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Article

Ethnic cleavages are present in many elections across the continent, and scholars frequently view ethnic mobilization as the default way in which politicians appeal to African voters. Ethnic electoral patterns already emerged in many countries during the first mass elections around the time of independence and they continue to be visible to this day. The prevalence of ethnic politics has been commonly seen as a result of limited ideological and programmatic debates in African elections and the centrality of ethnic networks in voters’ access to scarce resources. Yet, early-21st-century scholarship increasingly reveals the varied degrees in which ethnicity plays a role in African political contests, raising the question of when do politicians engage in alternative forms of electoral mobilization? And when are voters inclined to vote for candidates outside their ethnic group? Emerging scholarship suggests that it is easier for politicians to pursue programmatic and populist campaigns that do not cater to specific ethnic groups in cities rather than in rural areas where politicians rarely avoid clientelist strategies. Other research also suggests that the nature of social organization and the composition of rural areas can determine whether clientelist strategies are organized along ethnic lines or not.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

On a continent where the majority of people are poor, do political parties represent class cleavages? Do parties have strong linkages to ordinary voters? Do economic policies address their needs? In the initial years following democratic transitions across the African continent in the 1990s, the answers to such questions were negative. Clientelism and patronage were the principal means by which parties interacted with their constituencies; elites and elite interests determined the objectives of political parties; voters in many African countries shifted parties frequently; and neoliberal economic policies largely reflected the preferences of foreign donors and international financial institutions. As parties and voters have adjusted to the institutional arrangements and political demands associated with democracy, a more heterogeneous political landscape has materialized since 2010. Party systems demonstrate distinct patterns of variation, from the more stable, institutionalized systems in Ghana and Botswana to fluid, inchoate configurations in Benin and Malawi. These variations in the degree to which party systems have institutionalized affect economic policy choices by parties and those who benefit from them. Furthermore, democratic politics has intensified pressures on ruling parties to provide goods such as electricity and education. Here too, patterns of goods provision show substantial variation over time and across countries, calling attention to the differences in the incentives and capacities of parties to respond to distributive demands by the electorate. To explore the political and economic heterogeneity of contemporary Africa, scholars have combined well-established qualitative and comparative approaches with new analytical tools. The use of cross-national public opinion surveys, field and survey experiments, satellite imagery, and geo-coded data have enabled more systematic, fine-grained study of the economic determinants of party system competition, economic voting, the distribution of goods, and the management of private sector development by ruling parties in recent years. These empirical approaches enrich understanding of the relationship between parties and political economy in Africa and facilitate more fruitful comparisons with other regions of the world.

Article

George M. Bob-Milliar

Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015. Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.

Article

Danielle Resnick

Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.

Article

Despite predictions that urbanization, economic development and globalization would lead to the recession of religion from public life, populations around the world continue to be highly religious. This pattern holds in most parts of the Global South and also in some advanced industrial democracies in the North, including in the United States. In grappling with the influence (or lack thereof) of religion on political life, a growing body of literature pays attention to how clergy–congregant communication might shape listeners’ political attitudes and behaviors. Considerable debate remains as to whether clergy–congregant communication is likely to change political attitudes and behavior, but there is a greater consensus around the idea that exposure to religious communication can at the very least prime (that is, increase the salience of) certain considerations that in turn affect how people evaluate political issues and whether they participate in politics. Religious communication is more likely to exert a persuasive and a priming influence among those already inclined to select into the communication and when the source of the communication is credible. More research is needed on the duration of religious primes and on the effects of religious communication in different political and social contexts around the world.

Article

Jeremy Seekings

The emerging literature on the politics of social protection in Africa provides insights into the ways in which the unevenly changing character of representative democracy shapes processes of public policymaking in practice. Reforms are widely on the agenda, in part as a result of their advocacy by diverse international organizations and aid donors. But there are many obstacles between the policy agenda and policymaking (and implementation). In many countries, political elites hold conservative views on cash transfer programs. The institutionalization of regular and nominally contested elections has rarely resulted in significant pressures from below for pro-poor programmatic social policy reforms. In some countries, “democratic” politics continues to revolve around competition for patronage rather than programmatic reform. In others, voters themselves seem to prioritize other programs (especially agricultural subsidies) ahead of social protection. Nonetheless, a growing number of competitively elected governments have introduced reforms, as have some semi-democratic or authoritarian regimes. For both more and less democratic governments, regime legitimation through apparently more inclusive development seems to be a more powerful factor than voter pressure.

Article

Matthias Basedau

Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability. Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.