"I don't understand why people want to stay so long, especially when they have got a lot of money," said President Obama during a speech to the African Union Assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "Nobody should be president for life." President Obama was speaking in front of the 54-member county African Union during a 5 days trip that took him to Nairobi, Kenya and Addis-Abeba, Ethiopia. He spent the week-end in Kenya, the birth place of his late father, before travelling to Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union. He is the first seating US President to visit both countries or address the African Union.
He was referring to several African dictators who have chosen to change the Constitutions of their countries, to allow themsleves to stay in power. President Obama specifically mentionned the leader of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, who recently managed to change
the Constitution to allow himself a forbidden third term. However, the referrence appeared to be broad. Several African dictators have changed or are planning to change the consititutions of their countries for the purpose of remaining in power. These include: Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republiic of Congo, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Some of these leaders, especially Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda have claimed that they will be the only ones who could hold their countries together. President Obama dismissed such a claim.
"Sometimes you will hear leaders say 'I'm the only person who can hold this nation together.' If that's true, then that leader has failed to truly build their nation." he said.
In a joke, President Obama argued that if this woudl be true, then he would also run for a third term.
"I actually think I'm a pretty good president,'' he said. "I think if I ran, I could win. But I can't, " he said, rousing loud applauses. The US Constitution forbids presidents from running for a consecutive third term.
President Obama also highlighted the fact that African dictatorships are also marred by corruption and nepotism, leading to the empovering the masses, while the elite steal from the nation. The "cancer of corruption", as he put it, takes away the money that could be used to create jobs, build schools and hospitals. The unemployed youth becomes then the source of social unrests and even the recruiting ground for extremists.
"We need only look to the Middle East and North Africa to see that large numbers of young people with no jobs and stifled voices can fuel instability and disorder," President Obama said.
Corruption, stemming from the lack of democracy and ethnic favoritism have been at root of most civil wars and unrests in Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cental African Republic, Ivory Coast, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi.
Several African countries are still based on the ethnic groups, with political and military leaders almost exclusively from one ethnic group. The countries in which the political and military system are bulit on one minority ethnic group include Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan. The leaders of these countries are usually those seeking to remain in power indefinitely.
Whether African political leaders who promote or built ethnically based systems will heed President Obama's call remain to be ssen.