Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics

By Aideyan, Osaore | African Studies Review, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics


Aideyan, Osaore, African Studies Review


Roger Southall and Henning Melber, eds. Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics. Cape Town: HSRC Press/Uppsala: Nordic Afrikainstitutet, 2006. xxvi + 350 pp. Tables. Notes. References. Index. $24.95. Paper.

Drawing on case studies from Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa, Legacies of Power: Leadership Change and Former Presidents in African Politics is a definitive compilation about the role and status of former African presidents by African scholars, mostly political scientists and economists. Their findings both support and challenge the notion that African politics is centered on patronage systems, headed by what Chabal and Daloz (1999) refer to as "Big Men." For example, the contributors conclude that during the "second wind of change," or the transitions from authoritarianism to democracy in the late 1980s, some African leaders

successfully rode the tiger and managed to stay in power by manipulating new rules of the game, which now usually included imposition of limits on the length of time a president could stay in power. Yet others were compelled to bow out, some far less gracefully than others. But the outcome was that an increasing number of rulers were displaced, and new regimes and former presidents were compelled to seek some answer to the question of what the role and status of former heads of state should be." (xvii)

A useful starting point is a set of proposals suggested by Mazrui (1994) that former heads of state should be honored and saluted for having served their countries, and can also be coaxed into leaving office if they get the opportunity to take up prestigious international positions. This proposal, as argued by Mazrui, had a potential of not only defusing political tensions but also of discouraging the former leaders from attempting to make an unconstitutional comeback. Though Mazrui's proposal may be helpful, the idea of dictators like Robert Mugabe transmuting into international statesmen is clearly limited, because of their poor leadership record. Many had abused human rights or looted state treasuries, and some left their countries war-torn (5). This situation poses a challenge to African democracies. As they continue to grow, they must define the status of former presidents and lay down ground rules for their behavior. "The extent to which they will continue to be active and relevant in the state and beyond will depend not only on the manner of their departure from office and the kind of regimes over which they presided, but also on their skills and experience and how they can use these skills, particularly in relation to conflict mediation and reconciliation activities" (303).

According to the authors, any role for former heads of state appears to be shaped by three factors, which are presented in proposition form. First, the role of former heads of state in liberal democracies is largely determined by the differences between presidential and parliamentary systems. In hybrid political systems (defined by the authors as neither ambiguously presidential nor parliamentary) typical of postindependence Africa, new leaders are inclined to the view that former presidents should withdraw from politics in presidential systems, while former presidents themselves may choose to emulate those leaders in parliamentary systems who seek to regain power. …

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