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Article

Historical Approaches to African Politics  

Steven Pierce

Since the late 1980s, historians have paid increasing attention to party politics and political movements in Africa. Recent work has emphasized the importance of World War II in transforming political constituencies, mobilizing opposition to colonial regimes, and encouraging new political imaginaries. Documenting these processes has also enabled a richer appreciation of the complexity of African publics, and the ongoing power demanded and asserted by women as well as men, non-elites as well as elites. In this way, the role of history has often been to tell important stories from the bottom up. Africanist historians’ interdisciplinary research methodologies, emphasizing local discourses and cultural frames, have also contributed to an increased understanding of the specificities of political participation and state practices in African countries. In turn, these insights represent a useful addition to—and in some cases revision of—existing accounts of “weak” African states and other notions of African dysfunction.

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Oil and the International Politics of the African State  

Cyril Obi

Recent discoveries of oil in some African countries have rekindled a debate about its place in development and international politics. The debate has pitched those viewing oil as a catalyst for development and a more assertive Africa in global politics against others who point to the negative impact of oil on older established African oil-producing states. Oil as a highly priced geopolitical and strategic commodity will for the foreseeable future shape relations between African petro-states and other global actors, particularly international oil companies and energy-dependent established and emerging global powers. The structural position of specific African petro-states in the global political economy and history, and the nature of their leadership, are defining factors in the diverse aspects of local and international politics, including the prospects for development and a more assertive Africa in international politics.

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The Political Economy of War and Violence in Africa: A Hegelian and Marxist Interpretation  

Patience Kabamba

African history tells us of a world dominated by capitalism whose supreme value is profitability; a world where profit is the unsurpassable human achievement. This political economy, quite literally, means the production and redistribution of mass violence across the continent. In such a world, all human relations have turned into merchandise. A manifestation of this appears in the attitude of “having” such that to “be” is reduced to “have.” This capitalist process turns objects into nature, and nature into objects, particularly in Africa, where people have become victims of the fetish of merchandise, as well as the perpetuators. Analyzing the structural violence created by colonial power dynamics from a Marxian and Hegelian perspective reveals the opposite of passivity for all involved. The colonial powers searched for profit, intellectualized the necessity of profit, and formed and perpetuated a dialectic of social relations in such a way that they related to profit. These intentional activities reduced desire, joy, and fear into social relations driven by the profit motive. The legacy of these dynamics arises from history and are best understood in that context. Although history has a certain inertia and velocity, the movement of these issues are dialectical and leave the possibility for choice open, so various actors have taken diverse paths. Some post-colonial African leaders joined the world of profit and led their countries to violence and wars. Others resisted but were overwhelmed by the democratic dictatorship of merchandise. Wars and mass violence in Africa are the result of both the colonial structural violence caused by the search for profit and the choices many African leaders made to follow merchandised and clientelized types of relationships with their own people. The historical (Real, Retold, and Radical), genealogical, and ontological histories were the driving forces that caused the violence and resulted in contemporary African bloodshed.

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Political Parties and Regime Outcomes in Multiparty Africa  

Adrienne LeBas

Since the early 1990s, most African countries have experimented with multiparty elections, but the building and institutionalization of political parties has proven difficult. In many countries, parties—including those holding power—are fluid, volatile, and lack grassroots structures. In others, the party landscape remains surprisingly similar to Van de Walle’s assessment: “[consisting] of a dominant presidential party surrounded by a large number of small, highly volatile parties.” As Van de Walle points out, ruling parties—including the ex-single parties that continue to rule in many of Africa’s hybrid regimes—have advantages that mean that elections are not fought on a level playing field. Ruling parties may use repression against challengers, or they may manipulate voter registration, constituency redistricting, and other aspects of electoral administration. Incumbents can also take advantage of state resources, and a decline in patronage resources has been a powerful driver of electoral turnover in regions. But differences in election competitiveness in Africa are not only a function of repression, manipulation, or access to patronage. Differences in both ruling party and opposition party organizations have independent effects on parties’ ability to win elections, on the loyalty of mass constituencies, and on the conduct of election campaigns. New scholarship has started to take these differences in party organization seriously, and this will enrich our understanding of how voters in sub-Saharan Africa navigate political choice. Research on parties and party systems highlights the degree to which these factors differ across countries and over time, complicating standard narratives that often privilege clientelism and ethnicity as the primary—and largely uniform—influences on voter behavior and government accountability on the continent.

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Federalism and Regional Politics in Africa  

Asnake Kefale

During the anticolonial struggle and immediately after independence, African political leaders were preoccupied with the creation of a “nation-state.” As a result, many of postcolonial African leaders not only promoted national unity but also instituted centralized governance. Unity and centralization were considered important antidotes to the challenges of consolidating postcolonial states, which by and large were created by the partitioning of the continent by colonial powers. As a result, many of the postcolonial leaders were hostile to federalism in general and power-sharing in particular. This explains why many of the federal arrangements, which were created by departing colonial powers, were dismantled within the first few years after independence. In contrast to the earlier periods, the 1990s could be regarded as a turning point for federalism and devolution of power in the continent. Among African states, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa could be considered fully fledged federations, which have constitutionally devolved power to different tiers of governments. There is also an ongoing attempt to establish a federal system in war-torn Somalia. Some argue that, although federalism does not have a stellar record in postcolonial Africa, it is possible to contend that in the foreseeable future the importance of federalism will grow in the continent given the challenges that many African countries face in the management of their ethnolinguistic diversity. This is evidenced by the increasing application of the federalist principles of decentralization by several African countries.

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Reconsidering African Elections  

Carolien van Ham and Staffan Lindberg

The quality of elections in Africa demonstrates considerable progress from the early attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to the increasingly democratic era following the end of the Cold War. In terms of scope, 46 of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa now select the most powerful public offices (i.e., the executive and/or legislature) via elections, and reserved power domains have become relatively uncommon. In terms of choice, single-party elections, once so common across Africa, have now all but vanished from the continent. However, the integrity of elections still varies widely, ranging from elections with serious irregularities to elections that are fully free and fair. Even so, considerable progress is apparent over the last three decades. A full 47% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa now hold elections that are free and fair or only involve minor irregularities. Equally important, electoral interruptions in the form of coup d’état, civil war, or annulment of elections have become very rare. Africa is also a continent where the contemporary trend of elections generating broader democratization is particularly palpable. By providing opportunities for citizens to remove incumbents from office and generating expansion of civil liberties after elections are over, stimulating citizens and other actors to increase pressure for more democratic freedoms, elections seem on average to have been conducive to democratic developments in Africa. Elections also increasingly lead to turnovers, especially elections of high electoral integrity, where on average 34% are associated with alternations in power. Taking a long-term view on developments from 1960 until 2017, African elections have seen an impressive increase in quality over time, and provide a much more significant contribution to democratization in sub-Saharan Africa than is often acknowledged in the literature.

Article

Election Campaigns and Political Mobilization In Africa  

Dan Paget

Politicians mobilize people to vote by devising messages and imparting them to those people. Many studies examine African electioneering through a framework that distinguishes between programmatic, clientelist and charismatic appeals. Some, but not all, African politicians appeal to people by adopting particular policy positions, the strict sense of “programmatic appeals.” However, almost all solicit peoples’ support by stressing their sincere intentions and their abilities to pursue uncontroversial aspects of public policy, otherwise known as “valence appeals.” Parties’ historic records and their locations in government or opposition affect which issues they can claim to own and which they stress in their campaigns. While appeals over public policy are commonplace in African electoral politics, so too is clientelism. Many politicians give voters gifts, in the form of favorable distributions of public service delivery, in-kind goods, and cash. However, few of these gifts constitute contingent exchanges of goods for votes. Instead, political largesse is used to flatter, to impress and to convince voters of politicians’ virtue. In this respect, public policy and clientelism frequently appear in African elections side-by-side. “Political appeals” is employed by many as an organizing concept which orders the study of political messages. It sheds light on how electoral politics affects public policy. However, it also obscures. A separate canon of work studies political discourses in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the most studied subjects in this strain of the literature is populism. African populisms have been conceived of by some as discourses that unite disparate groups against an elite, and as an electoral strategy that draws together particular constituencies by others. Whichever definition one takes, African populists are rare. Only a handful have been identified. Nationalists are much more common in sub-Saharan Africa. Politicians and parties have constructed national missions that act as master discourses, which subsume and order all manner of political issues. Some politicians that employ nationalist discourses stress their liberation credentials as qualifications to govern and delegitimize opponents who did not participate in the struggle. National revolutions or liberations are portrayed as ongoing projects with indefinite points of completion which give nationalism its regenerative qualities. Other nationalisms stress threats from rival groups, whether strangers within the nation’s borders, or nefarious forces abroad. Likewise, ethnic discourses are commonplace in sub-Saharan Africa, but their rhetorical contents differ. Some valorize an ethnic people. Other express an ethnic group’s victimhood, or grievances, or fear of rival group threats. Equally, the goals that they espouse differ. Some propose compensation, others reconciliation, others still the capture of the central state, the devolution of state power, or the creation of a separate state of their own. Equally, they are contested and used by a variety of actors. Ethnicities are created from both above and below. They are used not only to mobilize people for mass actions to but make normative claims on politicians. More broadly, politicians strive to develop conceptions of political morality. They present themselves as moral leaders and recharacterize various political issues as questions of morality or moral character. Putting these common discursive frames aside, African politicians employ any number of esoteric discursive frames which are not found elsewhere. Grand discourses aside, African politicians employ numerous rhetorical and symbolic techniques to suggest, reframe, perform and charm. While messages win people’s support, those messages must be imparted, through mass media or face-to-face contact. Political parties mobilize enormous resources to expose people to their messages on the ground. The ground campaign has received little attention to date, but a scattering of studies show that parties strive to gain local presence. Some establish branches and others recruit local actors. They rely on these local actors to organize their ground campaigns and employ a variety of targeting strategies.

Article

International Relations in Africa in Theory and Practice  

Timothy M. Shaw

One-quarter of the world’s states are African and can contribute to international relations theory and practice as the North enters a period of ambivalence and begins to retreat from positive global engagement. Each actor based in or concerned about the African continent, state and non-state alike, advances a foreign policy to reflect its interests, often in coalition with others. East-South relations and a non-Western world, as well as Brazil, Russia, China, India, and South Africa, are important in international development and emerging powers in Africa. The diversion away from international order and peace of the United States under President Donald Trump, the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Theresa May, and the European Union, the latter characterized by unanticipated immigration and endless Eurozone crises, can be positive for African agency and development if the continent can seize the unprecedented space to advance its own developmental states and regionalisms. Such possibilities of Africa’s enhanced prospects are situated in terms of a changing global political economy in which new economies, companies, and technologies are emerging along with contrary, nontraditional security threats. In response, novel forms of transnational “network” governance are being conceived and charted to advance sustainable developmental states and regionalisms through innovative foreign policy stances outside established, but increasingly dysfunctional and ossified, interstate institutions.

Article

Democratic Rollback in Africa  

Lise Rakner

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.

Article

Trust and Social Relations in African Politics  

Dominic Burbidge

Africa is a place of low social trust. This fact is significant for understanding the politics and economics of the region, whether for questions of national unity or economic coordination and growth. One of the central ways in which trust and social relations have come to be examined within the social sciences is through the notion of social capital, defined as the norms and networks that enable collective action. Use of the concept of social capital has mushroomed in popularity within academia since the 1980s and has been used within African studies to interpret the developmental effects of social relations. It is important to review how researchers have been synthesizing the study of African societies with the social capital approach, and offer suggestions on how this can be better achieved. Specifically, there is contradiction between the view that social capital is useful for economic development and the view that social capital means a community can decide its own economic goals. Students of social capital in Africa must accept that the cultural and normative diversity of the continent necessitates appreciation of the diverse aims of social networks. This means a rejection both of modernist theories of development and postmodern reduction of human relations to forms of power exchange. Future research on trust and social capital in Africa must give weight to community articulations of motivations to trust, what activities count as communal, and what new economic cultures are being formed as a result of present communal varieties.

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China and Political Governance in Africa  

Ian Taylor

China’s engagement in Africa since around 2000 has been exponential, and Beijing is now perhaps the major player on the continent. With this has come criticism, mainly but not exclusively from the West, which has berated China for turning a blind eye to malgovernance. Initially, China sought to pretend that it was only in Africa for economic reasons and that politics were irrelevant. However, as China’s stake in different African countries developed, Beijing was forced to acknowledge that governance was indeed a factor that needed consideration. This realization was perhaps crystallized around the situation in Sudan. A relative shift in China’s position was hence observed. Under Xi Jinping, however, a newly confident China has been promoting its own definitions of governance, something that enjoys broad support among many African leaders. A clash of definitions as to what constitutes governance and development between China and the West is now quite apparent.

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Political Song in Africa  

Liz Gunner

Song is not a topic that is automatically associated with politics in many countries in the world. If it is, it may be an occasional association, one linked perhaps to times of war and the marching songs of soldiers, or to the rise to power of a particular leader who might manipulate his followers by appealing to their love of a particular brand of folk heritage and so to love of a nation. In Africa, however, song and the political are closely associated, and it is true to say that in many African nations a knowledge of how political song works is essential to being part of a particular community or political party, or even to having a sense of who one is and where one comes from. Some might even say that if you cannot sing, in a political sense you are not a fully operational member of society. Song in Africa has a presence in the political space and the public sphere of many countries, but it need not be evident all the time. It can be a resource that knowledgeable citizens draw on at times of pressure or of celebration or even of mourning, when, for instance, singing for a lost leader provides comfort to singers and the wider community alike. A nation can grieve in song, as was the case in South Africa at the death of former president Nelson Mandela. Political song can be a veritable arsenal of energy for those struggling for a better order, and it features frequently in histories of the nationalist struggles of the 1950s and 1960s on the continent, particularly in southern Africa. It has a place too in the histories of the continent’s cities, which were often centers of dynamic growth and social change, where it provides a rich mix of political music and popular culture. The many different expressions and guises of political song on the African continent are in some ways as unpredictable as they are prevalent. Political song has also a certain fragility. Certain bodies of song can be passed over, erased, or substituted by those more dominant. If song can encapsulate memories, ideas, events, and people, those songs can also fall away. Song can in a sense enable a community to imagine itself, and change and sometimes a particular gifted singer can bring about this shift of class, consciousness, and identity, as is the case in the late-19th-century community in Zanzibar. It can also be used as a weapon of protest and defiance in times of struggle, but also as a means of control. All these points about political song in Africa illustrate why it is important as a topic of research.

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Environmental Governance and the (Re-)Making of the African State  

Maano Ramutsindela and Bram Büscher

State formation processes that are historically associated with the emergence of the modern state as well as the post-colony have been punctuated by the rise of environmentalism, especially the need for nation-states to respond to, as well as manage environmental challenges. Responses to these challenges by multiple actors such as the state, industry, environmental nongovernmental organizations, and financial institutions culminate in environmental governance and in the co-constitution of environment and state making. The state–environment relations have produced new forms of governmentality that refocus the activities of the state toward globally defined environmental agendas. In Africa attempts by multiple actors to manage the environment have transformed the state in five principal ways: (1) They enable global capitalism to enroll African environments in a niche area for capital accumulation but also tie up African governments to environmentally related business interests; (2) environmental governance in Africa and elsewhere leads to resistance and contestations over natural resources that in turn shape the relationship between the state and its citizens; (3) global environmental issues have led to environmental solidarity among African states, which they use to negotiate environmental agreements at the international stage; (4) environmental threats such as the poaching of wildlife in Africa integrate African states into global security frameworks that in effect threaten or corrode the integrity of the African state; and (5) environmental challenges and the opportunities that come with environmental solutions create conditions for competition among African states as well as the formation of new alliances among states. These outcomes highlight the significance of the state–environment nexus in the continuous (re-)making of the African state.

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West Africa: Civil–Military Relations From a Colonial Perspective  

Naila Salihu

Civil–military relations is traditionally concerned with the nature and interaction among three societal actors namely military institutions, political elites, and the citizenry. The nature of this complex relationship and whether it is harmonious to prevent military intervention in politics depends on how these societal actors cooperate on certain societal variables. Civil–military relations of West African countries are influenced by those countries’ colonial and postindependence experiences. The military establishments of most African states were birthed from colonial armies. Historically rooted pathologies about the role of the security and defense forces in society created deep cleavages between state and the military, and their relations to political authority on the one hand, and society on the other. The use of African armies for political and imperialist purposes during the colonial era and their roles in the struggle for independence were important factors in shaping the behavior of African armies after independence. Most colonial states did not attain independence with indigenous, nationalist-oriented military institutions. The transition of colonial regiments into the national armies of newly independent states were met with challenges in terms of establishing legitimacy and effectiveness, as these institutions had been set up under conditions that were not ideally suited to the needs of new states. Most postindependence African leaders missed the opportunity to build democratic and national militaries; instead, they maintained the status quo, as these leaders appeared more interested in building large armies for the purposes of regime stability. Successive political leaders resorted to deleterious devices such as patron–client systems, ethnic manipulation, and politicization of the military. These practices undermined the professionalism of the security apparatus and provided breeding grounds for pretorian tendencies. As the military became conscious of their political power, coups d’état became a common feature in the political dispensation of West African states. Frequent military interventions in West Africa often came with destabilizing consequences such as devastating military rules, intra-military conflicts, insurgencies, and even civil wars. Even in those countries where civil wars did not occur, the military were influential in the political landscape, in which autocratic regimes ruled with an iron hand and often used the military to inflict severe hardship on the citizens. With the return to constitutional democracies from the late 1980s, it was widely expected the role or influence of the military in the political space would be diminished as those states became more professional and democratic. However, coups d’état have reduced in the region, rather than going away completely, and the military as a state institution with a monopoly over legitimate force remains a very strong political actor, even under civilian governments. Former metropoles have been providing defense and security assistance programs to West African states for diverse reasons, including maintaining strategic hold on former colonies. Some of these interventions that aim at professionalization of the military have produced mixed outcomes in the region. In Anglophone West Africa, the British colonial policy of indirect rule contributed to the class division between the upper class (civilian politicians) and the lower class (the military and common people). This, coupled with the use of the military as agents of repression to safeguard colonial interests, created a popular dislike and negative image of colonial armies. State militaries went on to become destabilizing forces in political processes across the region. After independence, United Kingdom maintained a fluctuating presence in its former colonies due to its imperial past and strategic interests. In French West Africa, Africans were recruited from French colonies into the French army serve France’s military interests. African soldiers played diverse roles in their countries’ struggles for independence, which led to the military’s having a central role in the politics of postindependence Francophone states. France’s Africa policy differs from that of other former colonial powers in terms of its postindependence engagements with former colonies. In other parts of West Africa, Portuguese colonialism contributed to the creation of a central role for national liberation forces, which metamorphosed into postindependence military and political actors, with destabilizing consequences.

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The Politics of Language Education in Africa  

Russell H. Kaschula and Michael M. Kretzer

Language policies in sub-Saharan African nations emerge out of specific political, historical, socioeconomic, and linguistic conditions. Education plays a crucial role for all spheres of language policy. Policies either upgrade or downgrade indigenous languages through their application at various educational institutions. The most significant example is the selection of the language(s) used as languages of learning and teaching at higher-education institutions. The region’s colonial history also influences the language policies of the independent African states. Language policy in Senegal is an example of a francophone country focusing on a linguistic assimilation policy in which minor reforms in favor of indigenous languages have taken place. Rwanda’s language policy is unique as the former francophone nation now uses English as an exoglossic language in a type of hybrid language policy. Botswana is an example of an anglophone country that follows a language policy that is dominated by a very close connection to the notion of nation-building through its concentration on a single language, Setswana, alongside English. Tanzania is an anglophone African country whose policy focuses on Kiswahili, which is one of the very few indigenous and endoglossic languages. Kiswahili is broadly used in Tanzanian educational institutions until the tertiary level, but its use as medium of instruction focuses on the primary level. South Africa demonstrates the very close relationship between general political decisions and language policy and vice versa. Language policy decisions are never neutral and are influenced by the politics of a specific country. As a result, individual and societal language attitudes influence language policies. In addition to this, the overt and official language policy on a macro level may differ from the implementation of such policies on a micro level. At the micro level, practice can include covert language practices by various stakeholders.

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Land-Related Conflict and Electoral Politics in Africa  

Catherine Boone

Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.

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The Sahel: Regional Politics and Dynamics  

Sebastian Elischer

Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Chad are some of least researched countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Since independence from France in 1960 these four countries have experienced two distinct yet interrelated struggles: the struggle for statehood and the struggle for democracy. Each country has experienced violent conflict between the central authorities in the capitals and security challengers on the peripheries. Prominent examples are the Tuareg uprisings in Niger and Mali, the various rebel insurgencies in Chad, and the conflict between black Africans and Arabs in Mauritania. The emergence of jihadi-Salafi groups in the West African sub-region affects all four countries and poses a particularly strong security challenge to Mali. All these conflicts are unresolved. The liberalization of the political sphere in the late 1980s and early 1990s has led to considerable political diversity across the Sahel. In Niger and Mali meaningful multiparty competition and basic civil liberties have taken root despite many setbacks. Civil society is strong and in the past has successfully mobilized against autocratic tendencies. In Mauritania and Chad, democratic institutions exist on paper as autocratic rulers have managed to stay in office. The national armed forces remain the preeminent political actors. Civil society is not strong enough to achieve political change for the better. Stagnant living conditions, social immobility, the ongoing war against Islamic terrorism, and weak accountability mechanisms remain the most important political challenges for the Sahel.

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Radio as a Political Medium in Africa  

Harri Englund

Radio’s affordability, portability, and use of local languages have long granted it a special status among mass media in Africa. Its development across the continent has followed remarkably similar paths despite clear differences in different countries’ language policies, economic fortunes, and political transformations. Common to many countries has been the virtual monopoly over the airwaves enjoyed by the state or parastate broadcasting corporations during the first decades of independence. The wave of democratization since the late 1980s has brought important changes to the constitutional and economic landscape in radio broadcasting. Although private, religious, and community stations have filled the airwaves in many countries, it is also important to recognize the many subtle ways in which state-controlled radio broadcasting, both before and after independence, could include alternative ideas, particularly in cultural and sports programming. By the same token, radio’s culpability in orchestrating oppression—or even genocide, as in Rwanda’s case—stands to be examined critically. Liberalized airwaves, on the other hand, draw attention to developments that find parallels in radio history elsewhere in the world. They include radio’s capacity to mediate intimacy between radio personalities and their listeners in a way that few other media can. They also become apparent in radio’s uses in encouraging participation and interaction among ordinary citizens through phone-in programs that build on the rapid uptake of mobile telephony across Africa. Such developments call for a notion of politics that makes it possible to observe radio’s influence across the domains of formal politics, religion, and commercial interests.

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Interviews as a Means to Understand (and Silence) Contemporary Africa and Its Voices  

Patrycja Stys

Interviewing is commonly utilized in all disciplines of the social sciences. Across Africa, interviews are undertaken in a variety of diverse contexts by researchers from within and without the continent. Although the challenges many face are context specific, they are certainly not Africa specific: from research design and preparation, to implementation in cross-cultural, extremely rural, or conflict-affected environments. In order to overcome these challenges, researchers must first recognize that interview data encompass much more than respondents’ answers to posed questions. Interview data, obtained in the process of organizing and conducting interviews, are the information collected before, during, and after the interview encounter; and analyses of the context in which they are pursued, including encountered difficulties. Together, these rich data further our understanding of contemporary Africa, as they do of other continents. It is rare, however, for published outputs to fully engage with the processes of preparing for, enacting, and interpreting the interview encounter. Such omissions limit our understanding of the research process and impede methodological transparency, thereby obscuring possible biases in data and the conclusions drawn from it.

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Democracy Promotion in Africa  

Oda van Cranenburgh

Democracy promotion in Africa became an increasingly important priority for Western donors in the late 1980s, with a growing normative consensus in support of democracy and human rights since that time. In practice, however, democracy promotion policies suffer from some flaws and inconsistencies and the nature of Africa’s hybrid and ambiguous regimes present severe challenges. The available evidence suggests that donor policies often reflect implicit concepts and theories that do not always reflect the reality on the ground. Moreover, since the turn of the millennium competing economic or strategic interests often trump the promotion of democracy and human rights. Significantly, donors do not always operate in the same way. More specifically, a review of recent activity suggests that donor governments tend to use a negative linkage strategy when they set conditions for economic aid and a positive linkage strategy when they support democratic institutions and processes. In both strategies, competitive elections occupy a central place. While this electoral focus entails limitations, the approach is marked by a clear focus and operationalization. By contrast, broader political approaches target human rights and the rule of law and strengthening of political institutions. These ambitious goals are difficult to achieve. Such policies work when they are based on adequate analysis of the specific institutional context, but they often run up against political challenges that are beyond the control of donors. The scholarship on democracy promotion agrees that positive change can be achieved where internal conditions are favorable and when policies take into account the specific political and institutional contexts in African countries. Broader long-term regime change, however, depends primarily on internal conditions, such as social and economic development, and requires donors to go beyond the “easy part” and address specific African contexts and specific institutional problems.