The struggle for presidential term limits

Authored by: Boniface Dulani

Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138081246
eBook ISBN: 9781315112978
Adobe ISBN:


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Although many African countries adopted presidential term limits in the 1990s as part of a broader set of constitutional changes that ushered in democratic politics, these rules are being attacked by a new cohort of sitting presidents that wish to extend their tenures beyond the maximum number of terms allowed. The assaults on presidential term limits are facing mixed results, yet a majority of presidents have succeeded in removing term limits, clearing the way for them to seek indefinite reelection. Drawing on examples of African experiences with presidential term limits, this chapter provides an overview of the key debates and effects of the contests over presidential term limits. The chapter shows that although the campaigns to remove term limits take different forms, the ultimate goal is to enable sitting African presidents to extend their tenures. Referencing Afrobarometer survey data, the chapter further debunks the claims by proponents of removing term limits that such campaigns reflect popular grassroots demands. Instead, the data shows that these rules enjoy broad public support across the continent. This grassroots support has forced many African leaders to maintain the term limits rules or to reintroduce them in countries where they had been removed. This has resulted in an overall net gain in the number of African countries that have term limits by 2018 than did in 2000.

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