n Conflict Trends - Presidential term limits in Africa

Volume 2007, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1561-9818


In the early 1990s, "it was hoped that the introduction of new constitutions with a two-term limit on power would consign the 'big man' syndrome of African politics to history." The political culture on the continent has changed considerably since the end of the Cold War. However, the attraction of power remains a strong motivating factor for many leaders. Indeed, recent years have witnessed a number of heads of state attempting to extend their tenure beyond the constitutionally permitted number of terms, or maintain power via a back-door strategy of hand-picking a docile successor and remaining in the powerful post of the chairman of the country's dominant political party. In analysing this issue, this article proceeds in four stages. Firstly, consideration is given to the importance of term limits. This article contends that timely and responsible departure from power is a central feature of a democratic polity and constitutes an integral component of responsible leadership. Secondly, this article asks, now that leaders are increasingly expected to heed these constitutional provisions, what strategies do they employ to stay in power? This paper offers an overview of modes of African leaders' departure from power since the early 1990s, and deals in detail with leaders who left at the end of their constitutionally sanctioned tenure, those who extended their tenure by amending the constitution, and those who sought to amend the constitution without success. In addition, cases when leaders sought to prolong their grip on power via the 'successor strategy' are considered. Thirdly, attention is devoted to factors that contributed to the success or failure of presidential endeavours to extend their hold on power. And lastly, the implications of Africa's current record regarding presidential term limits are addressed.

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