Political Term Limits

Political term limits have caused quite a number of problems in various African countries. Those we have come to know as sit-tight leaders have changed the constitutions of their countries to allow them to rule for a longer number of years.

Some other leaders have tried and failed to subvert the political term limits in their countries so they can rule longer. In Nigeria, for instance, a constitutional review panel in 2009, recommended allowing the then sitting president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to run for a third term. However, the Senate refused to change the country’s constitution – in order that former president Obasanjo could stay in power, instead of stepping down at the expiration of his term. The move, if approved, would have altered Nigeria’s charter, which at the moment, limits presidents to two four-year terms.

Political term limits can be a serious powder keg issue in African politics. Just as it once caused a bitter divide in Nigeria, Zimbabwe also experienced the brunt of having one leader for about thirty-seven years. Robert Mugabe, who was one of the oldest leaders in the world, became the leader of Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, when the country gained independence from Britain in 1980. In 2013, there was a constitutional referendum which made provision for the nation’s presidents to be in power for two 5-year terms.

Mugabe still continued as the head of state despite having spent 33 years and in 2017, he announced his intention to seek another five-year term at elections due in 2018. The aged former president who had no plans of letting go of power, in total disregard for the rule of law, boldly declared that Zimbabwe belonged to him. But citizens who were fed up with his autocratic rule took to the streets demanding his resignation. With the intervention of the military, Mugabe finally left office on November 21, 2017, ending his 37-year rule that started off with the optimism of independence but ended up taking the country to the brink of economic meltdown.

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For reasons which I cannot explain, African leaders always have a tendency of clinging to power as if their life depends on it. It is, therefore, good for citizens to know the political limit of their country in order to know when to lend their voices if things begin to go wrong.

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The Political Term Limits For African Countries

Country Head of state/government Political Term Limits
Algeria President Two 5-year terms, since 2016 Constitutional Reform
Angola President Two 5-year terms, since 2010 Constitutional Reform
Benin President Two 5-year terms, since 1990 Constitution
Botswana President Two 5-year terms, since 1966 Constitution
Burkina Faso President Two 5-year terms, since 2002 Constitutional Reform
Burundi President Two 5-year terms, since 2005 Constitutional Reform
Chad President Unlimited 5-year terms, since 2005 Constitutional Reform
Cameroon President Unlimited 7-year terms, from 2008 Constitutional Reform
Cape Verde President Two 5-year terms, the third term only after 5 years
Central African Republic President Two 5-year terms, since 2015 Constitutional Reform
Comoros President Unlimited 5-year non-consecutive terms, since 2009 Constitutional Reform
Côte d’Ivoire President Two 5-year terms, since 2000 Constitutional Referendum
The Democratic Republic of the Congo President Two 5-year terms, since 2005 Constitutional Referendum
Republic of the Congo President Three 5-year terms, since 2015 Constitutional Referendum
Djibouti President Unlimited 5-year terms, since 2010 Constitutional Reform
Egypt President Two 4-year terms, since 2011 Constitutional Referendum
Equatorial Guinea President Two 7-year terms, starting from 2011 Constitutional Reform
Ethiopia President Two 6-year terms, since 1987 Constitutional Reform
Eritrea President Two 5-Year terms, since 1993 Constitutional Reform
Gabon President Unlimited 7-year terms, since 1991 Constitutional Reform
Ghana President Two 4-year terms, since 1992 Constitutional Referendum
Gambia President Unlimited 5-year terms, since 1996 Constitutional Reform
Guinea President Two 5-year terms, since 1996 Constitutional Reform
Guinea-Bissau President Two 5-year terms, since 1991 Constitutional Reform
Kenya President  Two 5-year terms, since 1991 Constitutional Reform
Liberia President Two 6-year terms, since 1986 Constitutional Referendum
Lesotho King No set terms (Hereditary succession)
Libya Presidential Council No set terms (Transitional)
Madagascar President Two 5-year terms, since 1992 Constitutional Referendum
Malawi President Two 5-year terms, since 1995 Constitutional Referendum
Mali President Two 5-year terms, since 1992 Constitutional Referendum
Mauritania President Two 5-year terms, since 1991 Constitutional Referendum
Mauritius President Unlimited 5-year terms, since 1991 Constitutional Reform
Morocco King No set terms (Hereditary succession)
Mozambique President Two 5-year terms, since 2004 Constitutional Reforms
Namibia President Two 5-year terms, since 1999 Constitutional Reforms
Niger President Two 5-year terms, since 2010 Constitutional Referendum
Nigeria President Two 4-year terms, since 1999 Constitutional Reforms
Rwanda President Two 5-year terms, since 2015 Constitutional Reform (from 2024)
São Tomé and Príncipe President Two 5-year terms, since 2003 Constitution Reforms
Senegal President Two 5-year terms, since 2016 Constitutional Reform
Seychelles President Two 5-year terms, since 2016 Constitutional Reforms
Sierra Leone President Two 5-year terms, since 1991 Constitutional Referendum
Somalia President Two 5-year terms, since 1991 Constitutional Referendum
South Africa President Two 5-year terms, since 1996 Constitutional Referendum
South Sudan President Two 5-year terms, proposed
Sudan President Unlimited 5-year terms, since 2015 Constitutional Reform
Swaziland King No set terms (Hereditary succession)
Tanzania President Two 5-year terms, since 1977 Constitutional Reform
Togo President Unlimited 5-year terms, since 2002 Constitutional Reform
Tunisia President Two 5-year terms, since 2014 Constitutional Referendum
Uganda President Unlimited 5-year terms, since 2005 Constitutional Reform
Zambia President Two 5-year terms, since 2006 Constitutional Reform
Zimbabwe President Two 5-year terms, since 2013 Constitutional Referendum
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