Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

The Politics of Succession in West Africa’s Democracies

24-25 September 2007, Cotonou, Benin

Number of visits: 4833

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the
Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) are pleased to announce the two-day
advanced policy and research dialogue which they are jointly hosting in Cotonou, Benin
Republic, on 24 and 25 September, 2007 on the theme of The Politics of Succession in
West Africa’s Democracies. The dialogue is a follow-up to a survey of governance trends in
West Africa carried out in 2006 under the auspices of the two institutions. Out of the survey
exercise emerged a host of recurring concerns, among them the increasingly thorny
question of succession which has come to occupy the center-stage of politics in the quest
for democratization in West Africa. No country of the sub-region has been spared the
tensions and pressures associated with the succession process; indeed, in a number of
cases, the struggles over succession have significantly affected the texture of the democratic
project and even threatened to abridge it altogether. Articulated in different ways
and at different inter-locking levels in each of the countries of West Africa, the politics of
succession has, for two basic reasons, clearly become worthy of closer attention both from
a policy perspective and in terms of the kinds of follow-up research work that would need
to be undertaken. The first reason centers on the fact that succession politics is, by definition,
central to the quality of the democratic project and its long-term sustainability. Secondly,
the ramifications of the succession process are integral to the apparent disconnect
between the actual practice of democracy as experienced across West Africa and the
democratic aspirations of the bulk of citizenry.

For CODESRIA and OSIWA, the focus on the politics of succession at this point in the history
of efforts at extending the frontiers of political reforms and citizen rights in West
Africa represents a concrete contribution to on-going reflections on the long-term health of
the polities that make up a sub-region that has only recently begun to recover from a
history of post-independence instability and violent conflicts. The immediate urgency of
the dialogue is underscored by the fact that in 10 out of the 16 countries of West Africa,
presidential and/or parliamentary elections have been held or are scheduled to hold in
2007. Viewed in a longer historical perspective, it would be difficult not to recall the
struggles over succession between and among military officers and civilian politicians that
represented a key feature of the politics of governance in West Africa. The transition to
electoral pluralism which marked the end of single party and military rule foreclosed certain
types of succession politics whilst legitimating others. The results of the CODESRIAOSIWA
survey of governance trends suggests that the management of the multifaceted
succession process brought about by the new context has been an issue of growing discontent
which will be as critical to the prospects of the democratic project and the overall
well-being of the political system as anything else.


West Africa was ushered into the decade of the 1990s amidst widespread popular pressures
for political reform in many of the countries that make up the sub-region. Beginning
from Benin Republic where citizen mobilization against the ancien regime of Matthew
Kerekou resulted in the convening of a sovereign national conference that paved the way
for a new constitutional order, single party and military regimes in the sub-region mostly
unraveled, replaced by various types of electoral pluralism. That process, structured within
a multi-party framework, produced a variety of elected governments and generalized
realignments in politics whose dynamics have been the main stuff of democratization in
West Africa. Most countries have had repeat elections involving transitions from one
elected government to another even if the transitions mostly meant the return of incumbents
and/or ruling parties to power.
The changes that occurred on the West African political landscape from the beginning of the 1990s were broadly welcomed as representing a new phase in the political development
of the sub-region. Afterall, West Africa, with its succession of military coups d’etat
and the political violence associated with the single party systems that proliferated had
developed a reputation as one of the more volatile and unstable belts on the African continent.
While de jure and de facto, rules of succession were clearly in operation and there
were a number of outstanding examples of legal succession, the unpredictability of
change, the rate at which it happened, and the resort to illegalities that accompanied it
constituted the foundation on which West Africa’s reputation for instability was anchored.
The re-birth of electoral pluralism was embraced as offering a possibility for a new start
in the political development of the sub-region. However, more than a decade after the
first reforms were introduced, and in spite of the varying degrees of progress registered,
there have been many discontents thrown up both by the practice of the democratic project
and the impact it has registered in the lives of the generality of the populace. A central
element of the discontents is connected to the organization of the politics of succession
in the sub-region.

Succession politics in West Africa’s democracies has played itself out at several levels.
One level has involved the scope which has emerged for the alternation of power within
and between political parties/coalitions of parties. Another level has centred upon intergenerational
shifts in power crystallized into discourses about the need for the old guard
to make way for a younger generation of politicians within political parties and the administrative
system. At a third level, the process of governing the succession process between
the military and elected civilian government was not always given in all of the
countries where prolonged military rule formed a part of the old order of things or where
politics had become intensely militarised as a result of prolonged armed conflicts.
Fourthly, the case has also been made for an engendering of politics in order both to increase
the participation of women and assure a role for them in the succession process.
Fifthly, concern has been focused too on the role of electoral agencies and the judiciary
as credible arbiters in and governors of the succession process. But a sixth and much more
contested issue in the succession process has been the push on the part of incumbents to
amend existing constitutional provisions, alter party rules and procedures, and engage in
generalized gerrymandering in order either to perpetuate themselves in office or anoint a
successor whom they hope they would be able to remote control. In some instances, incumbents
have positioned their own sons to succeed them in power and have undertaken repeated
reshufflings of the political system in order to have a better chance of securing
that end. This latter component of the politics of succession in West Africa merits closer
attention as it has played itself out in different ways across West Africa with all the adverse
consequences for the health of the political order.


Among the variety of issues which will be covered during the dialogue are:

- 1. The Nature of the Contemporary Succession Debate in West African countries;
- 2. The Contemporary Politics of Succession: Bane of West Africa’s Democratic
- 3. Managing Succession for Democratic Development:

- a. Enforcing Constitutional Provisions;
- b. Strengthening Intra-Party Democracy;
- c. Reinforcing Legislative Autonomy;
- d. Revitalising the Judiciary;
- e. Reinvigorating Opposition Political Parties;
- f. Deepening Electoral Reforms and Governance;
- g. Engendering Succession Processes in West Africa;
- h. Inter-Generational Concerns in the Succession Project;
- i. Sustaining Citizen Vigilance;
- j. Life after Office for Incumbents.


The dialogue will bring together about 50 participants from across West Africa. They will
be drawn from diverse backgrounds: Scholars, policy makers from governmental bodies
such the electoral commissions and intergovernmental organisations such as ECOWAS,
political party leaders, civil society organisations, former and serving head of states, and
representatives of the organised private sector. An admixture of researchers, politicians
and civil society activists will be commissioned to produce background papers and think
pieces that speak to the different aspects and patterns of succession politics in West Africa.
These commissioned papers will serve as background documents for the plenary debates
that would take place. The debates themselves will be structured to allow for the
presentation of the results of research carried out on succession politics, the insights of
politicians and policy makers, and the perspectives of civil society activists, thus ensuring
that a proper exchange of views is facilitated towards conclusions that might be actionable
by all parties interested in or concerned by the problems of and prospects for West
African democracy.

December 30 2007