African prisons are some of the least-studied penal institutions anywhere in the world. This is not true everywhere on the continent, as prisons in some countries such as South Africa are adequately studied and have been the subject of commissions of inquiry stretching back to colonial times. It is also difficult to generalize about Africa. For example, there are massive disparities between north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Usually, not much information beyond generalities exists for many of them across the African continent. As a result, many negative perceptions endure that are not reflective of the different systems and the different countries in the region. The focus of the research has often been on specific themes and certain countries only and has generally focused on problems. There is, however, a need to portray a more realistic situation in prisons in all fifty-four countries more accurately, without generalizing, and to provide more solution-orientated research to a variety of issues. This can be partly achieved by comparative investigation. While the conditions in many African prisons are harsh and difficult for inmates, comparatively speaking, prisons in Africa are not the worst in the world. However, they are generally overcrowded, and there is much violence. Issues generally concerning health, food, sanitation, amenities, and other matters remain generally problematic. However, much data is missing from a range of countries. More research is needed to gather more data and to interrogate the diverse prisons in the different countries. There is a need for more holistic research that understands prisons not as isolated institutions but as part of criminal justice systems. There is a need to understand how methods of policing, the conduct of prosecutions, and court processes all have an impact upon conditions within the prisons of a particular country.
Costa Rica has historically faced many of the same challenges as its Central American neighbors, but to a less dramatic extent. This has put the country on a unique path of political and economic development. Even today, it outperforms its neighbors, often including its more developed neighbors, like the United States, in essential measurements of human development, happiness, lack of corruption, and economics. Many Costa Rican scholars have concluded that the nation benefitted from its time as a colonial outcast and from a lack of exploitable resources like gold and silver. The common misbelief that Costa Rica was settled without the destruction of natives, that the country gained a peaceful independence, and that it somehow avoided all the pitfalls of Latin American development is now met with resistance, and a better understanding of Costa Rican history has emerged. Although Costa Rican development has not been without its complications, issues, and bloody epochs, it has been far less extreme and far more open to change, democracy, and progress. Costa Rica was able to gain a semi-peaceful independence, form a strong republic, and endure the “lost decade” better than many other countries in the region. Since 2008, this tiny country has progressed rapidly. It joined CAFTA-DR, elected its first female president, ended 70 years of two-party dominance, survived national-level scandal, legalized gay marriage, and elected a progressive leftist president in 2018 despite a global shift to the right for political leaders. Yet along with progress comes continued struggles. Costa Rica faces new challenges in the 21st century. In the new millennium, it confronts issues of social injustice, rising crime rates, economic dependency on international monetary institutions, corruption, and human rights, to name a few.
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.
Globalization, or increased interconnectedness between world regions, is a dialectical and recursive phenomenon that consequently tends to deepen through time as one set of flows sets off other related or counterflows. This is evident in the history of the phenomenon in Africa, where transcontinental trade, and later investment, were initially small but have grown through different rounds including slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the early 21st-century era of globalization. However, globalization on the continent, as in other places, is not unilinear and has generated a variety of “regional responses” in terms of the construction of organizations such as the African Union and other more popularly based associations. The phenomenon of globalization on the continent is deepening through the information technology “revolution,” which also creates new possibilities for regional forms of association.
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.