Political systems are organisms. When they are young, they are full of energy and promise. But inevitably they grow old and lethargic. It has long been a criticism of the political centre that this problem of “old age” is disproportionately African.
That is because some African leaders, many who have done away with presidential term limits, have remained in power long enough to physically grow old with the political system that they have personalized. While the aging, African demagogue has caricaturized the problem of lethargy in aging political systems, this does not mean that the imposition of term limits is a solution either.
This perhaps can be seen from the crisis in American democracy today. The United States is witnessing its most “African” election in recent memory. Short of allegations about witchcraft the African character of the American election would not be complete without a serious consideration of presidential term limits.
No one can argue that the reproduction of power under the two-party hegemony is not a broken system. Whether you are a Trump or Hilary supporter does not matter. Politics as usual is unlikely to reach deep and heal the divided society most Americans are waking up to everyday. And it is not simply the tribal divisions or economic inequality that need repair here.
Popular sentiment in America appears to have condemned the entire political system for recycling bad or inadequate leadership- the very idea that presidential term limits were meant to fix. It looks very much like society is at a stagnant consequently or at worse declining. It is at these moments when a transformational leader is needed. And as it happens one is already in office – (and he is an African).
Even the most bitter opponents of Barack Obama cannot deny that he would be a better choice to continue as president were this not improbable due to presidential term limits.
In politics as elsewhere – the timing of a solution matters as much as the type of solution proposed.
It is true that in democracies, majorities can make disastrous choices as some have pointed out with regard to Brexit or the election of insular thinking right-wing populist parties in Europe. But obviously term limits and the two-party system have reduced the flexibility of the American democracy to a point where majorities have little power to do good.
If American political society will not countenance the idea of a third term for Obama – they can at least acknowledge within the framework of ideally motivated environments; – the reasoning of Abraham Maslow. The American psychologist is best known for creating a hierarchy of needs, which coheres when applied to political systems whether led by hegemonic political parties or individuals. Inevitably as they mature and grow older political systems shift from the core issues concerning most voters – homes, food, safety and community, to matters concerning their leaders like reputation and pride.
At the end all societies that have this problem become praise societies ( my frame) with talk of greatness and their place in the world. The hubris that is the consequence of this obsession is the best testimony to the corruption of power.
A third term for Barack Obama may be regrettable in the future had it been possible, but is a less bothersome problem than the one presented by the election next month. America needs leaders that are constantly motivated by the core issues of their voters. However like many African leaders whose longevity in power finds expression in subjects of national pride, the establishment whether in Harare or Washington will continue to lose the confidence and control over voters. Ironically it is in that decline that these same voters will seek a transformational leader, a saviour who can provide stability and certainty.
Obama is that man for America simply because political systems that are in decline are renewed by such leaders. In contrast where leaders are in decline, if they have personalized their political society, will be saved by a revolution in their tenure that makes term limits more appealing to most African countries today than to America now.