Why Africa’s ‘presidents for life’ are afraid to lose power


africa-term-limitsThe resistance to democratic transfers of power is a trend throughout Central and West Africa, where heads of states from Burundi to Togo have gone to great lengths, including the use of violence, to stay in office despite constitutional and institutional barriers, notes Rudy Massamba, a program officer for Central Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Maintaining their prestige is one of the many reasons why some public officials are hanging onto power. But the issue is much deeper than that. One cannot fully comprehend their obsession with staying in power without first analyzing the nature of politics in many of these countries, he writes for the World Politics Review:

Several economies in the region are characterized by a bloated civil service, an inefficient private sector and a large informal sector. ….Since public service jobs are inadequate, and private employment and investment opportunities are extremely limited, many educated people in these African countries are turning to hardball politics in order to make ends meet. The professionalization of politics is even more apparent in Central African countries, all of which, except Rwanda, are constantly ranked poorly on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. Consider the unemployed youths of the DRC and the neighboring Republic of Congo, many of whom turn to offering their services—including spying, gang recruitment and political agitation—to wealthy politicians in exchange for cash. RTWT

But African publics oppose efforts to dispense with term limits thus revealing a major disconnect between African leaders and African citizens on this issue, underlining the lingering legacy of big-man rule on the continent and highlighting the fragility of African democracies, notes Afrobarometer.

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