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Staying too long is bad for democracy



When the people of The Gambia told President Yahya Jammeh that 22 years in power was long enough and that they wanted opposition leader Adama Barrow to take over as their President, Jammeh opted to reject the outcome of the election than to submit to the will of the people. He said he was rejecting the outcome of the elections because during the electoral process, abnormalities had occurred. The Ghanaian President John Mahama also believed there were irregularities associated with the Ghanaian elections, but he nevertheless submitted himself to the will of the voters. In his concession speech, he said, “It is precisely on account of my belief in Ghana and its future that notwithstanding the irregularities associated with this election, I have decided at this stage to congratulate the President-elect.”

So, what makes one leader to think they have the right to undermine the general will of the majority but another to graciously submit to the majority even if dissatisfied with the electoral process? I personally think it’s the length of time the leader has been in power. The longer the leader has been in power, the more likely they are to regard themselves and what they want to be more important and above what everyone else wants. The Ghanaian and Gambian elections prove this.

After Ghanaians had spoken, President Mahama in power for only four years was magnanimous.
He said, “The people of Ghana have said emphatically that they are taking away the power they gave to me four years ago, and I have no power to say no. I would have cherished an opportunity to do even more, but I respect the will of the Ghanaian people.”

This is in sharp contrast to President Jammeh who has been in power for more than two decades. The outcome of the elections showed that Gambians wanted change.
But because the results showed he had lost, he reasoned that could not possibly be a true reflection of the will of the people. So, he called for a rerun.
The reactions of these two Presidents, has strengthened my conviction that long incumbency is not a good thing.
With long incumbency, leaders are more likely to succeed at amassing lots of skeletons in their closet. And because of this, they are unlikely to want to give up the protection that holding high office accords.

I have no doubt the announcement by the chair of Gambia’s new ruling coalition that Jammeh would be prosecuted for crimes he committed during his rule made him panic.
President Jammeh has been accused by human rights groups of detaining, torturing and killing his opponents. He is clearly afraid that he will be held accountable for these crimes. That’s the reason he changed his mind after initially accepting the results.

In the same vain, it does not surprise me that President Mahama graciously conceded defeat. In four years, his closet is unlikely to have filled up with too many skeletons.
And because there are not as many skeletons to worry about, it was a lot easier to subject himself to the will of the people.
The second reason long incumbency is bad is because being in power for too long makes a leader delusional.
They start to think that they are indispensable and that no one else has the right or the qualification to be the leader of their country.
I am therefore not shocked that President Jammeh had the audacity to show voters the middle finger when they told him it was time to go.
By refusing to accept the call by Gambians to vacate office and to make way for a different leader, President Jammeh made it clear that he regarded himself to be more important that the will of the people.

That 8.8 percent more Gambians voted for the opposition leader Adama Barrow, could not possibly be right.
How could the people trust Barrow and not him with leading the country?
President Mahama however showed that he understands that he serves at the pleasure of the people.
Take for example his words after the elections, “I think we lost because our time was simply up, and no amount of deceptive campaign promises could keep us in power.
No amount of monopolization of the media space could save us. No amount of money could stop our defeat. No amount of local and international celebrity endorsements could help us.
And no amount of vote buying could stand the irresistible hurricane of change that shook our nation on Wednesday”.
Sadly, those who have been in power for a long time have difficulty accepting when their time is up. I suppose life without all the trappings of power they would have become accustomed to is unimaginable. So, for us in Lesotho, I hope those working on the reforms will consider the experiences of Ghana and the Gambia. I hope they get it that a leader who stays in power for too long is bad for democracy. Because we want the Ghana scenario and not the Gambia scenario, I pray that they will ensure term limits are included in the new reforms.

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