Can Guineans successfully resist Conde's constitutional reforms?

Guinea’s postponed referendum had been opposed by the opposition as an attempt to hold onto power by president Alpha Conde.

Conde would not be the only African head of state that has used constitutional amendments to prolong their stay in office.

While some like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso have succeeded, elsewhere in Malawi, Burkina Faso and Zambia, such moves have been resisted.

Guinea’s crisis

Guinea’s president announced on Friday that the proposed referendum on constitutional changes and legislative elections would be postponed, following months of protests by the opposition.

The opposition had insisted that 81-year-old Conde planned to use the constitutional reforms to extend his stay in office, after the mandatory two terms.

While Conde insisted that the referendum and elections would still be held at a future date, he explained that the postponement was ‘ we must always remain within the framework of ECOWAS and the African Union.

Guinea’s international partners including the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) had taken actions to cast doubts on the credibilty of the polls.

Conde, who has served two terms in office, is elusive about his intention,s saying it is his party that will decide his future.

‘‘Why in Guinea it would be impossible to serve three terms” he asked last week in the French daily Le Figaro.

Other foiled constitutional reforms

In Burkina Faso, the announcement in 2014 that long-serving president Blaise Compaore sought to extend his rule beyond 30 years brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets. Compaore was forced to stand down.

In Zambia, Frederick Chiluba, was forced in 2001 to bow to popular pressure after trying to change the constitution in order to get a third term.

In Malawi, parliament in 2002 blocked Bakili Muluzi from seeking a third mandate in 2004.

When African presidents changed the constitution

In Comoros, in 2018, a constitutional referendum allowed President Azali Assoumani to be elected a second time in 2019, at fraud-tainted polls, according to international observers.

In Rwanda, a constitutional reform voted by referendum in 2015 allowed President Paul Kagame to secure a new term in 2017 and to potentially rule until 2034.

The same year the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) voted by a landslide on constitutional changes allowing veteran ruler Denis Sassou Nguesso to run for a third term. He was re-elected in 2016.

Burundi was plunged into a bloody political crisis in which at least 1,200 were killed, after Pierre Nkurunziza won a highly controversial third term in 2015. He stunned observers by not standing for re-election in 2020, despite a May 2018 referendum allowing him to do so.

In Zimbabwe, a new constitution adopted in 2013 let Robert Mugabe stand in another election, which he won. He was forced to step down in 2017, after 37 years in power. He died in September 2019.

In Djibouti, in 2010, parliament approved a constitutional amendment allowing President Ismael Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, to run for a third term. He was re-elected in 2011 and 2016.

In Algeria, in 2008, parliament revised the constitution to quash the limit on the number of presidential terms to two. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, was then re-elected in 2009 and 2014. He was forced to resign in April 2019 following massive popular protests.

In Cameroon, in 2008, parliament revised the constitution, scrapping the limit on the number of presidential terms. Paul Biya, who had been in power since 1982, was elected to a seventh term in October 2018.

In Uganda, also in 2005, a constitutional reform scrapped limits on presidential terms.

In 2019, the Supreme Court confirmed the scrapping of the age limit for the presidency, allowing Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, to stand for re-election in 2021.

Chad’s Idriss Deby Itno has been in power since 1990 thanks to a constitutional revision in 2005 that was adopted after a disputed referendum.

In Togo in 2002 a constitutional amendment allowing the president to seek reelection without limit paved the way for Gnassingbe Eyadema, in power since 1967, to win another term. When he died in 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbe took over and has since won four contested elections.

READ MORE: African presidents resist term limits

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