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Key findings
  • On average across 34 countries, three-quarters (76%) of Africans are in favour of a maximum age limit for heads of government. About the same percentage (74%) support minimum age limits for these chief public servants.
  • Maximum age limits have majority support in all surveyed countries, exceeding nine out of 10 citizens in Mali (95%), Benin (94%), and Senegal (90%).
  • Citizens’ views on what the minimum and maximum age limits should be vary widely.
  • For a minimum age limit, the mean across 34 countries is 39 years, ranging from a low of 34 years in Morocco to a high of 42 years in Ghana, Guinea, Namibia, and Tanzania. The modal (most frequently cited) proposed minimum across 34 countries is 40 years, ranging from 30 years in the Gambia and Morocco to 40 years in 29 out of the 34 countries.
  • For a maximum age limit, the mean across 34 countries is 66 years, ranging from 58 years in Morocco to 72 years in Zimbabwe. The modal maximum age is 70 across the 34 countries.

Over the years, some policy actors have blamed aspects of African countries’ development challenges on the advanced ages of their leaders, though no theory or empirical evidence establishes such a relationship (Anoba, 2018; Sackey, 2021). The elections of Emmanuel Macron as president of France at age 39 (2017), Sebastian Kurz as chancellor of Austria at age 31 (2017), and Nayib Bukele as president of El Salvador at age 37 (2019) led some democracy watchers to wonder when Africa – the world’s youngest continent, with under- 35s making up about two-thirds of the population – will produce youthful presidents (Alim, 2019; Phekani, 2019).

In all but one (Ethiopia) of the 28 African countries that chose presidents or prime ministers during the period 2018-2021, the winners were more than 50 years old (see Table A.2 in the

Appendix for details). In 19 countries, the winners were above age 60, despite the participation of 27 under-50 candidates in those countries. As Nigeria prepares for elections in February 2023, the National Youths Union of Nigeria has reignited this discussion by calling on citizens to elect a president who is less than 60 years of age (Sahara Reporters, 2022).

The 2019/2021 Afrobarometer Round 8 survey in 34 countries asked Africans

whether they think their countries should have minimum and maximum age limits for heads of government, and if so, what these limits should be.

Findings show that most Africans favour both minimum and maximum age limits for their leaders, though their views on what those limits should be vary greatly.

Comparing the ages of incumbent leaders to citizens’ proposed age limits and to countries’ official retirement ages, we find that heads of government have exceeded average citizens’ maximum age limits in 15 of 34 countries, and have exceeded official retirement age in 23 countries. But citizens in 27 countries also tend to propose age limits for heads of state that exceed the official retirement age, suggesting that they aren’t opposed to retirement-age leaders.

Daniel Armah-Attoh

Daniel is the project manager for North and Anglophone West Africa

Sarah Nuba

Sarah Nuba completed her national service at CDD-Ghana and continues as a member of<br /> the support team.