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In Africa, where many leaders cling to power, Obama's joke about a third term had an edge

In Africa, where many leaders cling to power, Obama's joke about a third term had an edge
President Barack Obama spoke Tuesday at theAfrican Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

When President Obama joked to African Union leaders Tuesday about his theoretical ability to win a third-term if not for the U.S. Constitution, he was speaking to a group of men notorious for clinging to power.

"I love my job," Obama told leaders at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia. "But under our constitution, I cannot run again. I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can't."

It was a message deliberately targeted to African leaders who all too often refuse to abide by their own countries’ presidential term limits, most of which were put in place at the urging of Western powers. More than a half-dozen countries have simply repealed term-limit laws to allow sitting presidents to remain.

This week, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, in power since 1987, likened the two-term limit to a “rope around the neck” for African leaders. He dismissed term limits as a Western concept that doesn’t work on the continent, even though his nation adopted two five-year terms limits in 2013.

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FOR THE RECORD

July 28, 3:56 p.m.: An earlier version of this article referred to Mwai Kibaki as Daniel Arap Moi's predecessor. In fact, he was Moi's successor.

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Of the current leaders of the more than 50 member states of the AU, three men have been in power since the 1970s, four since the 1980s and eight since the 1990s.

Here’s a look at how some African countries have handled term limits:

BURUNDI

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza this month won a third term, even though the country’s parliament voted to preserve the constitutional two-term limit. He is arguing that because his first election came through parliament, not a direct vote of the people, it didn’t count as his first term.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Facing pressure to step down after his second term in 2016, President Joseph Kabila failed to change term-limits law amid violent protests and then delayed setting an election date. A vote is now scheduled for November 2016.

KENYA

Former Kenyan big man Daniel Arap Moi won international praise in 2002 for stepping down after 24 years, following Kenya’s adoption of term limits. His successor, Mwai Kibaki, also served two terms.

RWANDA

Paul Kagame took control after the 1994 genocide, but wasn’t officially elected until 2003 under the new constitution that limits the president to two seven-year terms. His test will come in 2017.

SOUTH AFRICA

Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994, stepping down after one term in hopes of setting a good example, even though by law he could have run again.

UGANDA

In office since 1986, Yoweri Museveni in 2005 repealed a clause in the constitution that imposed two-term limits. He ran and won again in 2006 and 2011.

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Longest reigns in Africa

Here are some of Africa's

longest-serving leaders:

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

Pres. Mohamed Abdelaziz

’90

’76

’80

’00

’10

’15

39 yrs.

*

Republic of Angola

Pres. José Eduardo dos Santos

36

Republic of Equatorial Guinea

Pres. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

36

Republic of Cameroon

Pres. Paul Biya

33

Republic of the Congo

Pres. Denis Sassou-Nguesso

31

**

Kingdom of Swaziland

King Mswati III

29

Republic of Uganda

Pres. Yoweri Museveni

29

Republic of Zimbabwe

Pres. Robert Mugabe

28

Republic of Sudan

Pres. Omar Hassan Ahmed Albashir

26

***

The Republic of Chad

Pres. Idriss Déby Itno

25

State of Eritrea

Pres. Isaias Afewerki

24

****

Republic of the Gambia

Pres. Yahya Jammeh

21

*In power since 1976. Became president in 1982 for a total of 39 years in office.

 

**Also served in 1979-92 for a total of 31 years in office.

 

***In power since 1989 for a total of 26 years in office.

 

****In power since 1991. Became president in 1993 for a total of 24 years in office.

Longest reigns in Africa

Here are some of Africa's longest-serving leaders:

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

Pres. Mohamed Abdelaziz

’90

’76

’80

’00

’10

’15

39 yrs.

*

Republic of Angola

President José Eduardo dos Santos

36

Republic of Equatorial Guinea

Pres. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

36

Republic of Cameroon

Pres. Paul Biya

33

Republic of the Congo

Pres. Denis Sassou-Nguesso

31

**

Kingdom of Swaziland

King Mswati III

29

Republic of Uganda

Pres. Yoweri Museveni

29

Republic of Zimbabwe

Pres. Robert Mugabe

28

Republic of Sudan

Pres. Omar Hassan Ahmed Albashir

26

***

The Republic of Chad

Pres. Idriss Déby Itno

25

State of Eritrea

Pres. Isaias Afewerki

24

****

Republic of the Gambia

Pres. Yahya Jammeh

21

*In power since 1976. Became president in 1982 for a total of 39 years in office.

 

**Also served in 1979-92 for a total of 31 years in office.

 

***In power since 1989 for a total of 26 years in office.

 

****In power since 1991. Became president in 1993 for a total of 24 years in office.

Longest reigns in Africa

Here are some of Africa's longest-serving leaders:

1976

’80

’90

’00

’10

’15

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

President Mohamed Abdelaziz

39 yrs.

*

Republic of Angola

President José Eduardo dos Santos

36

Republic of Equatorial Guinea

President Teodoro Obiang

Nguema Mbasogo

36

Republic of Cameroon

President Paul Biya

33

Republic of the Congo

President Denis Sassou-Nguesso

31

**

Kingdom of Swaziland

King Mswati III

29

Republic of Uganda

President Yoweri Museveni

29

Republic of Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe

28

Republic of Sudan

President Omar Hassan Ahmed Albashir

26

***

The Republic of Chad

President Idriss Déby Itno

25

State of Eritrea

President Isaias Afewerki

24

****

Republic of the Gambia

President Yahya Jammeh

21

*In power since 1976. Became president in 1982 for a total

of 39 years in office.

**Also served in 1979-92 for a total of 31 years in office.

***In power since 1989 for a total of 26 years in office.

****In power since 1991. Became president in 1993 for a

total of 24 years in office.

Longest reigns in Africa

Here are some of Africa's longest-serving leaders:

1976

’80

’90

’00

’10

’15

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

President Mohamed Abdelaziz

39 yrs.

*

Republic of Angola

President José Eduardo dos Santos

36

Republic of Equatorial Guinea

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

36

Republic of Cameroon

President Paul Biya

33

Republic of the Congo

President Denis Sassou-Nguesso

31

**

Kingdom of Swaziland

King Mswati III

29

Republic of Uganda

President Yoweri Museveni

29

Republic of Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe

28

Republic of Sudan

President Omar Hassan Ahmed Albashir

26

***

The Republic of Chad

President Idriss Déby Itno

25

State of Eritrea

President Isaias Afewerki

24

****

Republic of the Gambia

President Yahya Jammeh

21

*In power since 1976. Became president in 1982 for a total of 39 years in office.

**Also served in 1979-92 for a total of 31 years in office.

***In power since 1989 for a total of 26 years in office.

****In power since 1991. Became president in 1993 for a total of 24 years in office.

Longest reigns in Africa

Here are some of Africa's longest-serving leaders:

1976

’80

’90

’00

’10

’15

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

President Mohamed Abdelaziz

39 yrs.

*

Republic of Angola

President José Eduardo dos Santos

36

Republic of Equatorial Guinea

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

36

Republic of Cameroon

President Paul Biya

33

Republic of the Congo

President Denis Sassou-Nguesso

31

**

Kingdom of Swaziland

King Mswati III

29

Republic of Uganda

President Yoweri Museveni

29

Republic of Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe

28

Republic of Sudan

President Omar Hassan Ahmed Albashir

26

***

The Republic of Chad

President Idriss Déby Itno

25

State of Eritrea

President Isaias Afewerki

24

****

Republic of the Gambia

President Yahya Jammeh

21

*In power since 1976. Became president in 1982 for a total of 39 years in office.

**Also served in 1979-92 for a total of 31 years in office.

***In power since 1989 for a total of 26 years in office.

****In power since 1991. Became president in 1993 for a total of 24 years in office.

 

Sources: African Union, Times reporting. Graphics reporting by Edmund Sanders

Lorena Elebee @latimesgraphics


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