How long is too long?
It is, unfortunately, not unusual to hear of a head of state staying in power beyond the constitutionally prescribed term, and Africa has no shortage of current and historic examples. But to what extent is length of rule on the continent associated with overstaying the constitutional term, and is there a point at which length of rule becomes too long? In short, how long is too long?
Data related to specific heads of state is not easy to find. This is possibly because heads of state are individuals, and obtaining data on individuals is not the sort of thing that economists feel comfortable with. Moreover, heads of state are not the kinds of people who make information about their personal lives freely available.
Still, there is some publicly available data that can be used to provide some initial answers to the question. For the purposes of this study, we have looked at the time heads of state have spent in power, measured in years. We limited our data to include only those heads of state who ruled after the country’s independence. So, Ethiopia, for example, was excluded.
In addition, for our data set we obtained years in power for current and past heads of state since independence. To add some substance to these measures, we also obtained data relating to the number of years of independence, the number of heads of state since independence, and the length of time since the longest ruling head of state left power.
Adding these variables, we thought, would enable us to address some interesting questions. Could it be that the longer ago a long-term ruler has been in power, the less of an impact their rule has on the current country situation? For after all, the effect of long rule might be mediated by time. On the other hand, could it be that the longer a head of state clings to power, the more of an impact their rule has on the current country situation? For the longer they are in power, the more time they might have to seek personal benefits from their period in office, to the detriment of their country.
So we measured the proportion of time a long ruler was in power relative to the total time a country had been independent. Country conditions were represented in a range of variables, covering poverty, state fragility, corruption measures, size of legislature and cabinet, economic processes and aspects of human rights, among others.
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