Presidential Power in Comparative Perspective: The Puzzling Persistence of Imperial Presidency in Post-Authoritarian Africa

87 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2007 Last revised: 8 May 2013

See all articles by H. Kwasi Prempeh

H. Kwasi Prempeh

Seton Hall University School of Law

Date Written: August 19, 2007


One of the paradoxes of modern government is the phenomenon of the democratically accountable president or prime minister who rules without regard to formal checks and balances. As democracy and democratic constitutions have spread to regions of the world once dominated by autocratic regimes, a longstanding feature of the ancien régime - the imperial presidency - has persisted. While constitutional scholars have shown a great deal of interest in new constitutional courts in the world's newest democracies, the contemporaneous phenomenon of persistent imperial presidency has been largely ignored. Although relatively little attention has been paid to it in comparative constitutional discourse, Africa, too, has witnessed, since 1990, a dramatic transition to democratic rule that has resulted in the toppling of many of the region's long-reining autocrats and the installation of new counter-authoritarian constitutions. However, following the global trend, Africa's longstanding tradition of imperial presidency has survived these recent constitutional changes.

Refuting "cultural" explanations rooted in notions of African exceptionalism, the Article traces the rise of imperial presidency in Africa to authoritarian conceptions and policies of "national integration" and "development" embraced by Africa's postcolonial leadership in the founding moments of the 1960s and identifies ways in which the structure of the extant colonial state and contemporaneous models of presidential power influenced African agency in the direction of authoritarianism. Examining why the phenomenon of imperial presidency has survived recent constitutional reforms, the Article uncovers omissions and shortcomings in Africa's contemporary constitutional design and democratic project that have enabled the force of path dependency to undermine prospects for constitutionalism. The Article offers some tentative constitutional reform proposals to tame presidential supremacy in Africa and thereby enhance constitutionalism in Africa's emerging democracies.

Keywords: Africa, imperial presidency, constitutional design, presidential power, imperial presidency, post-authoritarian

Suggested Citation

Prempeh, H. Kwasi, Presidential Power in Comparative Perspective: The Puzzling Persistence of Imperial Presidency in Post-Authoritarian Africa (August 19, 2007). Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 4, 2008, Available at SSRN:

H. Kwasi Prempeh (Contact Author)

Seton Hall University School of Law ( email )

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Newark, NJ 07102
United States

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