In an opening session of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) earlier this week, Hon. speaker Moustapha Cissé-Lo during his speech at the Banjul venue of the session advocated that ECOWAS should not impose a two-term limit on heads of state in its member-countries. 

According to Cissé-Lo, every country has a sovereign right to choose how it wants its government to run and so there should be no interference from the ECOWAS Commission. “States have their sovereignty to determine how they want to run their governments as long as everybody in that country accepts it that way,” Cissé-Lo said. 

Elaborating on his stance, the speaker said “let’s leave these countries to alter their constitutions based on their times. All constitutions can be reviewed and adapted to soothe the realities of their times; that is why I say ECOWAS cannot make any pronouncement to limit mandates to not more than two terms.”

However, the parliament in disagreement with Cissé-Lo booed him after his speech. Clarence Massaquoi, a parliament member from Liberia, who spoke with newsmen on the sidelines of the event, pointed out that the parliamentarians were particularly displeased with the Speaker’s submission. This is because as they view that the ECOWAS Commission should as a matter of necessity pressure member- countries to limit the terms of their heads of State to two.

Massaquoi maintained that no true democracy allows for the perpetuity of heads of state. Nevertheless, sub-Saharan Africa is known to be the home of many of the world’s longest-ruling heads of state with some postcolonial leaders in the 1960s and 1970s sought to become “president for life.” 

In an effort to improve the political leadership in West Africa, ECOWAS issued a proposal aiming to limit presidential mandates to two terms at its 47th summit in Ghana. However, due to the opposition of both the Togolese and Gambian presidents who have been in power for more than two terms, the proposed term limit was not adopted. 

For two years, thousands of Togolese citizens took to the streets to call for government reforms. One of their central demands was the establishment of presidential term limits that would force President Faure Gnassingbé out of the office at the end of his current term in 2020. Although formally adopted on October 14, 1992, Togo’s constitution established a two-term limit for the presidency. But in 2002, the parliament revised and amended the constitution to enable Gnassingbé to run for an unlimited number of terms.

Over the years, Africans have led dramatic protests and national upheavals to force presidents out of office. In 2014, Burkina Faso’s President, Blaise Compaore was removed after trying to change the constitution so he could run for a third term. ECOWAS with the goal of enforcing a democratic centred region is in the fight against the perpetuity of heads of state across the West African coast. 

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