P 32

The Struggle over Presidential Term Limits in Africa

Panel abstract
Presidential term limits are powerful symbols for constraining the incumbent and may contribute to the deepening of democracy. Yet, term limits have been fiercely contested in many African countries. This struggle has shown mixed results: Large-scale protest movements prevented re-elections in Burkina Faso and Senegal. Their slogans have spread and activists have learned from each other how to mobilize against the removal of term limits. In contrast, rulers in several countries including Burundi and Rwanda circumvented term limits in spite of or without facing strong opposition. While perpetual incumbency is on the rise according to some measures, a majority of African citizens supports term limits.
This panel includes empirical and conceptual contributions that investigate the different trajectories of the struggle over presidential term limits in Africa, in particular with regard to the ties, connections and exchanges both among those that seek to abrogate term limits and Africans that resist such constitutional changes. The papers deal with the following topics on the basis of case studies, from an intraregional or diachronic perspective:

  • leaders’ multifaceted attempts to reform term limits, their successes and failures, as well as the spread of strategies and discourses across Africa and beyond,
  • citizens’ perceptions of term limit regulations, popular mobilization in their defence and the respective movements’ cross-border exchange,
  • the domestic repercussions of enforcing or violating term limits for democracy,
  • the exchange within (sub-)regional organizations and the question of whether a continental norm evolves through these connections.

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 8.30 - 10.30 am, 11 am - 1 pm (double session)
New venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 8

Julia Grauvogel (GIGA Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg)
Charlotte Heyl (GIGA Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg)

Session 1
Christof Hartmann (University of Duisburg-Essen)
Charlotte Heyl (GIGA Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg)
Julia Grauvogel (GIGA Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg)
Arina Muresan (University of South Africa, Pretoria), Chidochashe Nyere (University of Pretoria, South Africa), and Jo-Ansie van Wyk (University of South Africa, Pretoria)

Session 2
Konstantinos Magliveras (University of the Aegean, Lesbos, Greece)
Julia Leininger, Merran Hulse, and Daniel Nowack (German Development Institute, Bonn)
Boniface Dulani (University of Malawi, Zomba)
Anja Osei (University of Konstanz) and Hervé Akinocho (Center for Research and Opinion Polls, Lomé, Togo)


Paper abstracts

Christof Hartmann
Reforming Presidential Term Limits in Africa: An Institutionalist Explanation

Reforms of presidential term limits feature prominently within the debate about democratization and the role of formal institutions for political change in Sub-Saharan Africa. The attempt by incumbent presidents to relax the strict rules about term limits has been rightly interpreted as a crucial test of whether personal power can be tamed through the rule of law. Over time we have come to realize the empirical variations in the modalities of constitutional and legal reforms, but also the variation in reform outcomes, that is compliance with existing restrictions, successful and failed attempts by incumbents to modify the constitutional rules (Posner/Young 2005, Reyntjens 2016, Simons/Tull 2017). While we have gained a better understanding of the actual reform processes and there is some debate about the relevance of third term bids for the assessment of democratic prospects, we still lack a more systematic analysis of the main reasons for the variation in outcome, i.e. the explaining factors for success or failure of reform attempts. The paper aims to contribute to filling this gap. By adopting a research perspective from historical institutionalism the core argument consists in seeing the enforcement of political alternation through elections as a critical juncture in the trajectory of the political regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper will start by providing a model of path change and dependency and discuss its empirical relevance by looking at the universe of Sub-Saharan African cases for the period from 1990-2016.

Charlotte Heyl
Protecting the Constitution? Court Interventions into Presidential Term Limit Reforms

Presidential term limit rules are constitutional features to constrain presidential power. They belong to the tradition of constitutionalism and liberal democracy. Several sitting presidents sought to relax presidential term limit rules since the introduction of presidential term limit rules in African constitutions during the third wave of democratization. These reform attempts were aimed at the elimination, modification or circumvention of term limit clauses. In 12 instances, courts were involved in such reform processes. Courts are commonly considered essential for building constitutionalism and democracy. Accordingly, they should protect the democratic spirit of the constitution. However, the judiciary has in many African countries an authoritarian legacy of political interference by the executive. Therefore, the paper analyses whether and why the courts served as guardians of the constitution or as instruments to protect the incumbents’ preferences when they adjudicate on term limit amendments. For this purpose, it maps in a first step how the courts intervened in what stage of the term limit reform process, as well as the effect of the courts’ rulings on the term limit rule. The investigation reveals considerable variation between the courts’ interventions. While the Nigerien constitutional court boldly objected Tandja’s plan to amend the constitution, the constitutional courts in Burundi and Senegal rather rubberstamped the sitting presidents’ attempts to circumvent term limit rules. In a second step, it applies theories drawn from the study of democratization and judicial politics to explain the variation of courts’ behaviour in term limit reforms.

Julia Grauvogel
The Spread of Term Limit Manipulations in Sub-Saharan Africa: Authoritarian Learning Through Exchange or by Example?

African leaders have achieved the manipulation of term limit regulations and justified such manipulation in remarkably similar ways. While previous studies suggest that opposition activists have learned from each other how to successfully protest against the removal or violation of term limits, the literature has hardly analysed the spread of regime strategies and discourses. Theoretically, this paper adds to the emerging research on authoritarian learning by delineating it from diffusion and clearly conceptualizing the authoritarian nature of such processes. Moreover, the proposed approach differentiates ‘learning through exchange’, which requires the interaction of the respective regimes, from ‘learning by example’, which can occur without direct contact. Empirically, an inquiry into all instances of term limit manipulations in sub-Saharan Africa between 1990 and 2016 reveals that incumbents have progressively refined their endeavours in response to past successes and failures on the continent – without, however, directly collaborating. The case of Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame was granted an exception from the two-term limit in late 2015, serves to reconstruct such learning from regional examples in more detail. This example is particularly useful as the Rwandan process constituted a ‘best of' previous African rulers’ strategies and justifications.

Arina Muresan, Chidochashe Nyere, and and Jo-Ansie van Wyk
Presidential Term Limits in Africa: The Role of African First Ladies

Literature on presidential term limits in Africa excludes the significant political role and influence of the First Lady (i.e. the wife of the President) in perpetuating the President’s tenure. In order to fill this neglected area and based on data from the African First Ladies Database (AFLD) compiled and maintained by the authors, the paper intends to analyse the First Lady, or First Ladies in cases of polygamous marriages, as a political agent, agenda setter and actor in extending presidential tenures. Illustrative case studies will include, amongst others, the role, strategies and agency of Grace Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Denise Nkurunziza (Burundi), and Janet Museveni (Uganda).

Konstantin D. Magliveras
Extending Presidential Term in Office Beyond What is Acceptable: Non-Interference in Domestic Affairs vs. the Emerging Democratic Norms in Africa

While prime ministers can remain in power indefinitely provided they win free and fair elections, heads of state have strict limitations in the continuous number of terms in office they may serve. The relatively recent phenomenon of African heads of state being prepared to use any means available to secure additional terms in office has caused considerable consternation both within and outside the continent given that these attempts are often marred in blood and deaths. The proposed paper will investigate whether this is a matter which falls within the (exclusive) competence of domestic affairs to the exclusion of any outside interference or a matter which should be addressed in the context of the developing democratic ethos and the emerging democratic norms in Africa. This question will be analysed under both the relevant African Union instruments (the Lomé Declaration (2000) the AU Constitutive Act (2001), NEPAD and the Democracy and Political Governance Initiative (2001), the Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002), the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007), etc.), and the practice of the Peace and Security Council, the main AU organ tasked with dealing with such matters. The paper will argue that a fine balance needs to be maintained between non-interference and intervention, the former being a manifestation of state sovereignty, still sacred in Africa, and the latter an application of Western-style democratic norms that states should always observe and with the threat of sanctions invariably attached.

Julia Leininger, Merran Hulse, and Daniel Nowack
Extending Presidential Mandates: Does International Action Matter?

Attempts to abolish or circumvent presidential term limits occur frequently in African countries, but also show a puzzling variation of success or failure. Some of this variation might be due to both international and domestic pressure on incumbents. However, it is not well-understood how domestic attitudes and value-orientations mediate the effectiveness of democracy support by international actors in attempts on term limits. The present study examines this question in comparative perspective using the cases of Malawi in 2003, Uganda in 2005, and Senegal in 2012. We employ in-depth case study process tracing based on field research in all three countries to investigate how prevalent attitudes and value-orientations influenced how effective the involvement by international donors and organizations was. Results show that domestic attitudes and value-orientations can amplify the effectiveness of international actors. The material support of international actors in turn is crucial for domestic civil society mobilization against the abolishment of term limits. We also find that even strong domestic attitudes against term limits can be neutralized depending on how the public debate on term limits is framed. Finally, our results show that democracy support on contentious issues like term limits does not fall along the traditionally established external vs. internal actors dimension. Actors rather group into favouring and opposing factions with domestic and international actors represented in both groups. All in all, in order to be effective, democracy support in cases of attempts on term limits needs to take the domestic value- and attitudinal context into account.

Boniface Dulani
Micro Foundations of Support for Presidential Term Limits in Africa

The institution of term limits for elective office has in recent years come under major assault from leaders seeking to prolong their tenures. In Africa alone, more than twenty sitting Presidents have contemplated removing term limits in the period between 1998 and 2016. Oftentimes, the quests to remove term limits are couched in language that seeks to portray them as responses to popular grassroots demand. Yet, scanty evidence is provided to support such claims. Instead, partisan loyalists, traditional leaders and a handful of civil society activists are often given a platform, usually in the public media, to call for the removal of tenure limitations. Although clearly not representative of the wider public, such voices are portrayed as ‘evidence’ of support for removing term limits. The availability of time series data from the Afrobarometer on public opinion toward term limits makes it possible to test the claims of African leaders on the level of public support toward term limits. Analysis of this data shows strong support for presidential term limits and that this often cuts across ethnicity and partisan political loyalties. More specifically, I demonstrate that education and strong democratic values are significant predictors of support for presidential term limits among African citizens. On the other hand, rural residency and positive egotropic evaluations of economic performance reduce support for term limits. Interestingly, and contrary to initial expectations, I also find that co-ethnicity with a president seeking to prolong tenure does not necessarily reduce support for term limits, suggesting that ethnic loyalties might be having declining political value in Africa.

Anja Osei and Hervé Akinocho
The Struggle for Term Limits in Togo: Stabilizing Autocracy or Providing a Window of Opportunity for Democratization?

After the 1990s, many African countries have adopted new constitutions that introduce presidential term limits to end the personalization of power in the hands of life-time rulers. The outcomes have been diverse, however. On the theoretical level, our paper poses two questions: 1. Which factors drive the introduction of term limits in African states, and 2. Under which conditions do term limits contribute to democratization? The research is situated in the newer work on institutions in electoral autocracies, which argues that elections, parties, legislatures, and constitutions can contribute to regime stability. They can thus serve the goal of stabilizing an existing non-democratic rule. Constitutions can serve a similar purpose: while they regulate and guarantee the separation of powers in democracies, they can be used to consolidate the inner circle of the regime and exclude the opposition in autocracies. Nevertheless, term limits could have potentially positive effects on the likelihood of democratization for two reasons: firstly, they stir up a public debate and give the opposition a chance to mobilize public protest, which could alter the power balance between regime and opposition. Secondly, the greatest threats to dictators does not always come from outside but from inside the regime. Term limits shake up the ruling coalition by raising issues of political succession – this in turn could lead to elite splits which can be exploited by opposition coalitions. We illustrate our theoretical argument with the case of Togo, where constitutional policy has always been an intense struggle about the distribution of powers in the country. Reversely, power structures have determined if and how constitutional procedures, including term limits are respected. For our empirical analysis we use a mixed methods design that combines public opinion data, social network data on the composition of the ruling elite, and qualitative interviews.