Research Paper 17 - African Trends and Transformation: The Profiles of Sub-Saharan African Executive Heads of State since Independence

Research Paper 17

Monique Theron, November 2011

The profiles of the heads of state of Sub-Saharan African countries have changed remarkably since the advent of independence in Africa (roughly since 1960). 

This paper is based on an extensive collection of data about the backgrounds of African heads of state over the last five decades, recorded in the Development Leadership Programme’s leadership database and its associated query tool.

Key points:

This analysis shows that the calibre of leaders has improved over the past five decades. Leaders are now more mature, more experienced, more educated and have greater respect for democratic principles and practices. 

This observation is also supported by the increase in elections and the number of times leaders have come to power through peaceful and legitimate means. 

A quantitative analysis of leaders’ profiles has shown that a leader’s particular profile and empirical characteristics play a role in the type of ruler s/he might become. The study provides empirical data on leaders’ biographies that show that civilian rulers share similar backgrounds and profiles, whereas personal rulers and military rulers have a wide variety of background profiles.




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