Protection against autocratisation: How international democracy promotion helped preserve presidential term limits in Malawi and Senegal

Julia Leininger, Daniel Nowack (2022)

Key facts

Third World Quarterly
Type of publication
Journal article
Elements of social cohesion
Shared values
Geographical focus
Main thematic areas
Political institutions & governance


his article analyses the conditions under which international democracy support contributes to protecting presidential term limits. As autocratisation has become an unwelcome global trend, researchers turned to the study of the toolboxes of would-be autocrats, including their attempts to circumvent term limits. Through a paired comparison of failed attempts in Malawi (2002) and Senegal (2012), we find that external democracy support can assist domestic actors and institutions in deflecting challenges to term limits. We offer a novel qualitative analysis that posits that international democracy support can only be effective if sustained by popular democratic attitudes and behaviours of actors in the recipient state. On the one hand, a mix of conditioning relations with the incumbent government while capacitating pro-democratic opposition is a successful strategy in aid-dependent political regimes with a minimum democratic quality. On the other, societal attitudes factor into decision-making at domestic and international levels. Our results suggest that popular pro-democratic attitudes encouraged international democracy support during critical junctures in the two countries, i.e. when incumbents attempted to circumvent term limitation. Donor investments had positive results when donors had directed resources towards building up civil society organisations long before any attempts at circumventing term limits were made.

Publication_2022_Julia Leininger, Daniel Nowack

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