Africa Program

Preparing for Leadership Transitions in Africa

Project Expert

Michelle Gavin
Michelle Gavin

Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies

About the Project

A number of African states have recently experienced watershed leadership transitions. The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, president for twenty-two years, unexpectedly lost the 2016 elections and, despite his best efforts, was forced to concede; Angola’s president of forty-one years, Eduardo Dos Santos, stepped down in September 2017. Zimbabwe saw the end of Robert Mugabe’s thirty-seven-year rule when the military forced him to resign in February 2018. Whether because of old age, the ballot box, or very persuasive men in uniforms, several more long serving rulers can be expected to leave the political stage in the next decade. My research and writing focus primarily on the period before a leadership transition occurs in places where such transitions have become unfamiliar. By developing some typologies for these transitions, I aim to identify best practices that prepare countries for these inevitable changes in leadership in order to reduce the chances of conflict and instability after they occur. This requires identifying potential sources of latent internal political influence, determining the interest of these actors, and establishing new networks of relationships among internal and external parties with a stake in a given country’s future. This project focuses on African states, but draws on insights from other regions as well. Importantly, this work is not about hastening regime change, but rather on reducing the risk of miscalculation in transitions and improving the prospects for consensus-building in moments of national uncertainty.