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New Tournons La Page policy brief on presidential term limits within ECOWAS
Publication  Posté le 14:15 11-12-2023, modifié le 14:15 11-12-2023 par Tournons La Page

This study is part of the Citizens’ Campaign for Term Limits, which aims to combat the desire for power of African leaders who run for, or serve, more than two presidential terms through constitutional changes and flawed electoral processes. This Pan-African campaign seeks to mobilise African civil societies around the issue of democratic transitions. This study was written, at Tournons La Page’s request, by the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers (ANCL), a partner association based in South Africa, whose work focuses on the development of constitutionalism and democracy in African countries. It is the result of several months’ research and analysis by members of the ANCL, including judges, lawyers, academics, activists, NGOs, research institutes and academics.

Dowload the policy brief here

Political developments within ECOWAS show that member states of the sub-regional organization have continued to be confronted with the presence of military-led governments. The military’s coming to power undoubtedly obstructs democratic progress in most ECOWAS states and threatens political stability in the region. Linked to this adverse democratic trend are concerns around political reforms that have challenged electoral reliability, legitimacy and acceptability in member states. The execution of some of these political/constitutional reforms has caused crises, which have led to the recurrence of military coups. Recent reforms have centred on presidential term limit (PTL) provisions which are intended to restrict the number of terms a president can serve in office. These limits became widespread in Africa in the 1990s during the third wave of the continent’s democratisation. There were PTLs in Africa prior to the 90s, although they were not widespread and did not change the de facto length of a president’s term in office, with African leaders ruling twice as long as leaders elsewhere.

However, the recent resort by authoritarian regimes to the alteration of these limits to extend their stay in power is an urgent cause for concern. Research shows that about 16 countries have modified or evaded term limits for their presidents and a good number took such action in the past six years. This concern without doubt, forms part of the premise on which the ECOWAS Parliament called for the amendment of the Protocol on Democracy and Governance. 

This policy paper seeks to inform the debates around the amendments and also identify entry points pending the adoption of amendments to the Protocol. It discusses the challenge of non-adherence to PTL and its impact on the ECOWAS region. It examines the role of ECOWAS, the effects of recent political reforms for democracy and stability and draws on comparative regional and international practices in addressing the issue of term limits. Recommendations aimed at enhancing ECOWAS mechanisms for protecting and promoting presidential term limit adherence are also offered.