International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.
Thomas Kwasi Tieku
The African Union (AU), an international organization comprising all 54 independent states in Africa and Western Sahara, was established in May 2001 to, among other things, promote regional integration, interstate solidarity, peace, good governance and to enhance the African voice in the global system. Pan-African organization is like the proverbial forest that has bad trees dotted around its many good trees. The AU has been very successful in addressing the needs of the African political class but it is yet to make a significant difference in the lives of many ordinary Africans. The importance of the pan-African organization to African political elite is such that they would have created it today if it did not already exist. The AU has socialized African leaders to accept liberal values as the foundation of international cooperation in Africa; enhanced the agency of African political class on the world stage; and established progressive and innovative rules and norms for the African continent. It has also created many useful decision-making structures that have contributed to the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts in Africa.
The AU has, however, been less successful in connecting its activities and programs to many ordinary Africans; providing common public goods and services valued by commoners in Africa; giving voice to the majority of young people in Africa; promoting intra-Africa trade, good governance, and financial independence of the African continent as well as struggled to address the expressed material needs and quotidian concerns of ordinary Africans.
Support for democracy, human rights, and good governance reforms in Africa has become a prominent objective in engagement by European Union (EU) institutions, EU member states, and the United States with African countries since the early 1990s. Western actors have gradually increased democracy aid, used sanctions, and developed a range of other instruments to support political reforms on the continent. Academic research has analyzed the “substance” and “content” of political reforms that Western actors seek to promote, what instruments they use, and how effective these instruments are in different political contexts. This body of work comes to mixed conclusions as to whether and under what conditions external support has contributed to democratic reforms in African countries between 1990 and 2015. Yet, evidence suggests that external democracy support has made some positive contributions and has been more effective in Africa compared to other regions. However, after a period of 25 years during which democracy support gradually became an important element in the United States’ and European cooperation with African countries, this agenda is now under considerable pressure. Domestic challenges to democracy within Europe and the United States, domestic dynamics in African countries, and the rise of China as an alternative political model make it difficult for European and other external actors to contribute to political reforms on the continent. In this new era of uncertainty, there are three main areas to which policymakers as well as academic research should pay more attention. First, more debate is needed how the contestation of democratic norms in Europe and the United States affects not only the legitimacy but also the decision-making processes on democracy support. Second, more research is needed how urbanization, demographic change and digitalization and their combined effects influence political reforms in Africa and what implications emerge for democracy support. Finally, how China’s more proactive and assertive foreign policy will affect democracy support in Africa is an area that policy-makers and researchers should follow closely.
Arms control is a strategy by governments to overcome the security dilemma with institutionalized cooperation. It comes in three versions, arms control proper, with stability as the main objective; non-proliferation as a sub-category of arms control, so understood with the main objective being to preserve the distributive status quo concerning certain weapon types; and disarmament, with the objective to eliminate a specific weapon type. Confidence building is a crosscutting functional concept lumping together many different measures that can serve all three versions.
Arms control does not reject self-help as a basis of national security, but entrusts a significant piece of it to cooperation with potential enemies. Hence, arms control—with the exception of unilateral, hegemonic arms control imposed on others, and of non-proliferation for preserving an existing oligopoly—is a difficult subject for realism and neorealism, but also for post-modernism. It presents a solvable puzzle for rationalists and no problem at all for constructivists who, to the contrary, can dig into norms, discourses, and identities.
Concerning stability and change, arms control can be looked at from two opposite perspectives. Since it aims at stability, critical security approaches have labeled it as a conservative, status quo orientated strategy. But there is also a transformational perspective: arms control as a vehicle to induce and reinforce a fundamental redefinition of the relationship between states. Naturally, the concept of disarmament shows the greatest affinity to the transformational perspective.
A related issue is whether arms control is a result of political circumstances, a dependent variable without a political impact of its own, or whether it has causal effect on interstate relations. Constructivism proposes a dialectical relationship in which arms control and broader policy influence each other. From this reflection, the question of the conditions of success and failure flows naturally. Conducive interstate relations (or extrinsic shocks), technology, domestic structures, learning, leadership, perception, and ideology have been candidates for the independent master variable.
Three models tackle the relationship of arms control and historical time: the enlightenment intuition of steady progress; a series of waves, each of which leaves the world in a more cooperative state than the previous one; and the circle—arms control ebbs and flows alternatively, but achievements are fully lost in each ebb period.
We can distinguish four arms control discourses: arms control as the maiden of deterrence; arms control subordinated to defense needs; arms control under the imperative of disarmament; and arms control as the instrument of human security, the survival and well-being of human individuals, notably civilians.
As with all politics, arms control involves justice issues: the distribution of values (security/power), access to participation in decision making, and the granting of recognition as legitimate actor. Arms control negotiations are ripe with justice claims, and failure through incompatible justice demands happens frequently. Also, emotions play a key role: frustration and ensuing resentment, anger, and existential fear can prevent success. Finally, compassion, empathy, and trust are ingredients in successful arms control processes.
The foreign policy of autocratic regimes reflects the research interest in the international behavior and decision making of domestic actors in nondemocratic regimes. The regime type (its nature, structure, leadership constellation, legitimation strategies, relation between leadership and public) thus is presumed to have explanatory power for the foreign policy actions and decisions of autocratic actors.
The banking union is considered to be one of the main steps in economic integration in the European Union. Given the rather recent establishment of this policy, academic research on the banking union does not have a long lineage, yet it is an area of bourgeoning academic enquiry. There are three main “waves” of research on the banking union in political science, which have mostly proceeded in a chronological order. The first wave of scholarly work focused on the “road” to banking union, from the breaking out of the sovereign debt crisis in the euro area in 2010 to the agreement on the blueprint for the banking union in 2012, explaining why it was set up. The second wave of literature explained how the banking union was set up and took an “asymmetric” shape, whereby banking supervision was transferred to the European Central Bank (ECB); however, banking resolution partly remained at the national level, whereas other components of the banking union, namely, a common deposit guarantee scheme and a common fiscal backstop, were not set up. The third wave of research discussed the functioning of the banking union, its effects and defects. The banking union has slowly brought about significant changes in the banking systems of the member states of the euro area and in government–business relations in the banking sector, even though these effects have varied considerably across countries.
Belgium is one of the six founding members of European integration, but it is often seen as a special one. In both policy and research, the country is widely known as the “heart of Europe.” It even sells itself to the outside world in this way. This metaphor has a double meaning, a literal and a figurative one. First, Belgium’s capital, Brussels, qualifies as the unofficial capital of the European Union. This meaning is strongly supported by facts, with the city hosting the most numerous and the most important institutions. The second meaning requires more detailed consideration. Indeed, and second, Belgium is perceived to be the most European of all European countries, even prepared to exchange sovereignty for supranationalism at any time and any price. A closer look at data, decisions, and developments shows, however, that while support for European integration is widespread, it is not omnipresent either in time or in place. Particularly in Flanders, the northern part of the country, support has been less obvious than elsewhere.
Indeed, to understand Belgium and/in the European Union, one also has to understand the functioning of Belgium as a federal state composed of communities and regions, thus as a system of multilevel governance. While it is not the only federation among European Union member states, it uniquely combines a wide variety of federal characteristics. Most importantly here, the gradual process of federalization that Belgium has experienced has given the federated entities a strong voice in European Union decision-making. Member states still need to speak with one voice, however, resulting in a complex system of coordination and representation. The possibilities and realities of this system have attracted quite a lot of scholarly interest. The same goes for the rather fundamental question of whether the European Union and federated entities should be seen as unintended partners in the hollowing out of the federal state or whether the opposite holds true and the European Union is coming to Belgium’s rescue. The jury is still out on this, though the answer seems to be growing more and more complex as time passes.
Waltraud Queiser Morales
Bolivia is in the process of consolidating 36 years of democracy amid important reforms and challenges. Despite a history of colonialism, racist oppression of the indigenous majority, and a national revolution and military reaction, the democratic transition to civilian rule and “pacted” electoral democracy among traditional political parties was established in 1982. The governments of pacted democracy failed to fully incorporate all of Bolivia’s citizens into the political process and imposed a severe neoliberal economic model that disproportionately disadvantaged the poor and indigenous. The constitutional popular participation reforms of 1994–1995 altered the party-dominated pacted democracy and opened up the political system to the unmediated and direct participation of indigenous organizations and popular social movements in local and national elections. Grassroots political mobilization and participation by previously marginalized and excluded indigenous groups and social movements, and the election of their candidates into office increased significantly. Indigenous and social movement protests erupted in the Cochabamba Water War in 2000 against the multinational Bechtel Corporation, and in the Gas War in 2003 against the export and exploitation of Bolivia’s natural gas. These mass demonstrations resulted in the turnover of five presidents in five years. The social and political agitation culminated in the game-changing, democratic election in December 2005 of Juan Evo Morales Ayma, as Bolivia’s first indigenous-heritage president.
In office for 14 years, longer than all previous presidents, Morales and the Movement Toward Socialism party launched the “Refounding Revolution,” and passed the new Constitución Política del Estado (CPE), the progressive reform constitution that established a multicultural model of plurinational democracy. The Morales-MAS administration provided unprecedented continuity of governance and relative stability. However, amid charges of interference, relations deteriorated with the United States. And disputes erupted over regional and indigenous autonomy, and extractive economic development in the protected lands of native peoples, especially over the proposed road through the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (Territorio Indígena Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure, TIPNIS). These conflicts pitted highlanders against lowlanders, and divided indigenous organizations and social movements, and the government’s coalition of supporters. Contested term limits for the presidency created another acute and ongoing challenge. President Morales’s determination to run for re-election in 2019, despite constitutional restrictions, further tested the process of change and the resilience of Bolivia’s indigenous and social movement-based democracy.
Amy R. Poteete
The multifaceted nature of decentralization, democracy, and development renders relationships among them ambivalent and conditional. It is certainly possible to decentralize in ways that foster local democracy and improvements in socioeconomic well-being. The empirical record, however, is mixed, and not only because the phenomena of interest have multiple dimensions and are open to interpretation. Whatever its form, decentralization is inherently political. In the African context, the extent and form of decentralization has been influenced by international support, the challenges of extending state authority in relatively young multi-ethnic states, and, increasingly, electoral considerations.
By the 1980s, the broad consensus in the constructive developmental role of a strong central state that had characterized the immediate postwar period gave way to a growing perception of statist approaches as impeding democracy and, especially, development. For some, decentralization implied an expansion of popular participation that promised greater sensitivity to local knowledge and more responsiveness to local concerns. Others saw decentralization as part of a broader agenda of scaling back the central state, reducing its role, its size, and its costs. Yet others saw decentralization as part of a strategy of achieving sustainable natural resource management or political stability in post-conflict societies. By the early 1990s, a wide variety of international organizations were promoting decentralization and providing both financial and technical support for decentralization reforms.
In the African context, political decisions about whether and how to decentralize reflect the continued salience of ethno-regional identities and non-state authorities, especially traditional or customary leaders. Incumbents may decentralize because they hope to consolidate their political position by crowding out or co-opting rivals, depoliticizing conflicts, or deflecting blame to subnational actors. Indeed, reforms made in the name of decentralization often strengthen the political center, at least over the short to medium term. Whether it attempts to co-opt or sideline them, decentralization interacts with and may reinforce the salience of ethno-regional identities and traditional authorities. To the extent that democracy presumes the equality of all citizens, regardless of ascribed status or identity, the reinforcement of ethno-regional identities and unelected authorities threatens democracy.
The international spread of decentralization reforms coincided with the increasing prevalence of multiparty elections. In countries that hold elections, electoral considerations inevitably influence political interests in decentralization. Central government incumbents may view decentralization as a way to keep voters happy by improving access to and the quality of public services, as a form of political insurance, or as strengthening rivals. Whether incumbents and challengers view decentralization as a threat or an opportunity depends on not only the form of decentralization under consideration, but also their estimations of their competitiveness in elections at various levels (national, regional, local) and the interaction between the spatial distribution of electoral support and the electoral system. Electoral dynamics and considerations also influence the implementation and consequences of decentralization, perhaps especially when political rivals control different levels of government. Whether decentralization promotes democracy and development hinges on not only the form of decentralization, but also how broader political dynamics condition decentralization in practice.
Capitalist peace theory (CPT) has gained considerable attention in international relations theory and the conflict literature. Its proponents maintain that a capitalist organization of an economy pacifies states internally and externally. They portray CPT either as a complement or as a substitute to other liberal explanations such as the democratic peace thesis. They, however, disagree about the facet of capitalism that is supposed to reduce the risk of political violence. Key contributions have identified three main drivers of the capitalist peace phenomenon: the fiscal constraints that a laissez-faire regimen puts on potentially aggressive governments, the mollifying norms that a capitalist organization creates; and the increased ability of capitalist governments to signal their intentions effectively in a confrontation with an adversary. Defining capitalism narrowly through the freedom entrepreneurs enjoy domestically, this article evaluates the key causal mechanisms and empirical evidence that have been advanced in support of these competing claims. The article argues that CPT needs to be based on a narrow definition of capitalism and that it should scrutinize motives and constraints of the main actors more deeply. Future contributions to the CPT literature should also pay close attention to classic theories of capitalism, which all considered individual risk taking and the dramatic changes between booms and busts to be key constitutive features of this form of economic governance. Finally, empirical tests of the proposed causal mechanism should rely on data sets in which capitalists appear as actors and not as “structures.” If the literature takes these objections seriously, CPT could establish itself as central theory of peace and war in two respects. First, it could serve as an antidote to the theory of imperialism and other “critical” approaches that see in capitalism a source of conflict rather than of peace. Second, it could become an important complement to commercial liberalism that stresses the external openness rather than the internal freedoms as an economic cause of peace and that particularly sees trade and foreign direct investment as pacifying forces.
The variety in climate, vegetation, and population density in Central Africa is enormous, but some of the main features of policymaking and informal rules of politics—at first sight at least—appear quite similar between N’Djaména and Kinshasa, between Libreville and Bangui, in a vast territory bigger than the European Union: clientelism, personalization of power, politicized ethnicity, the impact of external intervention, and a legacy of repeated political violence establish some constant features. On the other hand, the variable size of countries (from island states in the Gulf of Guinea to large territorial states) has also come with various challenges. Also, Central Africa features land-locked countries such as Chad and Central African Republic, which negatively impacts economic development, in contrast to countries located at the Gulf of Guinea with an easy access to maritime trade routes. At closer inspection all of the eight countries have a specific history, but this overview article rather stresses the commonalities. Featuring in this contribution are the countries of Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial-Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe. The limited achievements of pro-democracy movements in Central Africa in the 1990s have enduring consequences on politics in Africa. Authoritarian regimes have consolidated their grip on power after surviving severe crises in most Central African states. Big man politics continue to prevail, only few opposition parties have upheld their initial strength and lack internal democracy. Enduring violent conflicts in DRC and CAR (and arguably to a somewhat lesser extent in Chad), have undermined conviviality between groups and state capacities in providing public goods with dramatic consequences on effectiveness and legitimacy of the state and its representatives. Prospects for a future allowing for more participation, truly competitive elections, and a peaceful change of government are therefore also grim. However, both violent and peaceful forms of contestation since about 2015 are also signs of renewed mobilization of citizens for political causes across Central Africa. New topics, including consumer defense and ecological issues, plus now-ubiquitous social media, may all be drivers for a new episode of engagement after two decades of frustration. The limited achievements of regional integration and the lack of dynamism of subregional organizations means that Central Africa is still a much less consolidated subregion compared to, for example, West Africa.
Jaimie Bleck and Nicolas van de Walle
Between 1990 and 2015, 184 multicandidate presidential elections and 207 multiparty legislative elections were held in some 46 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What does the routinization of multiparty electoral politics mean for political life in Africa? Much that is unexceptional and recognizable about African elections is well worth documenting, since most international accounts of African elections focus on their more exotic side. In fact, candidates engage in standard political rhetoric in mass rallies and undertake campaign stops around the country. Many make use of social media to communicate with citizens. Voters reward office holders who have delivered good economic performance; they pay attention to the professional backgrounds and personal qualities of candidates and their policy promises. Opposition parties win legislative seats and subnational offices, as well as the presidency, albeit more rarely.
While the routinization of high-quality elections has deepened democracy in some countries, there is tremendous cross-national variation in election quality across the continent. The relationship between elections and democratic deepening is mediated by national political circumstances that vary across the region. Even in cases where incumbents do not resort to oppressive tactics during campaigns, the patterns of presidential dominance typically create tremendous incumbency advantage at the executive level.
Elections neither necessarily advance nor prevent further democratization. Instead, they should be conceptualized as “political moments,” which temporarily create greater uncertainty and heightened attention to politics, which can either lead to democratic gains or bring about regression. However, citizens across the continent are resolute in their commitment to elections. As opposition parties gain greater experience in office, as an older political elite transition out of politics, and as voters continue to access unprecedented information, the continent is likely to experience a democratic deepening in the longer term.
China’s engagement in Africa since around 2000 has been exponential, and Beijing is now perhaps the major player on the continent. With this has come criticism, mainly but not exclusively from the West, which has berated China for turning a blind eye to malgovernance. Initially, China sought to pretend that it was only in Africa for economic reasons and that politics were irrelevant. However, as China’s stake in different African countries developed, Beijing was forced to acknowledge that governance was indeed a factor that needed consideration. This realization was perhaps crystallized around the situation in Sudan. A relative shift in China’s position was hence observed. Under Xi Jinping, however, a newly confident China has been promoting its own definitions of governance, something that enjoys broad support among many African leaders. A clash of definitions as to what constitutes governance and development between China and the West is now quite apparent.
The question of membership and belonging is widely recognized to have been at the root of many political crises in Africa since independence. The legal frameworks for citizenship were largely inherited from the colonial powers and still show strong affinities across colonial legal traditions. However, most African states have enacted significant amendments to citizenship laws since independence, as they have grappled with issues of membership, aiming to include or exclude certain groups. Substantive provisions have diverged significantly in several countries from the original template. African states have shared global trends toward gender equality and acceptance of dual citizenship. In relation to acquisition of citizenship based on birth in the territory (jus soli) or based on descent (jus sanguinis), there has been less convergence. In all countries, naturalization is inaccessible to all but a few. Manipulation of citizenship law for political purposes has been common, as political opponents have at times been accused of being non-citizens as a way of excluding them from office, or groups of people have been denied recognition of citizenship as a means of disenfranchisement. Moreover, even in states where a substantial proportion of residents lack identity documents, it seems that the rules on citizenship established by law have themselves had an impact on political developments.
The citizenship status of many thousands of people living in different countries across Africa remains unclear, in a context where many citizens and non-citizens lack any identity documentation that records their citizenship. The content of the law is arguably therefore less influential than in some other regions. A rapid development in identification systems and the increasing requirement to show identity documents to access services, however, is likely to increase the importance of citizenship law.
In response to these challenges, the African continental institutions have developed, through standard setting and in decisions on individual cases, a continental normative framework that both borrows from and leads international law in the same field.
Tom Delreux and Frauke Ohler
The fight against climate change has become a major area of action for the European Union (EU), both at the European and the international level. EU climate policy has gained importance since the 1990s and is today the most politicized issue on the EU’s environmental agenda. The EU is often considered a frontrunner—even a leader—in the adoption of climate policies internally and the promotion of such policies externally. Internally, the EU has developed the world’s most advanced and comprehensive regulatory frameworks, encompassing both EU-wide policies and targets to be achieved by the member states. The actual EU policy instruments fall into two categories: whereas emissions in certain industrial sectors are reduced through a carbon market and a “cap-and-trade” system (the Emissions Trading Scheme), emissions from non-ETS sectors are addressed through domestic policies by member states. These measures have led to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, but they will not suffice to achieve the EU’s long-term goals, which requires a major overhaul of some of the basic premises of the EU’s policies in sectors such as energy production and consumption, transport, agriculture, and industry. Externally, the EU has been advocating ambitious and legally binding international climate agreements. Desiring to “lead by example”, the EU has been an influential global climate player at important international climate conferences such as those held in Kyoto (1997), Marrakesh (2001), and Paris (2015), but its diplomacy failed at the Copenhagen conference (2009).
Amanda Lea Robinson
European colonialism in Africa was brief, lasting less than a century for most of the continent. Nevertheless, scholars have enumerated myriad long-term political effects of this brief period of colonial rule. First, Europeans determined the number, size, and shape of African states through their partition of the continent, with contemporary implications for state viability, strength, and legitimacy. Second, colonial rule influenced the nature of ethnic boundaries and their salience for politics through the use of indirect rule, language and labor policies, and the location of internal administrative boundaries. Third, colonial rule significantly shaped the nature of postcolonial state-society relations by divorcing the state from civil society during the colonial era and by engendering deep mistrust of the state as a benevolent actor. Fourth, many colonial institutions were preserved at independence, including the marriage of state institutions and customary rule, with deleterious effects. Fifth, differential colonial investments across communities and regions generated significant inequality, with continued political implications in the 21st century. The identification of these long-term effects has largely resulted from empirical comparisons across different forms of colonial rule, especially comparing territories administered by different colonial powers. Future research should move beyond this blunt approach, instead pursuing more disaggregated and nuanced measures of both colonial rule and its political legacies, as well as more scholarship on the long-term interaction between colonial and indigenous political institutions.
Sharath Srinivasan and Stephanie Diepeveen
From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communication in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” provokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent. The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of politics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the possibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communication approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in explaining the possibilities of such change.
Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship. In the precolonial period, across forms of centralized and decentralized political organization, oral communication modalities reflected and enabled fluid and radial logics of authority and power relations. Changes in moral and practical ideas for political organization occurred amid early encounters with traders and Islamic scholars and texts and the movement of people to, from, and within the continent. Colonialism, which heavily focused on narrow extractive aims, required alien central authorities to overcome the vulnerability of their rule through knowledge production and information control. Equally, the same communication technologies valued by colonial authority—intermediaries, print, radio—became means through which resistance ideas circulated and movements were mobilized. In independent Africa, political aims may have changed, but communication infrastructures and their vulnerabilities were inherited. The predicament facing postcolonial governments had a communications dimension. Later, their ability to forge rule through control and allegiance had to contend with a globalizing information economy and demands for media pluralism.
A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by drawing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of information flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communicative terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to possess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics.
Although militias have received increasing scholarly attention, the concept itself remains contested by those who study it. Why? And how does this impact contemporary scholarship on political violence? To answer these questions, we can focus on the field of militia studies in post–Cold War sub-Saharan Africa, an area where militia studies have flourished in the past several decades. Virtually all scholars of militias in post–Cold War Africa describe militias as fluid and changing such that they defy easy definition. As a result, scholars offer complex descriptors that incorporate both descriptive and analytic elements, thereby offering nuanced explanations for the role of militias in violent conflict. Yet the ongoing tension between accurate description and analytic definition has also produced a body of literature that is diffuse and internally inconsistent, in which scholars employ conflicting definitions of militias, different data sources, and often incompatible methods of analysis. As a result, militia studies yield few externally valid comparative insights and have limited analytic power. The cumulative effect is a schizophrenic field in which one scholar’s militia is another’s rebel group, local police force, or common criminal. The resulting incoherence fragments scholarship on political violence and can have real-world policy implications. This is particularly true in high-stakes environments of armed conflict, where being labeled a “militia” can lead to financial support and backing in some circumstances or make one a target to be eliminated in others. To understand how militia studies has been sustained as a fragmented field, this article offers a new typology of definitional approaches. The typology shows that scholars use two main tools: offering a substantive claim as to what militias are or a negative claim based on what militias are not and piggy-backing on other concepts to either claim that militias are derivative of or distinct from them. These approaches illustrate how scholars combine descriptive and analytic approaches to produce definitions that sustain the field as fragmented and internally contradictory. Yet despite the contradictions that characterize the field, scholarship reveals a common commitment to using militias to understand the organization of (legitimate) violence. This article sketches a possible approach to organize the field of militia studies around the institutionalization of violence, such that militias would be understood as a product of the arrangement of violence. Such an approach would both allow studies of militias to place their ambiguity and fluidity at the center of analyses while offering a pathway forward for comparative studies.
Gabriel L. Negretto
Constitution-making has been a central political activity in the modern era. Enacting a new constitution was an essential ingredient in the foundation of republics, the creation of new states, the inauguration of democratic regimes, and the reequilibration of democracies during or after a political crisis. Constitution writing has also become a crucial part of the process of overcoming a legacy of violent internal conflict and a component of authoritarian regimes that seek to gain legitimacy by emulating the formalities of representative democracies. This article surveys the most important concepts and issues related to the comparative analysis of constitution-making. Although it draws examples from constitutions made in a wide variety of settings, special attention is paid to constitutional texts adopted or implemented under competitive conditions.
Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption’s historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or “incongruency” between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa’s more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.