Niamey — "My greatest legacy will be to become the first president in the history of Niger who will hand power to a democratically elected successor."
These were the words of President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger at the launch of a summit in Niamey on limiting how long presidents of nations can serve in office.
The summit was attended by former heads of state, civil society leaders and experts to discuss core principles of constitutionalism and the rule of law and how to promote good governance through democratic processes.
President Issoufou said there is always a human rights angle to the issue of presidential term limits. Some argue that limiting the number of terms for which a president can stand not only denies the right of voters to choose their leader but also that of leaders to make themselves available for re-election.
But whatever the situation, history has proved that regular changes in leadership build strong institutions in the long run. There is always a desire among leaders to hang onto power, he said, but that brings the dangers of inefficiency and dictatorship.
Quoting former U.S. President Barack Obama, he added: "Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions". Limits on presidential mandates reinforce institutions and put pressure on leaders to leave a good legacy of leadership.
Also addressing the summit, former President Nicéphore Soglo of Benin welcomed the holding of the summit and expressed optimism that such initiatives would move the continent forward. Words of encouragement also came from the the U.S. ambassador to Niger, Eric P. Whitaker, who promised his country's support of human rights and democracy.
President Issoufou's second term ends in 2021. Thirty-five African countries have presidential term limits. Six countries have modified their constitutions to extend their term limits and four have completely abolished them.
The meeting, formally titled the "Constitutional Term Limits Summit", was hosted by the National Democratic Institute, a non-partisan NGO based in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Africa Forum, a network of former heads of state, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and the Kofi Annan Foundation. AllAfrica is the official media partner of the summit, and its presence is courtesy of the hosts.