Senegal’s President Macky Sall on Tuesday proposed a referendum on reducing his mandate by two years, a stance in contrast to several fellow African leaders criticised for clinging to power.
The pledge came with countries including Benin, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo-Brazzaville all said to be considering constitutional change to allow their leaders a third term in office.
“I was elected for seven years (but) next year, I will propose the organisation of a referendum for the reduction of my mandate,” he told a news conference with foreign media in Dakar.
The move would allow “a revision of the constitution, first on the mandate and then on some other aspects to strengthen our democracy”, he said, adding that he wanted the vote to take place in May next year.
“Have you ever seen presidents reduce their mandate? Well I’m going to do it,” Sall told the meeting at the presidency, making good on a pledge which formed part of his election campaign in 2012.
“We have to understand, in Africa too, that we are able to offer an example, and that power is not an end in itself,” he added.
Sall said he wanted presidential elections in 2017 rather than two years later, as envisaged under current constitutional arrangements, but would not be drawn on whether he intended to stand for a second term.
His announcement followed a plea by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to African leaders gathered for an annual summit in January to not cling to power and to respect the wishes of their people.
Chaos erupted in Burkina Faso in October last year as lawmakers prepared to vote to allow 63-year-old Blaise Compaore – who took power in a 1987 coup – to contest elections in November 2015. He was forced out of power.
African nations where laws have been changed to the benefit of their incumbent leaders include Algeria, Angola, Chad, Djibouti and Uganda.
As many as 42 people were killed in protests that erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo in January against a bill seen as an attempt to extend President Joseph Kabila’s hold on power in the nation he has led for 14 years.
Sall told foreign correspondents at the Dakar news conference he intended to appeal personally to Kabila for the release of Senegalese activists arrested on Sunday.
Three members of Senegalese pro-democracy campaign group “Y’en a marre” (“Fed Up”) were detained in Kinshasa with activists from DR Congo and Burkina Faso.
An American diplomat and journalists held alongside the campaigners have been released but the African activists remain in custody on suspicion of planning to destabilise the country.
Sall said he had instructed Foreign Minister Ndiaye Mankeur to make contact with Congolese authorities, adding: “We did what we had to do as a state, and that is to defend our citizens.”
“Myself, I intend to speak this morning, if the link is established, with President Kabila,” he told the news conference.
“It is not for me to judge if this is above board or not. My position as president of the republic of Senegal is not to get into this,” he added.
“My position is to ensure first of all, that the Senegalese members of “Y’en a marre” be released and returned home.”
Campaigners from the three nations gathered in Kinshasa Saturday for a meeting they said was intended to raise consciousness and mobilise young people about good government and democracy.
Security forces arrested about 30 people Sunday at the activists’ news conference, including three French reporters working respectively for AFP, BBC and Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
The activists still being held included Fadel Barro, the charismatic head of “Y’en a marre” as wells as fellow activist Aliou Sane and Senegalese rapper Fou Malade.
The group battled against ex-Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, whose bid for a controversial third term sparked deadly violence in Dakar in 2012.
Source: The Guardian