Earlier this year a popular uprising forced Tunisian President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali into exile.  Not long after, former President of Haiti Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”) returned to his home country from nearly a quarter century of exile to be promptly arrested and charged with crimes allegedly committed during his time in office. These two events are reminders of the risks associated with holding high political office and of the fate of many former chief executives.

Since 2000, seventeen heads of government have gone into exile. They left office and their countries because of fear of what would happen to them if they remained. They represent a variety of political systems and regions and took up residence in a number of different states.  Several have returned and continued their political careers but most remain in exile.

The seventeen chief executives who have gone into exile are as follows:

Argentina: Carlos Menem

Bolivia: Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada

Cambodia: Norodom Ranariddh

Central African Republic: Ange-Felix Patase

Central African Republic: Andre Kolingba

Guatemala: Alfonso Portillo

Haiti: Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Honduras: Manuel Zelaya

Kyrgyzstan: Kurmanbek Bakiyev

Liberia: Charles Taylor

Madagascar: Marc Ravalmanana

Madagascar: Didier Ratsiraka

Pakistan: Perez Musharraf

Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif

Peru: Albert Fujimori

Tunisia: Zine el Abadine Ben Ali

Venezuela: Carlos Perez

Three broad factors explain why a head of government vacates his office and leaves the country. Seven went into exile in the context of a civil war or a military coup. Another seven were facing legal challenges to their continuation in office – criminal charges or impeachment. Three fled as a result of popular uprisings, including the most recent exiles Tunisia’s Zine el Abadine Ben Ali and Kyrgyzstan’s Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

The former leaders represent fourteen countries, three of which had two executives go into exile.  In those three countries the exiled executives had served consecutively, a clear sign of the political turmoil in those states.  Half of the states involved are from Latin American where exile appears to be a part of the political culture.[1] Fifteen countries offered refuge to exiled leaders with the United States, Chile, Saudi Arabia and South Africa all hosting two former executives.

Most of those who have gone into exile since 2000 remain out of their countries as of early 2011. Carlos Perez of Venezuela died in the United States last year, and eight continue their refuge in other states.[2] Five came home, and four of those resumed their political careers. Nawaz Sharif, Norodom Ranariddh, Carlos Menem, and Ange-Felix Patase all resumed some level of public involvement.  Patase lost a presidential bid earlier this year.  The fifth, Andre Kolingba returned to the Central African Republic after two years in Uganda and died in 2010.

Alberto Fujimori and Alfonso Portillo returned as a result of being extradited.  Fujimori was convicted in four different trails and is now in jail.  Portillo is currently on trial. Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor attempted to flee Nigeria but was promptly arrested and is standing trial in The Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone for alleged crimes committed while he was involved in the civil war in that country.

I had expected this report to include Hosni Mubarak as the most recent exiled head of government,[3] but instead he has retired to Sharm El Sheikh. Investigations into his finances and public behavior may yet convince him that taking up residence out of Egypt would be advisable. Earlier this month the Haitian government issues a diplomatic passport to former President Aristide and his return seems imminent.  The process of leaving, and sometimes returning, goes on.


[1] Sznajder, Mario and Luis Roniger. The Politics of Exile in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pg. 2.

[2] Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Didier Ratsiraka, Marc Ravalmanana,  Zine El Abadine Ben Ali, Perez Musharraf, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and Manuel Zelaya.

[3] See the author’s “Mubarak and the Shah,” The Public Record. February 2, 2011. http://pubrecord.org/commentary/8823/mubarak-and-the-shah/; and “The Egyptian Transition,” Foreign Policy Journal. February 1, 2011. https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2011/02/02/the-egyptian-transition/