The Struggle Over Term Limits in Africa: A New Look at the Evidence

Issue Date July 2016
Volume 27
Issue 3
Page Numbers 61
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This article verifies empirically whether there is a positive correlation between presidential term limits and the quality of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. It uses two data sets. The first offers an overview of presidential term limits from 1990 to 2015. The quantitative data are corrected by a qualitative reality check, leading to a significant reduction of what can be found in constitutional texts. The second data set is based on a composite index of proxies of democratic quality. The calculation shows a strong correlation between effective term limits and democratic quality. The article then investigates the more difficult question of causality: Does democracy enhance (respect for) term limits or do term limits engender (more) democracy? The data strongly suggest that existing democratic quality has a determining impact on the maintenance of term limits, in other words that democracy is the cause rather than term limits. However, there may be reciprocal causality and relations may run in both ways. The article concludes with a plea for thick case studies mapping out the sequence “democracy, term limits, democracy.” Held against the large-N data presented here, this would allow to better understand divergent country trajectories and the reasons for these diversities.

About the Author

Filip Reyntjens is professor of law and politics at the Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB) at the University of Antwerp. His latest book is Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa (2016, coedited with Tobias Hagmann).

View all work by Filip Reyntjens