Last week, Chad’s parliament voted to introduce a new constitution that will allow two more terms for President Idriss Deby, who has led the country since 1990.
As part of the amendment to the constitution, the office of the prime minister was abolished, along with the constitutional council and high court of justice. Legal analyst Senoussi Ali Abdoulaye toled Chadian National Radio the vote also means more power will be concentrated in the hands of the president, as the executive powers of the prime minister's position will be transferred to the office of the president.
The vote in on the new executive powers passed almost unanimously, with only 2 out of 134 votes cast in parliament dissenting. After the new constitution passed, civil activists along with political opposition groups demonstrated in the streets against what they saw as a blatant power grab by the president.
The policy overhaul in Chad highlights a trend in African countries. On May 17th, Burundians will vote on a constitutional amendment that would enable President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005, to stay in office an additional 16 years. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), President Joseph Kabila still refuses to step down, despite reaching the end of his mandated time in office nearly 18 months ago.
This growing prevalence of extending terms of power in Africa has been described by researchers as strongly linked to instability in the continent. In a February paper by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, researchers laid out some intriguing facts related to term limits on chief executives. Countries lacking term limits “tend to be more unstable” stated the report. A third of the 18 countries with no term limits are facing armed conflict. In contrast, just two of the 21 countries that do implement term limits are in conflict.
Granted the causality of this link isn’t clear. Countries predisposed to not having term limits, say, due to having a more totalitarian bent, may be more likely to produce instability and even armed conflict. However, the connection between these two phenomenon does highlight that doing away with time limits for executive offices is a strong indicator a country is going down the wrong path. This should be taken to heart not only by countries where these policies are being introduced but also by other nations observing trends in the international community.
However, it’s not just political stability that becomes threatened by overreaching leaders. Judging from recent events, communications and information are also at severe risk. Less than a month ago, social media and messaging platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber were blocked by Chadian authorities. The move by the government came as political tensions began to escalate in anticipation of the unpopular term limit extension vote.
This upset stoked the discontent already present in the country over major spending cuts that came following government revenue decline.
According to Julie Owono, the executive director of activist group Internet Without Borders (IWB), “the Chadian regime is used to shutting down telecommunications, internet in particular, whenever there are demonstrations or public expression of people’s discontent towards the government.”
And Chad is not the only African country to clamp down on the internet recently. Several other nations did so last year ahead of elections and political protests.