David F. Mitchell and Jeffrey Pickering
The empirical literature on arms buildups and the use of interstate military force has advanced considerably over the last half century. Research has largely confirmed that a relationship exists between arms buildups and the subsequent use of force, although it is historically contingent. The relationship seems to have existed in some earlier historical periods but has not been a feature of international politics since 1945. Broader work such as the steps-to-war model brings understanding to such variation by demonstrating how arms races are interrelated with other causes of conflict, such as territorial disputes and alliances. Still, many important dimensions of the arms race–conflict connection remain to be explored. Differences between qualitative and quantitative arms races, for example, have not received sufficient empirical scrutiny. Precise theory also needs to be developed on direct and indirect relationships between arms races and conflict, and such theory requires empirical investigation.
A major challenge for countries that emerge from civil war is the stabilization of the post-conflict order in a way that fighting does not break out again. Recent empirical and theoretical work on the resolution of civil wars and on the duration of peace strongly rely on the bargaining framework of war emphasizing information asymmetries and commitment problems as main reasons for why in some states civil wars recur repeatedly, whereas in other societies a conflict ends and a transition to a peaceful society is successful. The length of peace spells depends partly on information about the distribution of power that became available during the conflict, captured by the duration and intensity of the fighting as well as the type of conflict ending. Information problems are more relevant at earlier stages and with regard to the initiation of negotiations. In finding bargaining deals and securing their implementation, the conflict parties have to overcome commitment problems. The literature has investigated in more detail third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements as mechanisms to get conflict parties to credibly commit to and adhere to a negotiated agreement. Recently, empirical research moved beyond the conclusion of peace agreements to the study of their implementation. Particular challenges for a peaceful order are the demobilization of ex-combatants, which is aggravated by time-inconsistency problems, the timing of elections, and the redistribution of economic resources. Finally, solutions become more difficult in multiparty conflicts and if the armed groups are fragmented.
Bargaining Theory, Civil War Outcomes, and War Recurrence: Assessing the Results of Empirical Tests of the Theory
Caroline A. Hartzell
Once ended, a significant number of civil wars recur. One influential empirical international relations theory on which scholars have drawn in an effort to provide an explanation for this phenomenon is the bargaining model of war. Devised initially for the study of interstate war, the theory posits that bargaining problems may prevent belligerents from reaching a deal that enables them to avoid a costly war. Bargaining problems also have been identified as contributing to the recurrence of armed intrastate conflict. Working within the framework of bargaining theory, a number of scholars have claimed that the most effective way to inhibit a return to civil war is to end the conflict via military victory as such an outcome is thought to help solve key bargaining problems. However, a growing number of empirical tests cast doubt on this proposition. An analysis of the results of these tests as well as new scholarship on civil war termination highlight some of the limitations inherent in employing a theory devised for the study of interstate war to analyze questions related to civil wars.
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.
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.
Kate M. Carter and Scott Straus
Contrary to common assumption, major forms of large-scale organized political violence in sub-Saharan Africa have declined in frequency and intensity, and the region is not uniquely prone to the onset of warfare. African civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s are less common compared to the mid-1990s. The character of warfare has also changed. Contemporary wars are generally small-scale, fought on state peripheries and increasingly across multiple states, and involve factionalized insurgents who typically cannot hold significant territory or capture state capitals. Episodes of large-scale mass killing of civilians are also on the decline. That said, other forms of political violence that receive less attention in the academic literature are increasing or persistent. These include electoral violence and violence over access to livelihood resources, such as land and water. Geopolitical shifts since the end of the Cold War are a leading candidate to explain the changing frequency and character of warfare in sub-Saharan Africa. New global priorities, including changes in external state funding opportunities for insurgents, an emphasis on change through elections, investments in conflict mediation strategies, and the rise of China are hypothesized as critical factors shaping the new patterns of warfare.
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.
Yahia H. Zoubir
The Islamist movement in Algeria and Islamist ideas (politicized/revivalist, Islamic reformism) date back to the colonial period. While Radical Islamist Groups (RIGs) and Salafi Jihadist Groups (SJGs) have demonstrated a high level of violence more noticeably in the 1990s, following the return of the so-called Afghans, who had trained and fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan, radical Islamism has emerged at different periods in Algeria’s history. In the 1960s, RIGs sought to intimidate Westernized youth and women. In the 1970s and 1980s, SJGs almost destroyed the state through a ferocious armed insurgency. The major SJGs in Algeria, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Jund-el-Khalifa, are part of the transnational extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda and, since 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS), respectively.
Political Islam in Algeria took different forms, from quietist groups to peaceful Muslim Brothers to sanguinary armed groups, such as the Armed Islamic Groups (GIAs) of the 1990s or the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which succeed the Salafi Group for Preaching and CombatSGPC. Whatever form the movement has taken more recently, one cannot understand Islamism without scrutinizing Algeria’s colonial history and the enduring crisis of identity it has engendered among Algerian Muslims. Soon after the colonial invasion, resistance to France was often expressed in Islamic terms, such as jihad, or holy war, against infidels. During the war of national liberation [1954–1962], the nationalist movement referred to the fighters as mujahideen (holy warriors). Algerian identity itself is often expressed in relation to Islam, which dominates social and cultural personality. Islam and Islamism have served as means of opposition to the successive incumbent regimes since independence. Indeed, opposition to the socialism of the 1960s and 1970s emanated from religious figures. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Islamic Salvation Front ak.a., FIS), a mass party, sought to seize power to establish a state in which Shari’a Law could be implemented. The cancellation of the electoral process resulted in bloody civil strife that pitted the security forces against SJGs of different denominations. The civil strife claimed the lives of perhaps 100,000 people, mostly civilians. However, Algerian Islamism also has elected representatives, with legal Islamist parties represented in the government. Islamism, or Islamist ideas, present during the anticolonial struggle are interwoven with the radical jihadi groups that exist in the region and country today. Algeria went through an almost decade-long, atrocious period of civil strife that abated by the end of the 1990s. The ensuing 2005 National Charter on Peace and Reconciliations provided a political framework for stability in the country.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov
Reflecting on the recent rise of Salafi groups and their impact on civil war, the academic literature on Salafi radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment has burgeoned in the recent decade and a half. Yet little consensus exists as to the relative power of three major causes: grievances, ideology, and radical milieu and support structures as causes of violent radicalization. Even less is known about how jihadist foreign fighters affect civil wars in terms of conflict intensity and resolution. In both fields, key debates are identified in the recent scholarship, explain the major shortcomings and gaps, and suggest avenues of future research. For instance, it is important—and hardly avoidable—that epistemological and ontological obstacles lay in the way of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization, because the processes relating to the change of human perception and behavior are extremely difficult to trace. Another point is the frequent—deliberate or unintended—distortion of the testimonies of former combatants, not least Salafi-jihadists, which makes the task of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization and recruitment harder. Identifying avenues of further research, there is a lack of quality first-hand data in the current research on Salafi-inspired radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment. More methodological plurality—particularly in-depth ethnographic studies and quantitative work—is needed, as well as more research on virtual social networks and non-verbal contents.
Out of the 111 armed conflicts that took place worldwide between 1989 and 2000, only seven were interstate conflicts. The others were intrastate in nature. As a result, the last decade and a half witnessed a boom in the publication of works on civil wars. While the percentage of civil wars involving religion increased from 21% to 43% between the 1960s and 1990s, scholars have been rather slow to integrate the study of religion into the overall framework of conflict in general, and of civil wars in particular. Operating under the impact of the secularization thesis and treating religion as an aspect of ethnicity, the literature on civil wars has long embraced ethnonationalism as its subject matter. Yet, since the early 2000s there has been a rapid increase in the number of works focusing on religion and civil wars. While one branch treats religion as a trigger for and an exacerbating factor in conflict, another focuses on religion as a conflict resolution tool.
Turkey is an apt case to ponder the latter as several governments have deployed religion (namely, Sunni Islam) as a tool to suppress ethnic divisions for years. During the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, religion has gained even more visibility as a conflict resolution tool in the 33-year-long armed ethnic conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Yet, the role of religion in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict still remains understudied. Increased attention to this topic could deliver important insights not only for those who conduct research on the Kurdish conflict in Turkey specifically, but also for those who explore the role of religion in civil wars more generally.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, terrorism has gained increased prominence in both scholarship and the media. While international terrorist acts are quite visible and highly publicized, such attacks represent only one type of terrorism within the international system. In fact, a very large number of acts of terrorism take place within the context of civil wars. Given the great disparity in power in most civil wars, it is not surprising that terrorism might be seen as a tactic that is often used by insurgent groups, who may have few resources at their disposal to fight a much stronger opponent.
There is a clear linkage between the concepts of terrorism and civil war, yet until recently scholars have largely approached civil war and terrorism separately. Recent literature has attempted to specifically map the intersection of terrorism and civil war, recognizing the extent to which the two overlap. As expected, the findings suggest that civil war and terrorism are highly linked. Other scholars have endeavoured to explain why rebel groups in some civil wars use terrorism, while others do not. Further research focuses on how governments respond to terrorism during civil war or on how the decisions of external actors to intervene in civil wars are affected by the use of terrorism by insurgent groups.
These studies show that there is too little theorizing on the relationship between civil war and terrorism; while scholars are finally considering these concepts collectively, the full nature of their relationship remains unexplored. Additional research is needed to better understand the various ways that terrorism and civil war overlap, interact, and mutually affect other important international and domestic political processes.
Kristian Skrede Gleditsch
Civil war is the dominant form of armed conflict in the contemporary international system, and most severe lethal armed conflicts in the post-Cold War era have been civil/intrastate rather than interstate. Still, it would be misleading to see these conflicts as purely domestic, as many contemporary civil wars such as Syria display clear transnational characteristics, including inspirations from events in other countries, links to actors in other countries, as well as international interventions. Moreover, civil wars often have important implications for other states, including security concerns and economic impacts. There is a need to focus on the growth and core findings in the literature on transnational dimensions of civil war, in particular on how factors outside a particular state can influence the risk of conflict within states as well as some of the central consequences of domestic conflict for other states or relations between states. This line of research has helped expand our understanding of both civil conflict and interstate war, and that a comparative focus on varieties conflict and attention to the possible transnational dimensions of civil war deserve a prominent role in future research.
Caroline A. Hartzell
Civil wars typically have been terminated by a variety of means, including military victories, negotiated settlements and ceasefires, and “draws.” Three very different historical trends in the means by which civil wars have ended can be identified for the post–World War II period. A number of explanations have been developed to account for those trends, some of which focus on international factors and others on national or actor-level variables. Efforts to explain why civil wars end as they do are considered important because one of the most contested issues among political scientists who study civil wars is how “best” to end a civil war if the goal is to achieve a stable peace. Several factors have contributed to this debate, among them conflicting results produced by various studies on this topic as well as different understandings of the concepts war termination, civil war resolution, peace-building, and stable peace.
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.
Krista E. Wiegand
Despite the decline in interstate wars, there remain dozens of interstate disputes that could erupt into diplomatic crises and evolve into military escalation. By far the most difficult interstate dispute that exists are territorial disputes, followed by maritime and river boundary disputes. These disputes are not only costly for the states involved, but also potentially dangerous for states in the region and allies of disputant states who could become entrapped in armed conflicts. Fortunately, though many disputes remain unresolved and some disputes endure for decades or more than a century, many other disputes are peacefully resolved through conflict management tools.
Understanding the factors that influence conflict management—the means by which governments decide their foreign policy strategies relating to interstate disputes and civil conflicts—is critical to policy makers and scholars interested in the peaceful resolution of such disputes. Though conflict management of territorial and maritime disputes can include a spectrum of management tools, including use of force, most conflict management tools are peaceful, involving direct bilateral negotiations between the disputant states, non-binding third party mediation, or binding legal dispute resolution. Governments most often attempt the most direct dispute resolution method, which is bilateral negotiations, but often, such negotiations break down due to uncompromising positions of the disputing states, leading governments to turn to other resolution methods. There are pros and cons of each of the dispute resolution methods and certain factors will influence the decisions that governments make about the management of their territorial and maritime disputes. Overall, the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes is an important but complicated issue for states both directly involved and indirectly affected by the persistence of such disputes.
Cuba in the second decade of the new millennium remains as interesting as ever, commanding a place on the world stage much greater than its small size would indicate. Fidel Castro passed away in November 2016 after 10 years of retirement from public life, during which time his brother Raúl assumed the leadership of the country and led Cuba through some very important political and economic changes that are still being played out. In 2011, a long delayed Communist Party congress mandated the scaling back of government employment and the re-creation of a services sector of the economy dominated by private economic activity. These market mechanisms have threatened the island’s vaunted egalitarianism but have moved the economy forward after years of stagnation. In 2013 Raúl declared the political reform of a two-term limit on the presidency and in 2018 Miguel Diaz-Canal, a man in his fifties, assumed the presidency, signaling a shift of political control to a generation born after the revolution triumphed in 1959. The final results of these political and economic reforms, especially in the face of continued hostility from the United States, are not clear, but if they succeed it will not be the first time that Cuba will be an inspiration to those in the world seeking a successful model of social justice.
Robert Ralston and Ronald R. Krebs
The field of international relations has long focused on understanding and explaining the causes of war. In contrast, scholars have devoted relatively little attention to war’s consequences. However, scholarly literature on the consequences of violent conflict, including its effects on liberal democracy, has burgeoned and improved in recent decades, since the 1990s.
Existing research shows that security threats, mobilization, and warfare are neither entirely negative nor entirely positive with respect to liberal democracy. On the one hand, in the short run, these pressures erode liberal institutions and values. On the other hand, large-scale mobilization and warfare—both interstate and civil—encourage broader and more intense participation at the individual level and strengthen participation’s structural foundations.
However, despite recent advances, there remains much that we still do not know, which suggests promising avenues for future research. The existing literature has not sufficiently or systematically distinguished among the effects of threat/insecurity, mobilization, and warfare. It has been stronger on empirical findings than on developing the mid-range theories and causal mechanisms that would make sense of those findings. It has been firmer on conflict’s impact on individual attitudes and predilections than on how and when violence reshapes larger political processes and structures. It has had more to say about conflict’s short-run effects than its long-term effects, especially with respect to contestation. The impact of violent conflict on liberal democracy remains a rich soil for future research.
There is a global trend of democratic retrenchment across the world, in both new and more established democracies. The African continent is part of the trend, although there are distinct regional variances on the continent. Yet, despite democratic gains in some states and along some dimensions of democratic rights, the overall trend is that the democratic gains won in the period after 1990 are now eroding. Democracy is challenged in ways that pose threats to freedom of speech, association, and information, the ability to choose political leaders, protection of personal integrity and private life, and the rule of law with recourse to independent courts. As part of a global trend of democratic backsliding, African states have adopted legal restrictions on key civil and political rights that form the basis of democratic rule in a range of countries, from dominant party regimes such as Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Tanzania to competitive electoral democracies like Zambia, Senegal, and Malawi. In South Africa, where democracy and rule of law appear deeply institutionalized, the succession battles and exposed levels of corruption under President Zuma, now removed from the leadership of the ANC party, suggest a weakening of the institutions intended to check executive powers. The September 2017 court annulment of the Kenyan elections suggests that the courts were able to perform an important accountability function and safeguard free and fair elections. Yet, the aftermath of the 2017 Kenyan elections culminated in early 2018 with President Uhuru Kenyatta closing down television and radio stations.
Civil society actors, policy makers, and scholars warn against the democratic backlash and its negative implications for domestic and international politics. Internationally, the African democratic backlash challenges global actors who have long pressured developing countries to politically liberalize. Yet, following what appears to be a global trend of democratic backsliding, space for international influence and the spread of liberal norms is closing rapidly. Domestically, the observed backlash against democracy may pose further social and political threats with wide-reaching implications for development. This may, in turn, challenge the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Whereas closing space for civil society impacts first and foremost on voice and participation, restrictions on civil society ultimately may curb even the most seemingly apolitical activities such as humanitarian relief. At present, there is limited understanding of possible response mechanisms to the conscious attempts at democratic rollback from political elites. How do activists come together to advocate for particular rights? When are activists more effective in generating mass citizen support for their campaigns? How can researchers, international actors, and domestic civil society organizations work together to disseminate and use knowledge about organizational resilience in these circumstances? These will be pressing questions for scholars and activists going forward.