Economic development is a political process. The transformation from mass poverty to mass prosperity requires an active and effective state, able to win the compliance of citizens. The empires that have ruled Africa did not bequeath such states, and few African political leaders have chosen to build them. The economic consequences of post-colonial politics can be divided into two distinct phases. From independence to the wave of democratization following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, in most countries increasingly autocratic leaders presided over increasingly ineffective states. Post-1989, under donor pressure to hold multi-party elections, they faced the dilemma of how to satisfy voters while lacking the effective public organizations necessary for them to do so. Gradually, a few countries have found routes out of this dilemma.
The Political Barriers to Development in Africa
Social Media and Elections in Africa
The analysis of the diffusion of social media in Africa and its relevance for politics has been caught in a paradox. On the one hand, social media have been saluted for their newness and for their ability, especially in connection with increasingly accessible portable tools such as mobile phones, to offer a level playing field for individuals to participate in politics and speak to power. On the other hand, this very enthusiasm has evoked relatively tired tropes used to frame the advent of other “new” technologies in the past, stressing what they could do to Africa, rather than exploring what they are doing in Africa. Early research on the relationship between social media and elections in Africa has tended to adopt normative frameworks adapted from the analysis of electoral contests in the Global North, presupposing unfettered citizens using social media to root for their leaders or demand accountability. A more recent wave of empirically grounded studies has embraced a greater conceptual and methodological pluralism, offering more space to analyze the contradictions in how social media are used and abused: how humor can be turned into a powerful tool to contest a type of power that appears overwhelming; or how armies of professional users have exploited people’s credulity of new media as “freer” from power to actually support partisan agenda. Interestingly, this latter approach has brought to light phenomena that have only recently caught global attention, such as the role of “fake news” and misinformation in electoral contests, but have played a determinant role in African politics for at least a decade.
Nigeria: Regional Politics and Dynamics
The politics of Nigeria have often been considered a matter of managing social diversity in a political economy whose extremes have been exaggerated by oil money. But this story is incomplete without thinking instead more deeply about inequality, about political party origins and ideologies as well as identities, and about politics beyond parties and elections. Bureaucracy, mass mobilization, and everyday practice are equally important issues in Nigerian politics as the country moves through another economic transformation. Nigeria’s political structures have been built around questions of managing diversity and allocating resources, and the country’s federal system embeds a tension between how much power is managed from the center and how much is devolved to the constituent states and local governments. As well as parties, legislatures, and executives, security institutions have been prominent in the country’s political formation, and public institutions are both formed around, and are vectors of forming, elite social networks. Partly due to long-standing models of social legitimacy and partly as a result of the kind of identity politics Nigeria has chosen to manage diversity, models of citizenship based on localized belonging are pervasive drivers of political patterning. Political factions and parties, often characterized as election-winning aggregations of patron-client networks, also however embed distinct historical ideological traditions, which chart Nigeria’s movements between liberal capitalism and state-directed development and which have driven both domestic debates and a continental and regional leadership role. Tensions around inequalities and the realm of the political more generally cannot be understood as a matter of governmental institutions alone but bring in religion, gender construction, labor movements, the media, civil society, and new social movements, as well as the “ineffable politics” of tactic, techniques, norms, and practices that fix the realm of the political as a key part of everyday social and economic life.
Postcolonial Approaches to the Study of African Politics
Grace Adeniyi Ogunyankin
Postcolonial theory has been embraced and critiqued by various scholars since the 1980s. Central to the field of postcolonial studies is the examination of colonial episteme and discourse, European racism, and imperial dominance. Broadly, postcolonialism analyzes the effects, and enduring legacies, of colonialism and disavows Eurocentric master-narratives. Postcolonial ideas have been significant to several academic disciplines, largely those in the humanities and social sciences, such as cultural and literary studies, anthropology, political science, history, development studies, geography, urban studies, and gender and sexuality studies. The key scholars that are connected to postcolonial theory, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, and Gayatri Spivak, have been critiqued for grounding their work in the Western theories of postmodernism and poststructuralism. Given the predominant association of these three scholars to postcolonial theory, Africanists have argued that postcolonial theory is dismissive of African theorizing. Moreover, some scholars have noted that Africanists have hesitated to use postcolonial theory because it is too discursive and has limited applicability to material reality. As such, the relevancy of postcolonial theory to Africa has been a repetitive question for decades. Despite this line of questioning, some scholars have posited that there are African thinkers and activists who are intellectual antecedents to the postcolonial thought that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Additionally, other Africanist scholars have engaged with the colonial discursive construction of African subjectivities and societies as inferior. These engagements have been particularly salient in women and gender studies, urban studies and studies of identity and global belonging.
LGBT Rights and Theoretical Perspectives
Francis Kuriakose and Deepa Kylasam Iyer
The question of LGBT rights was first examined as part of gender and sexuality studies in the 1980s, predominantly in the United States. This was a result of the LGBT movement that had articulated the demand for equal rights and freedom of sexual and gender minorities a decade before. Since then, the examination of LGBT rights has traversed multiple theoretical and methodological approaches and breached many disciplinary frontiers. Initially, gay and lesbian studies (GLS) emerged as an approach to understand the notion of LGBT identity using historical evidence. GLS emphasized the objectives of the LGBT movement in articulating its identity as an issue of minority rights within the ambit of litigation and case law. However, the definition of LGBT identity as a homogeneous and fixed category, and the conceptualization of equality rights as the ultimate project of emancipation, was critiqued on grounds of its normative and assimilationist tendencies. Queer theory emerged in the 1990s as a counter-discourse to GLS, using the individual-centric postmodern technique of deconstruction as the method of analysis. This approach opened up scope for multiple identities within the LGBT community to articulate their positionality, and reclaim the possibilities of sexual liberation that GLS had previously obscured. Subsequent scholarship has critiqued GLS and queer theory for incomplete theorization and inadequate representation, based on four types of counter-argument. The first argument is that queer theory, with its emphasis on self as an alternative for wider social interaction, concealed constitutive macrostructures such as neoliberal capitalism, as well as the social basis of identity and power relations. The second argument highlights the incomplete theorization of bisexual and transgender identities within the LGBT community. For example, understanding bisexuality involves questioning the universalism of monosexuality and postmodern notions of linear sexuality, and acknowledging the possibility of an integrated axis of gender and sexuality. Theorization of transgender and transsexual rights requires a grounded approach incorporating new variables such as work and violence in the historiography of transgender life. The third critique comes from decolonial scholarship that argues that intersectionality of race, gender, class, caste, and nationality brings out multiple concerns of social justice that have been rendered invisible by existing theory. The fourth critique emerged from family studies and clinical psychology, that used queer theory to ask questions about definitions of all family structures outside the couple norm, including non-reproductive heterosexuality, polyamorous relationships, and non-marital sexual unions. These critiques have allowed new questions to emerge as part of LGBT rights within the existing traditions, and enabled the question of LGBT rights to be considered across new disciplinary fronts. For example, the incorporation of the “queer” variable in hitherto technical disciplines such as economics, finance, and management is a development of the early-21st-century scholarship. In particular, the introduction of LGBT rights in economics to expand human capabilities has policy implications as it widens and mainstreams access of opportunities for LGBT communities through consumption, trade, education, employment, and social benefits, thereby expanding the actualization of LGBT rights.
Sovereignty as a Resource and Curse in Africa
The sovereignty of postcolonial African states is largely derived from their recognition by other states and by the United Nations, irrespective of their actual effectiveness. Such international legal sovereignty has been a resource to weak African states, allowing them to endure against the odds, and to their rulers who have instrumentalized it to foster their domestic authority and domination. Yet, African sovereignty has also been a curse. Being exogenous to domestic social and political relations, it tends to isolate and shield rulers from the ruled and predisposes state institutions toward predation. It also standardizes and homogenizes the continent’s institutional landscape in disregard to the wealth and promise of effective institutional arrangements on the ground, to which it denies legitimacy. Despite the equilibrium properties of the African sovereignty regime, there might be opportunities to tweak the system in ways that could unleash more effective and accountable state and nonstate institutions.