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Like father, like son?

Sons of strongmen, in Africa and elsewhere, have earned their own notoriety.

Dynastic degeneracy is common in Latin America as well, although curiously, on the continent that perfected the culture of "machismo", two Argentinean leaders, Juan Peron and Nestor Kirchner chose to pass the torch to their wives.

Not all sons have turned out badly. The royal rulers of Jordan, Morocco and Qatar, for example, have thus far governed in a skillful and relatively enlightened manner. Unfortunately, elsewhere, in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria, the best that can be said is that the presidential sons in power are slightly less bad than the fathers they succeeded.

Worryingly, in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, there are sons waiting in the wings who have not impressed observers and who may very well prove less effective and less democratic than their progenitors.

Despite the United States' periodic flirtation with families like the Kennedys and the Bushes, the Western world has, in modern times, largely steered clear of this phenomenon. Instead it has placed its faith in institutions: political parties, bureaucracies, courts, trade unions, media outlets etc. These establishments, while certainly not free from venality and incompetence, tend to avoid the outright brutality and corruption that characterize most family affairs. As developing nations struggle with advancing democratic practices, they would do well to avoid patrimonial politics and invest in institutional development.

Christian Hennemeyer has lived and worked in Africa for more than 20 years. He has also worked the Caribbean, the Balkans and the Middle East. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.