Overstaying term limits has been normalized in many countries on the African continent, and President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast – who was on track to be a notable exception – reversed course on August 6 and instead is seeking re-election to a third term in October.
Previously, President Outtara had said that he would not seek re-election after two five-year terms, and endorsed Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibary to succeed him. However, the prime minister died tragically in July, which led to the change of course. Protests have erupted across the country in reaction to the news, and more than six people have died.
Opposition parties accuse Ouattara of defying the term limits in the constitution. However, he insists that because the constitution was recently amended, the term limit count for him now begins again. Ouattara was elected in 2011, in an election that sparked violence across the nation. His rival Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede until he was forcefully ousted and transferred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The 2010-2011 election cycle left 3,000 people dead.
The prior decision of Ouattara to step down had earned him praise, including from President Emmanuel Macron of France. Youth rallied on social media to thank him for breaking the tradition of so many presidents on the continent who defy national constitutions and seek extra terms. To justify his retraction, Ouattara has said he is responding to the call of his fellow Ivorians, while the Ivorian Popular Front of Laurent Gbagbo calls his decision despicable. Among other candidates, he will face one-time Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, from the Ivorian Popular Front.
Ouattara joins a club of old and new-school presidents in Africa who ignore term limits. The Conversation reports that President Alpha Condé of neighboring Guinea is maneuvering to bypass the constitution and potentially rule until 2032. Paul Biya has been president of Cameroon since 1982. Theodore Obiang Nguema has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979.