Although government defeats are extremely rare in multiparty Africa, little analysis has taken place of the conditions under which ruling parties lose power. This article documents a remarkable pattern that has so far received little comment: throughout the continent opposition parties are almost four times more likely to win elections when the sitting president does not stand. Using a comparative data-set and examples from Kenya, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, the article explains the three main reasons that open-seat elections are more likely to lead to political change, and considers the relationship between term-limits, turnover, and democratic consolidation.