Editorial: When Francophone African MPs deplore longevity of office.

Within the last four years, several Francophone countries in Africa have seen the military wield political power in Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Gabon and Chad.

At the invitation of concerned Cameroon lawmakers, some 150 parliamentarians of the Parliamentary Association of the Francophonie in 30 African states, last week converged on Yaounde. 



Their mission was to find a solution to the political instability in French-speaking African nations, including security threats and popular discontent.

One of the key speakers at the Yaounde forum was Canada-born Francis Drouin, who is the president of the Parliamentary Association of the Francophonie. 

He said young people in French-speaking African countries complain that political instability remains high while civilians are disgruntled because their freedoms are suffocated by long-serving leaders and military governments.

It is in the Central African Subregion, which is known to lead in long-serving leaders. Theodoro Obiang Nguema of neighbouring Equatorial Guinea has been in power for some 45 years, followed by President Paul Biya, who has ruled for 41 years and Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo in power for 38 years.

President Nguesso first came to power in 1979 and served until the 1992 election, when he finished third. He took power again as a military leader after a four-month civil war in 1997 and has been president since then.

The Canadian explained that the absence of democracy, poverty and security threats plunge civilians into suffering and misery. The youth, he said, yearn for freedom to participate in decision-making and leadership.

The Voice of America, VoA, reported that the lawmakers explained that "besides military takeovers, French-speaking African states also have a record of long-serving leaders".

Lawmakers attending the conference said Senegal distinguishes itself as an example of democracy after the country's March 24 presidential elections, in which incumbent President Macky Sall was defeated by 40-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, whom the lawmakers say is a “young man with new perspectives".

The lawmakers say France's influence on its former African colonies is a source of concern among young leaders who want to take control of their national issues.

Hon Sooroojdev Phokeer, President of the National Assembly of Mauritius, said the Yaounde assembly provided the consultation framework and space for debate on the issues and challenges that concern the African continent. 

He was echoed by Francis Drouin, President of the APF, who encouraged the international community to draw inspiration from good practices in Africa such as the case of Senegal. 

He challenged Francophone parliamentarians to get involved, alongside States, in the prevention and resolution of serious crises and that it was through dialogue that they can promote good governance and democracy.

Overall, it was a veiled criticism of the host as longevity in power was viewed by some lawmakers as undemocratic, yet, some have been supporting the incumbent Head of State, Paul Biya, to run for another seven-year mandate. 

Host, Rt Hon Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, President of the Cameroon National Assembly, however, extoled the merits of dialogue as an appeasement tool that governments can use to heal their wounds, close their cracks and enhance democracy.

Cayaye, who chaired the opening plenary session, drew from one of the themes: “Use of political dialogue and functioning of institutions”. 

He agreed that there is nothing better than dialogue, an effective lever that can be used by several French-speaking African countries, which are going through internal crises, marked in some cases, by armed conflicts.

Taking Cameroon as a case study, he said the government has illustrated the virtues of dialogue with the Tripartite of 1991 and the Major National Dialogue. The Major National Dialogue of 2019 was criticised as a "CPDM monologue" by some analysts. There have been several calls by friendly countries for a genuine inclusive dialogue to resolve the lingering bloody fighting in the North West and South West Regions.

The Yaounde conference was intended to assist Francophone parliamentarians to prepare for the 49th parliamentary session of La Francophonie, an annual session which will be held this year in Montreal, Canada to debate the use of political dialogue in the functioning of institutions and the usefulness of parliamentary diplomacy in Africa.

How have Cameroonian French-speaking parliamentarians, who make up a crushing majority in parliament, contributed in debates to end the conflict in the two Anglophone Regions?

What debate did they hold to peg the voting age at 20, instead of 18, which is the universal age limit in all democracies? Why do they maintain a presidential term without limit, instead of one term renewable once?

We hope that by inviting their colleagues from other parts of the world to Yaounde, the mostly CPDM members have been reminded that longevity in office is undemocratic and after seven mandates, President Biya deserves a glorious retirement and should not be pressured by self-serving politicians to run again next year.

 

 

 

This story first published in The Guardian Post issue No3130 of Monday June 02, 2024

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