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.
George M. Bob-Milliar
Carlos Meléndez and Sebastián Umpierrez de Reguero
Despite existing literature that often conflates the terms party membership and party activism, the first is a formal ascription with a given party organization, while the second entails a set of practices, whether sporadic, informal, or devoted, that (a group of) individuals perform to support a political party either during an electoral campaign or more permanently, independently of being enrolled in the party or not. Party members and activists can be analyzed from both the normative model of democracy and the inner functioning of political parties. Focusing on Latin America, party membership and party activism are related to various types of party organizations, social cleavages, and party identification. Individuals join, and/or work for, parties to gain tangible benefits, information, social advantages, and influence, as well as mental satisfaction, without which they could lose financial resources, time, and alternative opportunities. Moreover, prior contributions on party membership and activism based on Latin American countries has emphasized the functions party supporters have as connectors between the citizenry and the party organizations. In this regard, scholars conceive members’ participation not only as a mechanism for party rootedness (“vertical” function), but also as a connection between social and partisan arenas (“horizontal” function). In the region, the research area of party membership and activism portrays virtues and limitations in methodological terms both at the aggregate and the individual level. As a future research agenda, party membership and activism in Latin America should be further studied using comparative strategies, avoiding the pitfalls of public opinion research, not to mention making additional efforts to keep the two terms conceptually distinct. Also, party members and activists can be explored in transnational perspective, joining forces with the blooming literature of political party abroad.