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The Importance of Presidential Term Limits

(FILE) Voting booths are pictured in the United States.

In the past decade, leaders of an increasing number of African countries have found and implemented ways to avoid adhering to term limits.

The Importance of Presidential Term Limits
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Overall governance in Africa has failed to improve since 2019. Much of the continent was less safe, secure, and democratic in 2021 than in 2012, according to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which issues an assessment of the quality of governance in African countries every two years.

In the past decade, leaders of an increasing number of African countries have found and implemented ways to avoid adhering to term limits. Since 2015, over a dozen presidents have managed to weaken, circumvent or eliminate limits which had been set as a means of curtailing the amount of power vested in the executive branch of the government. This goes against public opinion.

Afrobarometer's latest findings tell us that [At 67 percent,] "Solid majorities express a preference for democracy over any other kind of government... and clear majorities also endorse core democratic norms and institutions such as parliamentary oversight of the president [65 percent] and term limits, 73 percent."

When power is concentrated at the top, civil society’s role is diminished and leadership is less likely to respond to the will of the people. The governing powers become resistant to new ideas and cling to the status quo, preventing advancement and development.

Leaders who are not subject to the will of the people soon imagine that laws do not apply to them. They work to erode the power of other branches of government. They stifle political competition and silence criticism, often through use of force. And they surround themselves with those who never fail to agree with them, thus eliminating any possibility of reversing or amending bad decisions. Almost inevitably, they become prey to corruption.

History shows that in countries without enforceable term limits, and therefore consistent and accountable political transition, democracy suffers. And because democracy is essential for sustained peace, security and human development, such countries tend to stagnate both economically and culturally.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The Ibrahim Index also shows that, despite the backsliding in many places, more than half of Africa’s population, 53 percent, now lives in a country where overall governance has improved between 2012 and 2021. And while some try to negate or manipulate term limits, 21 countries have strengthened term limits or plan to institute them.

The United States stands with these forward-looking countries. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the United States is committed to promoting democratic norms and elections that reflect the will of the people.