Big Man Rule in Africa: Are Africans Getting the Leadership They Want?

In: The African Review
Boniface Dulani Senior Lecturer, University of Malawi

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John Tengatenga Associate Researcher, Institute of Public Opinion and Research

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Despite the flurry of democratic transitions in the 1990s, the African political arena continues to be dominated by Big-Man rulers who have appropriated and embraced many of the personalistic traits of their predecessors. This is demonstrated, among others, by leaders who seek to circumvent the new constitutional rules to prolong their hold on power. The perpetuation of personalism and deep-rooted presidentialism has led numerous observers to contend that these powerful and personalized forms of rule are reflective of the wider African political culture that is disposed to accept personal rule. Thus far, the argument that ordinary Africans are supportive of personal rule has been based primarily on the inability of elections to dislodge many of the Africa’s strongmen from power without directly testing the attitudes and opinions of ordinary Africans about the type of leadership that they have and want. Using data from five waves of surveys covering a total of 15 countries that were carried out in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2014, we examine popular attitudes on the type and nature of leadership that is preferred by ordinary African citizens. The findings show that while most Africans recognize the prevalence of powerful and personalistic rule, they nonetheless overwhelmingly reject these forms of leadership. Africans, in other words, are not getting the type of leadership they want.

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