Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule.
Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate.
Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.
Liberation movements in Africa are nationalist movements that have resorted to armed struggle to overthrow colonialism, white minority rule, or oppressive postcolonial governments. Claiming to represent the national will, some are intolerant of opposition, others dubious of the legitimacy of multiparty democracy: this difference is a reflection of whether the military wing of the liberation movement dominates the political movement or whether the reverse situation applies. In the post–Cold War era, liberation movements espouse notions of the “developmental state,” continuing to ascribe the state a primary role in economic development event though they may simultaneously embrace the market. The extent to which they subordinate political considerations and freedoms to the pursuit of economic growth dictates whether they pursue paths of authoritarian development or developmental stagnation
Mainline Protestant denominations in the United States have a history of using divestment as an economic form of nonviolent moral activism. While such activism can have a domestic focus, at times church divestment efforts have emphasized foreign policy issues as an extension of church activism in the areas of social justice and moral reform. Churches have used economic activism such as divestment from apartheid South Africa and investment screens to prevent church pension and other funds from being used for products and services—such as alcohol, tobacco and munitions—deemed “immoral” by church bodies. The case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict illustrates the broader themes and tensions involved in church divestment debates, given the media coverage that has been generated by the topic due to the special relationship between Christians and the holy land and the troubled history of Christianity and anti-Semitism. Some Protestant denominations, particularly those with a history of engagement in Israel/Palestine, have responded to the Palestinians’ call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) to advance their freedom and human rights. However, such responses have not been immune from debate and controversy. Some mainline Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church have debated resolutions dealing with church divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Such resolutions have resulted in pushback from some parties, including efforts to criminalize boycott of Israel.
Fifteen years ago Malta joined the European Union (EU) and four years later in 2008 it joined the Economic and Monetary Union. Throughout this period its economy performed exceptionally well, to the extent that it managed to escape the worse ravages of the Great Recession. In general, the majority of the Maltese people support EU membership. Rapid economic growth has produced a general “feel good” sentiment, which is not, however, shared by everyone.
The Maltese political system has been dominated for many years by two parties, the Partit Nazzjonalista and the Labour Party, the only ones to elect candidates to the national parliament since 1966. In 2003, the Labour Party, which had opposed EU membership for many years, changed its policy. This brought the curtain down on parliamentary Euroscepticism in the country. In the meantime, economic success has meant that populist small parties have not been able to gain much traction with the electorate, and the established political parties were not dethroned by populist upsurge as happened in most of the rest of southern Europe. Growth has not led only to benefits, however. The construction sector is putting pressure to bear on scarce land resources, and the influx of foreign labor and a growing demand for housing have inflated rents and housing prices, often beyond the reach of lower income households. Unemployment stands at a low 3.8%, but more people are close to the poverty line. Malta is failing on some of the national targets of the Europe 2020 strategy. These challenges will have to be watched more closely in the years to come should this rate of growth be maintained.
Risa A. Brooks
The protests that began in Tunisia in December 2010, and quickly spread across the Arab world, have drawn significant attention to the impact of militaries and coercive institutions on protests and revolutionary movements. The actions of the militaries were a central determinant of the outcomes of the uprisings of 2010–2011. In Tunisia and Egypt the decision by military leaders to abstain from using force on mass protests to suppress them led to the downfall of the countries’ autocrats. In Syria and Bahrain, militaries defended political leaders with brutal force. In Yemen and Libya, militaries fractured, with some units remaining allied to the leader and using force on his behalf and others defecting. In still other states, leaders and militaries were able to forestall the emergence of large, regime-threatening protests.
To explain these divergent outcomes, scholars and analysts have looked to a variety of explanatory factors. These focus on the attributes of the militaries involved, their civil-military relations, the size and social composition of the protests, the nature of the regime’s institutions, and the impact of monarchical traditions. These explanations offer many useful insights, but several issues remain under-studied. These include the impact of authoritarian learning and diffusion on protest trajectory. They also include the endogeneity of the protests to the nature of a country’s civil-military relations (i.e., how preexisting patterns of civil-military relations affected the possibility that incipient demonstrations would escalate to mass protests). Scholars also have been understandably captivated by the aforementioned pattern of military defection-loyalty, focusing on explaining that observed difference at the expense of studying other dependent variables. The next generation of scholarship on the uprisings therefore would benefit from efforts to conceptualize and investigate different aspects of variation in military behavior.
Overall, the first-generation literature has proved enormously useful and laid the foundation for a much richer understanding of military behavior and reactions to popular uprisings in the Arab world and beyond.
Philip G. Roeder
National secession seeks to create a new sovereign state for a nation residing on its homeland that is currently located inside another sovereign state. This goal distinguishes national secession from regional secession, autonomy, and decolonization and shapes the strategies, operational objectives, and tactical choices of the leaders of national-secession campaigns. Explanations for the success of some campaigns—particularly, success at getting on the global agenda—have focused on the identities, grievances, or greed of their members. Explanations for why some campaigns have turned to protracted intense violence have focused on these motivations and on tactical-logistical opportunities.
The existing literature suffers from its failure to agree on theoretical and conceptual fundamentals. As a consequence, empirical studies focus on very different universes of cases and operationalize key variables in diverging ways. The existing literature frequently does not consider how the goal of national secession constrains the strategies, operations, and tactics of such campaigns. And so, it often fails to consider whether studies with another dependent variable can be extended to the study of national secession. Explanations stress indeterminate or substitutable causes and remote constraints on most national-secession campaigns—causes and constraints taken “off the shelf” from theories about conflicts operating under very different strategic and operational constraints. Missing from these explanations is the authenticity and realism of the programs for national secession in the assessments of the populations that each program presents as a nation with a right to a sovereign state of its own. Explanations and recommendations for responses by common-state governments, their allies, and the international community often fail to understand the centrality of the war of programs between national secessionists and common-state governments and the ways this constrains what compromises are possible and what responses are most likely to lead to domestic and international peace in such conflicts.
Africa is a place of enormous variation and its countries have had very different postcolonial experiences. However, it is clear that since the 1940s peace has been elusive for many across the continent. A series of wars driven by poverty, identity, political economy, and failing states led to a widespread crisis of governance and extensive international intervention. Reductions in the security capabilities of states have also led to the growth of violent transnational groups, particularly those related to Islamic extremism in the Maghreb, Nigeria, and Somalia but also criminal networks involved with drug and people smuggling. This wide variety of conflicts also generated an equally wide range of responses as the international community began to develop ways of combating conflicts through reform of its own peacekeeping capacity. The optimism of the 1992 Agenda for Peace, which called for the UN to become the central instrument in the prevention and ending of conflicts, has given way to a more sanguine approach, as mixed results have led to diverse outcomes for African countries and Africa’s own peace and security architecture. In the end, despite the rapid development of important local and localized bottom-up peacebuilding initiatives, the state remains central to the overarching aims of peace and stability across the continent. It is here where the variations in performance can be found in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and post-conflict reconstruction.
Michael Bratton and Peter Penar
Power sharing is often offered as a strategy to resolve political crises. In contrast to power capture and power division, power sharing entails exercising power in cooperation with rival groups. The outcome of power sharing largely rests on the purpose and context of the agreement. Power sharing has proven effective at attenuating political violence and providing stability when enacted to guide a transition from white-minority to black-majority rule in former settler states (e.g., South Africa) or to bring persistent civil wars to an end (e.g., Sierra Leone and Burundi). However, in the context of an election dispute, power sharing fails to solve the underlying concerns that contribute to election-related conflict. Although power sharing may attenuate or end violence, the outcome is poor reconciling election winners and losers and deepening democratic practices (e.g., Kenya and Zimbabwe). Recognizing the failure of power sharing after election disputes, external mediators—particularly in West Africa (e.g., Côte d’Ivoire and The Gambia)—have tended to emphasize maintaining normal constitutional processes rather than power-sharing settlements.
African prisons are some of the least-studied penal institutions anywhere in the world. This is not true everywhere on the continent, as prisons in some countries such as South Africa are adequately studied and have been the subject of commissions of inquiry stretching back to colonial times. It is also difficult to generalize about Africa. For example, there are massive disparities between north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Usually, not much information beyond generalities exists for many of them across the African continent. As a result, many negative perceptions endure that are not reflective of the different systems and the different countries in the region. The focus of the research has often been on specific themes and certain countries only and has generally focused on problems. There is, however, a need to portray a more realistic situation in prisons in all fifty-four countries more accurately, without generalizing, and to provide more solution-orientated research to a variety of issues. This can be partly achieved by comparative investigation.
While the conditions in many African prisons are harsh and difficult for inmates, comparatively speaking, prisons in Africa are not the worst in the world. However, they are generally overcrowded, and there is much violence. Issues generally concerning health, food, sanitation, amenities, and other matters remain generally problematic. However, much data is missing from a range of countries. More research is needed to gather more data and to interrogate the diverse prisons in the different countries. There is a need for more holistic research that understands prisons not as isolated institutions but as part of criminal justice systems. There is a need to understand how methods of policing, the conduct of prosecutions, and court processes all have an impact upon conditions within the prisons of a particular country.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
Toyin Falola and Chukwuemeka Agbo
In line with Thomas Hodgkin’s assertion, the search for Africa’s struggle for liberation, equality, self-determination and the dignity of the African is traceable to the result of the centuries of relationship between Africa and Europe dating at least since the 15th century. That association left Africa at the lowest ebb of the racial pyramid which Europeans had formed. As Africans at home and diaspora began to gain Western education, they began to question the racial and discriminatory ideas of whites against black people. They initiated the campaign for African equality with other races drawing inspiration from Africa’s culture and history to argue that Africa had contributed to world development just like any other race. At home in Africa, this new class of elites launched the struggle for the end of colonial domination in the continent. This movement to lift Africa out of the pit of subordination became known as Pan-Africanism. The movement has recorded tremendous successes, an outstanding example being the decolonization of the continent and the improved position of Africans in diaspora. Scholars have done a great deal of work on these movements and successes. Nevertheless, there is urgent need for a critical appraisal of 21st-century Pan-Africanism.
Carolien van Ham and Staffan Lindberg
The quality of elections in Africa demonstrates considerable progress from the early attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to the increasingly democratic era following the end of the Cold War. In terms of scope, 46 of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa now select the most powerful public offices (i.e., the executive and/or legislature) via elections, and reserved power domains have become relatively uncommon. In terms of choice, single-party elections, once so common across Africa, have now all but vanished from the continent. However, the integrity of elections still varies widely, ranging from elections with serious irregularities to elections that are fully free and fair. Even so, considerable progress is apparent over the last three decades. A full 47% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa now hold elections that are free and fair or only involve minor irregularities. Equally important, electoral interruptions in the form of coup d’état, civil war, or annulment of elections have become very rare.
Africa is also a continent where the contemporary trend of elections generating broader democratization is particularly palpable. By providing opportunities for citizens to remove incumbents from office and generating expansion of civil liberties after elections are over, stimulating citizens and other actors to increase pressure for more democratic freedoms, elections seem on average to have been conducive to democratic developments in Africa. Elections also increasingly lead to turnovers, especially elections of high electoral integrity, where on average 34% are associated with alternations in power. Taking a long-term view on developments from 1960 until 2017, African elections have seen an impressive increase in quality over time, and provide a much more significant contribution to democratization in sub-Saharan Africa than is often acknowledged in the literature.
Most states’ foreign policies are secular in orientation and focus. A few make religion a prominent component of their ideological approach to foreign policy. States whose foreign policies are consistently or irregularly informed by religion include Egypt, Iran, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. In each case, these states’ foreign policies feature domestic religious actors seeking to have regular or intermittent involvement in foreign policymaking. The impact and capacity of such religious actors is linked to the ideological and/or national interest priorities of incumbent governments. That is, religious actors may have an input into foreign policymaking, which reflects a concern more generally with the association between material concerns—including national security issues—and religious and ethical ideas, norms, and values.
In addition to states with input from religious actors in foreign policymaking, there are several important nonstate actors whose religious beliefs centrally inform their foreign policies, which often focus on activities in the United Nations, the world’s largest and most comprehensive organization with near-universal state membership. The United Nations is a key focal point to pursue such policies, and three such actors are discussed: the Holy See/Vatican (and, more generally, the Roman Catholic Church), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the World Council of Churches (WCC), whose religious orientations are, respectively, Roman Catholicism, Islam, and non-Catholic Christianity. The importance of religious actors in foreign policy, in relation to both selected states and nonstate actors, is explored.
Peter M. Lewis
In the era following the decolonization of Africa, the economic performance of countries on the continent can be traced across three periods. The early postindependence years reflected moderate growth and policy variation, with occasional distress in some countries. From the 1980s through the late 1990s, the region was gripped by a sweeping crisis of growth and solvency shaped by a steep economic downturn and a slow, stuttering recovery. This was also a period of convergence and restrictions on policy space. By the early 2000s, accelerated growth buoyed most economies in Africa, although commodity price shocks and the global economic slump of 2008–2009 created episodic problems. Different approaches to policy and strategy once again marked the landscape. A number of influences help to explain variations in the occurrence of economic crisis across Africa, and the different responses to economic distress. In addition to structural factors, such as geography, resource wealth, and colonial legacies, middle-range political conditions contributed to these downturns. Key institutions, core constituencies, and fiscal pressures were domestic causes and external factors include donor convergence, access to finance, and policy learning.
One framework of analysis centers on three factors: ruling coalitions, the fiscal imperative, and policy space. The ruling coalition refers to the nature of the political regime and core support groups. The fiscal imperative refers to the nature of state finance and access to external resources. And the policy space comprises the range of strategic alternatives and the latitude for governments to make choices among broad policy options. Applying the framework to Africa’s economic performance, the first period was marked by distributional imperatives, a flexible fiscal regime, and considerable space for policy experimentation. During the long crisis, regimes came under pressure from external and domestic influences, and shifted toward a focus on macroeconomic stabilization. This occurred under a tight fiscal imperative and a contraction of policy space under the supervision of multilateral financial institutions. In the 2000s, governments reflected a greater balance between distributional and developmental goals, fiscal constraints were somewhat relaxed, and policy variation reappeared across the region. While the early 21st century has displayed signs of intermittent distress, Africa is not mired in a crisis comparable to those of earlier periods. Developmental imperatives and electoral accountability are increasingly influential in shaping economic strategy across the continent.
Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni
The concept of the African Renaissance was popularized by Cheikh Anta Diop in the mid-1940s. But in 1906 Pixley ka Isaka Seme had introduced the idea of “regeneration” of Africa, while in 1937 Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria had engaged with the idea of a “renascent Africa,” both of which formed a strong background to the unfolding of the idea of African Renaissance. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa made it the hallmark of his continental politics in the 1990s. Consequently, in 1998 South Africa became a host to an international conference on the African Renaissance and by October 11, 1999, Mbeki officially opened the African Renaissance Institute in Pretoria in South Africa. Scholars such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o picked up the theme and defined the African Renaissance as a “re-membering” of a continent and a people who have suffered from “dismembering” effects of colonialism and “coloniality.” “Coloniality” names the underside of Euro-North American-centric modernity, which enabled mercantilism accompanied by the enslavement of African people. The reduction of African people into tradable commodities (thingification and dehumanization) and their shipment as cargo across the Transatlantic Ocean formed the root cause of the underdevelopment of Africa. The rise of a capitalist world economic system involved the forcible integration of Africa into the evolving nexus of a structurally asymmetrical world system with its shifting global orders. The physical colonial conquest was accompanied by genocides (physical liquidation of colonized people), epistemicides (subjugation of indigenous knowledges), linguicides (displacement of indigenous African languages and imposition of colonial languages), culturecides (physical separation of African people from their gods and cultures and the imposition of foreign religions and cultures), alienations (exiling African people from their languages, cultures, knowledges, and even from themselves), as well as material dispossessions. The African Renaissance emerged as an anti-colonial phenomenon opposed to colonialism and coloniality. As a vision of the future, the African Renaissance encapsulated a wide range of African initiatives such as Ethiopianism, Garveyism, Negritude, pan-Africanism, African nationalism, African humanism, African socialism, Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the demands for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), the various African economic blueprints including the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) as well as the regional integration economic formations such as the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) and the Southern Africa Economic Development Community (SADC), among many others. These liberatory initiatives have been framed by five waves of popular African movements/protests, namely: (a) the decolonization struggles of the 20th century that delivered “political decolonization”; (b) the struggles for economic decolonization that crystallized around the demands for NIEO; (c) the third wave of liberation of the 1980s and 1990s that deployed neoliberal democratic thought and discourses of human rights to fight against single-party and military dictatorships as well imposed austerity measures such as structural adjustment programs (SAPs); (d) the Afro-Arab Spring that commenced in 2011 in North Africa, leading to the fall some of the long-standing dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya; and finally (e) the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movements (Fallism discourse of liberation) that emerged in 2015 in South Africa, pushing forward the unfinished business of epistemological decolonization.
Relations between the European Union (EU) and Russia have gone through a dramatic journey from close partnership to confrontation. The narratives of the crisis that erupted over Ukraine in late 2013 and early 2014 are diametrically opposed. The root causes of the crisis are primarily related to colliding visions of the European order that have existed ever since the end of the Cold War. Yet, to understand why the escalation happened at that time, one also needs to understand the dynamics of a process of increasing tensions and dwindling trust. The Ukraine crisis was thus both the outcome of an escalation of tensions and a radical rupture.
In the run-up to the Ukraine crisis (2003–2013), EU–Russia relations were characterized by a Strategic Partnership. The latter was launched in 2003, closing a decade of asymmetrical EU-centric cooperation and redressing the balance in a formally equal partnership, based on pragmatic cooperation and a recognition of mutual interests. Despite high aspirations, the Strategic Partnership gradually derailed into a logic of competition. Tensions eventually crystallized around colliding integration projects: the Eastern Partnership (aiming at Association Agreements) on the EU’s side and the Eurasian Economic Union on Russia’s side. The crisis erupted specifically as the result of the choice Ukraine had to make between the two options. This choice radicalized the negative geopolitical reading that Moscow and Brussels had gradually developed of each other’s behavior.
Since the start of the Ukraine crisis (2014), EU–Russia relations have been characterized by a harsh confrontation in the field of high politics. The Strategic Partnership was suspended and the EU imposed sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine. Moscow retaliated and relations became highly acrimonious. Security-related issues dominate the agenda: Russia accuses the West of neo-containment, while Moscow is blamed for undermining the pan-European border regime and security order.
The stalemate between Russia and the EU (and by extension the Euro-Atlantic Community) is ambivalent. On the one hand, it has taken the form of a systemic crisis, where both parties risk running from incident to incident in the absence of effective pan-European instruments that may constrain or reverse the conflict. On the other hand, in the field of low politics, in particular trade and energy, business often seems to continue as usual.
Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Chad are some of least researched countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Since independence from France in 1960 these four countries have experienced two distinct yet interrelated struggles: the struggle for statehood and the struggle for democracy. Each country has experienced violent conflict between the central authorities in the capitals and security challengers on the peripheries. Prominent examples are the Tuareg uprisings in Niger and Mali, the various rebel insurgencies in Chad, and the conflict between black Africans and Arabs in Mauritania. The emergence of jihadi-Salafi groups in the West African sub-region affects all four countries and poses a particularly strong security challenge to Mali. All these conflicts are unresolved. The liberalization of the political sphere in the late 1980s and early 1990s has led to considerable political diversity across the Sahel. In Niger and Mali meaningful multiparty competition and basic civil liberties have taken root despite many setbacks. Civil society is strong and in the past has successfully mobilized against autocratic tendencies. In Mauritania and Chad, democratic institutions exist on paper as autocratic rulers have managed to stay in office. The national armed forces remain the preeminent political actors. Civil society is not strong enough to achieve political change for the better. Stagnant living conditions, social immobility, the ongoing war against Islamic terrorism, and weak accountability mechanisms remain the most important political challenges for the Sahel.
Charles Manga Fombad
One reason why dictatorships flourished in Africa until the 1990s was that constitutions concentrated excessive powers in presidents. The democratic revival of the 1990s led to the introduction of new or substantially revised constitutions in a number of countries that for the first time sought to promote constitutionalism, good governance, and respect for the rule of law. A key innovation was the introduction of provisions providing for separation of powers. However, in many cases the reintroduction of multipartyism did not lead to thorough constitutional reform, setting the scene for a subsequent struggle between opposition parties, civil society, and the government, over the rule of law.
This reflects the complex politics of constitutionalism in Africa over the last 60 years. In this context, it is important to note that most of the constitutions introduced at independence had provided for some degree of separation of powers, but the provisions relating to this were often vaguely worded and quickly undermined.
Despite this, the doctrine of separation of powers has a long history, and the abundant literature on it shows that there is no general agreement on what it means or what its contemporary relevance is. Of the three main models of separation of powers, the American one, which comes closest to a “pure” system of separation of powers, and the British, which involves an extensive fusion of powers, have influenced developments in anglophone Africa. The French model, which combines elements of the British and American models but in which the executive predominates over the other two branches, has influenced developments in all civilian jurisdictions in Africa, particularly those in francophone Africa. The common denominator among the models is the desire to prevent tyrannical and arbitrary government by separating powers but doing so in a manner that allows for limited interference through checks and balances on the principle that le pouvoir arrête le pouvoir.
The combined Anglo-American (common law) and French (civil law) models received during the colonial period remain applicable today, but despite its adoption in the 1990s, the effectiveness of the doctrine of separation of powers in limiting governmental abuse has been curtailed by the excessive powers African presidents still enjoy and the control they exercise over dominant parties in legislatures. South Africa in its 1996 Constitution, followed by Kenya in 2010 and Zimbabwe in 2013, entrenched a number of hybrid institutions of accountability that have the potential not only to complement the checks and balances provided by the traditional triad but also to act where it is unable or unwilling to do so. The advent of these institutions has given the doctrine of separation of powers renewed potency and relevance in advancing Africa’s faltering constitutionalism project.
The analysis of the diffusion of social media in Africa and its relevance for politics has been caught in a paradox. On the one hand, social media have been saluted for their newness and for their ability, especially in connection with increasingly accessible portable tools such as mobile phones, to offer a level playing field for individuals to participate in politics and speak to power. On the other hand, this very enthusiasm has evoked relatively tired tropes used to frame the advent of other “new” technologies in the past, stressing what they could do to Africa, rather than exploring what they are doing in Africa.
Early research on the relationship between social media and elections in Africa has tended to adopt normative frameworks adapted from the analysis of electoral contests in the Global North, presupposing unfettered citizens using social media to root for their leaders or demand accountability. A more recent wave of empirically grounded studies has embraced a greater conceptual and methodological pluralism, offering more space to analyze the contradictions in how social media are used and abused: how humor can be turned into a powerful tool to contest a type of power that appears overwhelming; or how armies of professional users have exploited people’s credulity of new media as “freer” from power to actually support partisan agenda. Interestingly, this latter approach has brought to light phenomena that have only recently caught global attention, such as the role of “fake news” and misinformation in electoral contests, but have played a determinant role in African politics for at least a decade.
The sovereignty of postcolonial African states is largely derived from their recognition by other states and by the United Nations, irrespective of their actual effectiveness. Such international legal sovereignty has been a resource to weak African states, allowing them to endure against the odds, and to their rulers who have instrumentalized it to foster their domestic authority and domination. Yet, African sovereignty has also been a curse. Being exogenous to domestic social and political relations, it tends to isolate and shield rulers from the ruled and predisposes state institutions toward predation. It also standardizes and homogenizes the continent’s institutional landscape in disregard to the wealth and promise of effective institutional arrangements on the ground, to which it denies legitimacy. Despite the equilibrium properties of the African sovereignty regime, there might be opportunities to tweak the system in ways that could unleash more effective and accountable state and nonstate institutions.