Africa has seen significant democratic backsliding in recent years, driven in large part by leaders who undermine constitutional norms, bypass presidential term limits, and shrink political space to gain or maintain power. To stimulate a discussion on how to reverse this trend, NDI partnered with the Government of Botswana to organize an Africa-wide Summit on Constitutionalism and Democratic Consolidation, in Gaborone from July 6 to 8, 2022. NDI also invited other partner organizations to this event, including the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers, AfricTivistes, Afrobarometer, Katiba Institute, the Kofi Annan Foundation, Open Society Foundations - Africa, the Presidential Precinct, Tournons la Page and the University of Botswana.
The Summit brought together nearly 200 live participants and panelists from across the African continent, and over 1,300 individuals in 78 countries followed the proceedings online. Deliberations in all sessions were simultaneously interpreted in English and French. Panelists and contributors included former African Heads of State and government ministers, such as the former President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, and the former South African Minister of Justice, Roelf Meyer, who helped steer the country through the end of Apartheid and the advent of democracy. Participants included civil society leaders, academics, thought leaders and media professionals. Some 20 influencers covered the event live. Several sitting African leaders expressed their support for the Summit’s goals through video contributions, such as President Hage Geingob of Namibia and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde, H. E. José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva.
The President of Botswana, His Excellency Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, officially launched the event. Following his remarks, NDI’s civil society partner Tournons La Page, an umbrella organization representing 250 African civil society groups that promote democratic alternation of power in Africa, offered the president their “Term Limits Baton”, a symbolic award for his commitment to respect term limits and pass the baton of leadership to a successor in accordance with the country’s constitution.
"This summit represents our strong partnerships to renew and strengthen efforts to respect constitutional term limits as a pillar of democratic governance and peaceful political transitions across our continent.” - Botswana’s President Masisi at the Summit Opening
During eight high-level panels and lively follow-on discussions, participants examined themes such as challenges to and prospects for consolidating constitutionalism; research on presidential term limits; the role of regional organizations; contributions by civil society, the media and grassroots mobilization; women and youth leadership; and the ethics of power. The Summit also celebrated Botswana’s decades-long efforts to practice and champion democracy in Africa. The full agenda for the Summit can be found here.
At the end of two and a half days of productive discussions, Summit participants issued the “Gaborone Declaration in Support of Constitutionalism and Democratic Consolidation” which commends the peaceful transfer of executive power through credible and inclusive elections and the strengthening of democratic practices in a number of African countries. The Declaration calls out the reckless disregard of constitutional term limits by some leaders who, by doing so, deprive the continent’s youth of opportunities for their participation in the peaceful and orderly alternation of power and renewal of political leadership. It also celebrates Africa’s youthful population, which is eager to participate and contribute to democratic governance and development. It urges former Heads of State to continue committing to democracy and pro-democracy offices in collaboration with civil society.
The Gaborone Declaration builds on the Niamey Declaration of Principles, which was adopted at the conclusion of the first Constitutional Term Limits Summit held in Niamey, Niger Republic, in October 2019. The declaration is posted on NDI’s Constitutional Term Limits Initiative website.
Participants also made a series of commitments of their own, which include promoting and defending principles of constitutionalism and enhancing democratic consolidation; supporting ethical leadership; facilitating inclusive democratic processes and the renewal of political leadership; and promoting the respect and restoration of presidential term limits. They noted with concern the shifts in democratic trends across the continent from one era of democratic expansion and consolidation in the early 1990’s to one of autocratic resurgence and democratic decline in the last decade.
Immediately following the summit, NDI organized a dialogue to discuss the Institute’s “Speak Youth to Power” campaign and the critical role of young people in advocating for constitutionalism. Participants discussed the need to use more relevant language and examples to help young people understand how the lack of term limits can have a direct, negative impact on their quality of life. Young participants also discussed the need to better collaborate across generations, and the power of diverse, collective movements in driving change.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.