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Term Limit and Political Incumbency in Africa: Implications of Staying in Power Too Long with References to the Cases of Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia

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image of African and Asian Studies
For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

African nations never seriously addressed the issue of term limits for incumbents until newly-drafted constitutions did so in the early 1990s. Since then, however, some incumbents have initiated campaigns to circumvent that measure. Some of those initiatives have been successful; others have not. Incumbents attempting to stay in office longer than what constitutions originally allowed used to be a time-honored strategy that African leaders regularly employed throughout the post-independent period until the early 1990s. The autocratic and single-party regimes that littered Africa's political landscape epitomized the extent to which political incumbents would go to keep anybody else, including members of their own party, from winning the highest political office.

The response of opposition groups and the military, which assumed a guardianship role, to this wanton aggrandizement of power was a spate of military coups, counter-coups, and sabotage or destabilize those regimes. African nations paid dearly for this wave of instability to which almost all political systems became associated. This period of uncertainty and decay reminiscent of Africa's recent history is being re-invented following unsuccessful attempts of political incumbents in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia to seek additional terms. Even as these efforts were being resisted, incumbents elsewhere were succeeding at securing additional terms. This paper examines the impact this recent trend among incumbents for term extension will have on the building of political institutions in Africa. If history were to serve as a guide, that spells an ominous foreboding.


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