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Views from the Center


On Friday the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that President Alvaro Uribe cannot change the constitution (again) to seek an additional term as president.  This is a victory for Colombia’s long-term development, regardless of how good a president Uribe is.  It is an example to the entire developing world.

Last year I worried that Colombia would fall into the same trap that so many other developing countries have—endlessly changing the constitution to keep popular leaders in office.  So many countries have done this that it would not be an exaggeration to call it a plague.  In Africa alone, it has happened twelve times in the past decade.  Colombia deserves better.  I lived in Colombia and love the country, and I want it to realize its vast potential.

But Colombia’s Constitutional Court got the big picture right.  I reviewed some of the research out there on how the lack of true term limits is bad for development. Institutions matter more than any individual, no matter how stellar the individual.  Donors to Colombia should be encouraged. Even supporters of Uribe who love Colombia should be encouraged by the proven solidity of the country’s institutions, as former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria and many others have said.

CGD’s Nic van de Walle has proposed that donors should withhold aid from any country whose president is in office more than 12 years. If a president has been in office for several years and no viable successor exists, then that president has failed: A crucial part of his or her job is to nurture a political climate in which successors may rise.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.