (ANCL).
Botswana president Mokgweetsi Masisi welcomed participants to Africa's longest-standing democracy with the keynote statement "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.”
In some African nations, leaders have changed constitutions or used other means, including the forces of state security, to ensure they remain in power.
Uganda's President, Yoweri Museveni took office in 1986. In 2021, against Bobi Wine, Museveni declared himself the winner in an election widely seen as flawed.
In Tunisia today, President Kais Saied has taken a draft revised constitution from a hand-picked panel excluding other voices and rewritten it to give himself both more executive power and less legislative oversight.
The research organization Africa Center for Strategic Studies notes that the Horn of Africa is an area with states that do not have term limits for heads of state. The ACSS also says that areas where endless rule is possible by lack of constitutional restraint are areas far more likely to see insurgency and violence.
In underscoring the importance of this summit, Dickson Omondi, NDI’s Regional Director for Southern and East Africa. stated the Botswana conference is an important opportunity for African leaders, governments, regional institutions and civil society to collectively renew their commitment and efforts to build democratic constitutional rule, and importantly to counter democratic backsliding across the continent.”
Omondi's colleague, NDI Senior Associate for Africa Christopher Fomunyoh, sees the future of Africa and its democratic institutions held by the continent's immense youth population. He stresses how important today's actions will be tomorrow.
“Africa remains the world’s most youthful continent with close to 70 percent of its population less than 30 years old," he said, adding that reinforcing the constitutional foundation of governance and ensuring fair elections "also opens up avenues for the inclusion of women, youth and other marginalized groups into the governance process.”