Several African leaders have refused to step down after finishing their terms. At a conference in Marrakesh, DW caught up with the former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, and asked him for his views on this topic.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni (L), Joseph Kabila of DRC (C) and Rwanda's Paul Kagame (R) have been in power for a combined total of 66 years.
DW: Festus Mogae, you were president of Botswana from 1998 until 2008, when you easily handed over power to incumbent President Ian Khama. Many African leaders are refusing to step down after the end of their mandate.
Festus Mogae: That has been unfortunate. Some of our people [leaders] did really well and effected some economic developments of their countries for the first two terms, or let's say for the first 10-15 years they do relatively well. But when they overstay their welcome, their performance also declines. This is not surprising, even a boxer or a footballer is okay when he is 20-35, thereafter, he declines. [Now some] people refuse to leave office and some of them were not good in the first place anyway. When they stay longer, it is even worse. Others do well but only spoil things by overstaying their welcome, partly because now they begin to mix up their personal interests with that of the nation. As they say, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Dambisa Moyo, an African economist, wrote in one of her books that Africa needs a different kind of democracy, not the western democracy as we understand it. Do you agree with that statement?
I do not disagree with it. I would be interested to know the aspects in which Africa's democracy has to be different, other than the fact that our priorities must be African priorities. Our policies should be based on the realities of our situation and not necessarily what is the case elsewhere.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has said term limits should be not an issue in a democracy, in leadership and in governance.
I don't agree. Museveni is one of the leaders I quote as an example. After he defeated General Tito Okello, he formed an inclusive government, he left nobody behind. All the groups, all the tribes [were there], and for the first ten years, he said, "We fought as Ugandans but look at what we have done to our country and look at what opportunities we have and we lost. Let's stop fighting and let's develop our country." And he did really unite the country. That was very good. For the first 10-15 years Museveni was my hero. But he is an example of people who spoil the good work they have done by overstaying because now Museveni is a different man, he talks a different language. He relies more and more on the army. He has even put his son as head of the army, now he has moved him and he is in the office of the president. Many things that he is now doing, he would have criticized earlier.
How did you then defeat this personal interest embedded in power?
I don't know why people want to do that. I trained as an economist and was a civil servant for 20 years before becoming a politician for another 20 years. I don't consider myself an economist anymore but a development practitioner. When I was a civil servant, I worked in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Therefore, when I retired from public service and went into politics, as far as I was concerned in the context of Botswana, a least developed country when it gained independence, the issue was the same: development. We agreed what the national priorities should be: education and training, and in the desert country: provision of water, public health and primary healthcare delivery.
Public health means that you look after the environment to make sure that it is clean. Primary healthcare we decided to make sure that nobody is further than 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the nearest health facility. It was only later after we had attained middle-income status that we built two referral hospitals.
Critics say Africa has failed because some African leaders view the west as being superior, do you agree with that view?
That may well be. We have to have confidence in ourselves. But I am very reluctant to put our failures at the feet of other people. Some of the countries that have failed have very able, educated people and there is no reason why they did some of the things that they did. I think we have been unfortunate with the attitudes of some of our leaders. That has been perhaps the greatest problem. What I am saying is that life will throw everything at you. Even getting married, when you are looking for a woman to marry, you can't say I will get married when there is no competition.
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has been praised internationally for the work he has done in Rwanda but he did extend his presidency into a third term.
There is nothing sacrosanct about two, three or even four terms in extreme cases. But beyond that, everybody's best is over. I think one of the [problems in] Africa has been bad leaders and good leaders spoiling what they have done by overstaying their welcome and then beginning to stay in power by force or all sorts of trickery. I am one of the admirers of Kagame and I don't mind him extending his presidency into a third term. But I would hope that it would be the last. And I would hope that during his third term, he would facilitate his own succession rather than work to entrench himself. That way he would guarantee his legacy.
Festus Mogae is the former President of Botswana and winner of the 2008 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African leadership
Interview: Abu Bakarr Jalloh / Mohammed Khelef