81-100 of 127 Results

  • Keywords: Africa x
Clear all

Article

Iginio Gagliardone

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.

Article

Charismatic Pentecostalism constitutes perhaps the most important contemporary movement in sub-Saharan Africa, combining extremely rapid growth with an informal political presence. The movement has expanded in Africa by bringing traditional spirituality into a modern setting, offering social and economic hope to both the upwardly mobile and the destitute. Despite having minority status, its messages of pending prosperity and spiritual warfare, and its astute exploitation of mass media, have positioned the Charismatic Pentecostal movement to exert important if informal influence on politics in the region. It is reshaping the channels through which resources flow from Big Men to their followers; it is implicating new and different international actors; and it is allowing followers to live fully within the church through the provision of social services. Perhaps most importantly, the movement has introduced language of national identity—of good and evil, and Christian nations—that captivates just as it divides. Its potential to influence the formal politics of institutions and parties is limited by the absence of organizational hierarchy and a central focus on remaking the individual rather than addressing social injustices. Nevertheless, by informal means, the movement has “Pentecostalized” politics in many African countries.

Article

Paul Nugent

African borders, which mostly follow the contours of the former colonies, are widely regarded as artificial and yet have enjoyed remarkable longevity. On the one hand, there have been relatively few serious secessionist and/or irredentist bids. On the other hand, a limited number of border disputes have been settled and mostly without recourse to conflict. This is often attributed to the willingness of states to accept the principle of the intangibility of borders inherited from colonialism and the associated legal principle of uti possidetis. Most claims to secession are based on a preexisting sense of territoriality, whereas there are relatively few that are premised on the rights of peoples to self-determination. It has been pointed out that claims to secession are often tabled as a bargaining position rather than as a nonnegotiable demand. However, the secession of South Sudan has created a genuine precedent, and there has been an upsurge of secessionist movements that reflects this reality. In addition, there has been a proliferation of fresh border disputes, which reflects the increased competition for valuable resources such as oil. This would suggest that some of the landscape of border politics is undergoing a shift. However, a number of factors continue to work in favor of the reproduction of existing borders. Paradoxically, the fact that guerrilla insurgencies tend to breed in borderlands, from where movements either aspire to take over the existing state or seek to carve out zones of de facto control, means that the borders themselves are not challenged. War economies depend on transboundary flows in which local populations themselves are deeply invested. Moreover, the flight of displaced populations and refugees toward borders may create greater insecurity at the margins but also tends to reinforce borders in both a legal and a practical sense. Finally, the struggle to determine the basis on which trade and transport is managed involves associational actors operating at the national level. Equally, fishermen, herders, farmers, and other local actors frequently invoke national affiliations to justify their own right to exploit resources within border zones. At the border itself, one observes a convergence of international, national, and local political scales in a particularly striking manner.

Article

Social capital is a slippery concept that signifies different things for different authors, and its uses are not always consistent. Despite this lack of consensus, most scholars agree on its basic idea: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Participation or membership in social networks and voluntary organizations creates norms and values such as trust, cooperation, and reciprocity that lead to productive state, institutional performance, and democratic communities. Social interactions and connections expand access to information and political ideas, nurture active citizens, stimulate individual participation in politics, collective decision-making, and policy formulation, which increase governmental accountability. In recent years, civil society actors in Africa have been emboldened to build social capital in response to restrictions and attacks on civil and political liberties, creeping authoritarianism, constitutional manipulations, and lack of governmental accountability. However, there are formidable challenges to generating social capital due to the character of civil society, its structural weaknesses and internal contradictions, socio-cultural factors, and limitations from the state.

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

Although militias have received increasing scholarly attention, the concept itself remains contested by those who study it. Why? And how does this impact contemporary scholarship on political violence? To answer these questions, we can focus on the field of militia studies in post–Cold War sub-Saharan Africa, an area where militia studies have flourished in the past several decades. Virtually all scholars of militias in post–Cold War Africa describe militias as fluid and changing such that they defy easy definition. As a result, scholars offer complex descriptors that incorporate both descriptive and analytic elements, thereby offering nuanced explanations for the role of militias in violent conflict. Yet the ongoing tension between accurate description and analytic definition has also produced a body of literature that is diffuse and internally inconsistent, in which scholars employ conflicting definitions of militias, different data sources, and often incompatible methods of analysis. As a result, militia studies yield few externally valid comparative insights and have limited analytic power. The cumulative effect is a schizophrenic field in which one scholar’s militia is another’s rebel group, local police force, or common criminal. The resulting incoherence fragments scholarship on political violence and can have real-world policy implications. This is particularly true in high-stakes environments of armed conflict, where being labeled a “militia” can lead to financial support and backing in some circumstances or make one a target to be eliminated in others. To understand how militia studies has been sustained as a fragmented field, this article offers a new typology of definitional approaches. The typology shows that scholars use two main tools: offering a substantive claim as to what militias are or a negative claim based on what militias are not and piggy-backing on other concepts to either claim that militias are derivative of or distinct from them. These approaches illustrate how scholars combine descriptive and analytic approaches to produce definitions that sustain the field as fragmented and internally contradictory. Yet despite the contradictions that characterize the field, scholarship reveals a common commitment to using militias to understand the organization of (legitimate) violence. This article sketches a possible approach to organize the field of militia studies around the institutionalization of violence, such that militias would be understood as a product of the arrangement of violence. Such an approach would both allow studies of militias to place their ambiguity and fluidity at the center of analyses while offering a pathway forward for comparative studies.

Article

China’s economic impact on Africa in the 21st century has been enormous. China became Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009 and has subsequently widened the gap with Africa’s second largest trading partner. China is Africa’s largest bilateral source of loans and an important provider of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-equivalent aid, although well behind the European Union and the United States. Annual foreign direct investment flows by Chinese companies are growing and are now in the same league as companies from other major investing nations. Increasingly, African leaders are focusing their economic relationships on China and, because of China’s economic success, some of them are also looking to China as an economic and political model. The future in Africa of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the use of the renminbi (RMB) as an international currency are less clear. China’s influence on African economies comes with challenges. China has developed a significant trade surplus with Africa. Although resource-rich African countries have sizable trade surpluses with China, most African countries, especially the resource-poor ones, have trade deficits, some of which are huge. The influx of inexpensive Chinese products is also stifling Africa’s ability to produce similar goods. African governments welcome Chinese loans, which are usually used for infrastructure projects, but there are signs these loans are contributing to a debt problem in an increasing number of countries. Most Chinese aid to Africa consists of the concessionary component of these loans. Small Chinese traders have flocked to Africa, competing head-to-head with African counterparts. This has led to growing antagonism with African market traders, although African consumers welcome the competition. While Western countries collectively are much more important to African economies than is China, Beijing has become the single most important bilateral economic partner in a number of countries and is challenging the United States and Europe for economic leadership across the continent. China’s most significant competition in the coming years may be less from the United States and other Western and Western-affiliated countries such as Japan and more from developing countries such as India, Brazil, the Gulf States, Turkey, and Indonesia.

Article

The question of membership and belonging is widely recognized to have been at the root of many political crises in Africa since independence. The legal frameworks for citizenship were largely inherited from the colonial powers and still show strong affinities across colonial legal traditions. However, most African states have enacted significant amendments to citizenship laws since independence, as they have grappled with issues of membership, aiming to include or exclude certain groups. Substantive provisions have diverged significantly in several countries from the original template. African states have shared global trends toward gender equality and acceptance of dual citizenship. In relation to acquisition of citizenship based on birth in the territory (jus soli) or based on descent (jus sanguinis), there has been less convergence. In all countries, naturalization is inaccessible to all but a few. Manipulation of citizenship law for political purposes has been common, as political opponents have at times been accused of being non-citizens as a way of excluding them from office, or groups of people have been denied recognition of citizenship as a means of disenfranchisement. Moreover, even in states where a substantial proportion of residents lack identity documents, it seems that the rules on citizenship established by law have themselves had an impact on political developments. The citizenship status of many thousands of people living in different countries across Africa remains unclear, in a context where many citizens and non-citizens lack any identity documentation that records their citizenship. The content of the law is arguably therefore less influential than in some other regions. A rapid development in identification systems and the increasing requirement to show identity documents to access services, however, is likely to increase the importance of citizenship law. In response to these challenges, the African continental institutions have developed, through standard setting and in decisions on individual cases, a continental normative framework that both borrows from and leads international law in the same field.

Article

Jacqueline M. Klopp and Jeffrey W. Paller

Africa’s growing slums are complex, diverse neighborhoods with their own histories. Currently, these places, characterized by spatially concentrated poverty and human rights abuses, are where large proportions and, in many cases, the majority of Africa’s growing urban populations live. These slums often have a politics characterized by clientelism and repression, but also cooperation, accountability, and political mobilization. Importantly, they must be understood within a wider political context as products of larger historical processes that generate severe inequalities in standards of living, rights, and service provision. Varied approaches (modernization vs. more critical historical and political economy approaches) attempt to explain the emergence, dynamics, and persistence of slums and the politics that often produces, characterizes, and shapes them in Africa. While raising important questions about the link between urbanization and democracy, modernization theories, which are typically ahistorical, do not fully explain the persistence and actual growth of slums in African cities. More historically grounded political economy approaches better explain the formation and dynamics of slums in African cities, including the complex, uneven, and inadequate service delivery to these areas. Whether the conditions of Africa’s slums and the social injustice that undergirds them will give birth to greater democratization in Africa, which, in turn, will deliver radical improvements to the majority, is a critical unanswered question. Will social movements, populist opposition parties, and stronger citizenship claims for the poor ultimately emerge from slum—and wider city—politics? If so, will they address the political problem of inequality that the slum represents? A focus on cities, slums, and their politics is thus a core part of growing concern for the future of African cities and democratic politics on the continent.

Article

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.

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

Interstate conflict has been rare in sub-Saharan Africa and militaries often do not fit the image of a force focused on external threats. Instead, they have often been heavily engaged in domestic politics, regularly serving as regime protection. For many militaries on the continent, the continued internal focus of the armed forces has been shaped by practices under colonialism. One defining feature of African militaries’ involvement in politics is the coup d’état. From the 1960s to the 1980s coups were the primary method of regime change, making the military central to the political landscape of the continent. By the start of the 21st century there were far fewer direct attempts at military control of African states, yet militaries continue to influence politics even under civilian leadership. While there are differences in the role of militaries based on the unique circumstances of each state, there are also general patterns regarding new missions undertaken by armed forces following the end of the Cold War. These include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance, all of which generally involve international partnerships and cooperation. Yet these missions have also had domestic political motivations and effects.

Article

Sara Rich Dorman

African nationalism’s origins are found in anti-colonial protest and the artificial boundaries of post-colonial states. But it has proven a resilient force in African politics, alongside the colonially engineered states, with few border changes in the post-independence period. Despite the artificiality of the new states and nations, only a few new states emerge, with most political conflict aimed at ensuring inclusion within the state’s original boundaries. The experience of decolonization has led nationalist politics to be coalitional in form rather than ideological, bringing together diverse groups. Nation building strategies are deployed after independence to promote unity and development while depoliticizing, homogenizing, and gendering the nationalist legacy. Memorialization and iconography are deployed in this cause, but unevenly. The decades after independence are marked by single party or no-party rule in which the nationalist generations hold on to power. After the end of the cold war, when multiparty elections resumed in many states, and with the aging nationalists increasingly unable to maintain their hold on power, identity-based politics was transformed into an often violent politics of belonging, identifying some ethnic and racial groups as more fully national than others. In states that experienced liberation wars, the generation that led the struggle proved particularly resistant to handing over power, basing their claims on their nationalist credentials and seeking to discredit others. Yet generational and technological change ensured that subaltern groups, through creative and social media, as well as political movements, continued to claim, contest, and transform national imaginaries.

Article

Comparison in the social sciences is a principal tool for sharpening our ability to describe reality. It is helpful in understanding the politics of African countries. Different comparative methods help to trace the origin and links to what has transpired in the field of comparative politics at large and with respect to the African continent. Recognizing that the politics–development nexus has served as the dominant context for comparison, scholars have addressed and created knowledge as it pertains to an account of the contemporary state of comparative analysis in the study of African politics.

Article

The renewed relevance of “autochthony” and similar notions of belonging in many parts of Africa is symptomatic of the confusing changes on the continent since the “post-Cold War moment.” Africa is certainly not exceptional in this respect. The “new world order,” so triumphantly announced by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the apparent victory of capitalism turned out to be marked by intensifying global flows, as expected, but also by an increasing obsession with belonging all over the globe, which was less expected. Yet, it may be important to emphasize as well that this upsurge of struggles over local belonging took on special aspects in Africa. The notion of autochthony has its own history on the continent, going back to the impact of colonialism, but building on older distinctions. However, it always sat uneasily with what many historians and anthropologists see as characteristic for African social formations: a heavy emphasis on mobility and inclusion of people: wealth in people. Since the last decades of the 20th century, there seems to be an increasing closure of local communities in many parts of the continent: a growing emphasis on exclusion rather than inclusion of newcomers, immigrants, or “strangers.” After a brief sketch of the history of autochthony on the continent, also in relation to parallel notions like ethnicity and indigeneity, the focus is placed on the factors behind such a tendency toward closure: increasing land scarcity, and especially the changing global context since 1990. In many parts of the continent, the neo-liberal twin of democratization and decentralization had the effect that the feeling of belonging to the village became of crucial importance again, as well for people who had already lived for generations in the cities. The implications of such a growing preoccupation with autochthony and local belonging for national citizenship and notions on civil society are highly variable and depend on historical context. However, one recurrent trait is the paradox between a promise of basic security (how can one belong more than if one is rooted in the soil?) and a practice of deep uncertainty. The receding quality of these claims to belong—autochthony as a basic denial of history, which always implies movement—allows that they always can be contested: One’s autochthony can always be unmasked as “fake,” with someone else belonging more. Autochthony can be institutionalized in various forms and to various degrees, but its basic uncertainty gives it a violent potential.

Article

Political regulation of ethnicity has been a core dimension of state-building in Africa, and a set of different macro-political strategies was applied in African postcolonial states to deal with ethnic heterogeneity. One set of strategies consisted in attempts to completely eliminate political manifestations of ethnicity, violently through genocide (Rwanda, 1994) or mass expulsions of ethnic minorities (Uganda, 1973), consensually through secession of autonomous provinces (Eritrea, 1993; South Sudan, 2005), through legal instruments that ban the political expression of ethnic identity such as party bans, or via coercive variants of assimilation (Rwanda, 2001). An opposing option promoted the formal recognition of ethnicity through consociationalism (Burundi, 2005), ethnic federalism (Ethiopia, 1995), ethnic minority rights (Mauritius), or hegemonic control (apartheid South Africa). Many African countries have instead opted for an informal accommodation of ethnic identity in politics, which combines the pursuit of civic nationalism and ethnic party bans with a de facto recognition of ethnic group rights through informal power-sharing, centripetal institutions, or variants of federalism which shift resources and competencies to subnational levels. The choice of strategies is, however, constrained by how interethnic relations have been shaped in the process of postcolonial state-building. Both strategies of elimination and of formal recognition are applied in ranked societies where one racial or ethnic group managed to take control of the state and in which class corresponded with ethnic affiliation. South Africa, which also belonged to this group, seems to be the only country where a liberal model of civic nation is pursued along with a strong recognition of the country’s diversity in the political and constitutional architecture.

Article

Research using variants of political settlement analysis have gained prominence in scholarship on Africa. Political settlement research provides an analytical lens that takes the researcher beyond a narrow focus on formal institutions to examine how distributions of power among groups affect the way that institutions work. A political settlement can be defined as a combination of power and institutions that is mutually compatible and also sustainable in terms of economic and political viability. The main theoretical building blocks of the framework are institutions, power, and rents. Despite its burgeoning influence as an analytical approach, existing literature contains considerable differences in the core concepts and causal mechanisms described as constituting a political settlement framework. There are key differences within the literature between research that conceptualizes political settlement as action and political settlement conceptualized as process. In understanding political settlement as process, a political settlement is conceptualized as a stable political order that has not necessarily been planned or consciously willed by different social groups. The outcomes intended from the adoption of any particular set of institutions cannot be taken for granted. Groups that may appear powerful in terms of their formal political and economic positions in society may not be able to actually enforce compliance with formal and informal institutions they desire, leading to a much more complex relationship between institutions and paths of political and economic change. Approaches that understand political settlement as action emphasize the role of agreements made by powerful groups or elites. Forging a viable and inclusive political settlement is treated as a desirable policy outcome where institutions that generate inclusion, stop war, or reduce violent conflict can be purposefully established and enforced by elites. The two versions of the framework have been deployed to explore a range of different phenomena including economic change and industrialization, corruption, social policy, conflict, and state-building in a number of African countries. A key insight of the political settlement framework is that it provides many new insights into the variation between political economies on the continent. However, it is crucial that those seeking either to deploy or to critique the framework recognize the diverse way in which concepts and underlying causal processes have been defined. Such tensions within the framework can be important for driving research and thinking forward.

Article

Several African countries are currently engaged in the constitution-making process. In Africa, constitution-making usually takes three phases. The first phase took place at independence in the 1960s and was typically led by the colonial power. Constitution-making during this phase was part of the decolonization process. In the case of former British colonies, the independence constitution was British legislation which constituted the independent state. The second phase was from independence to 1989. During this phase, constitution amendments were made to the independence constitutions designed to concentrate power in the presidency. This was the era of authoritarian governments in Africa which culminated into one-party state systems of governance. The third phase, which runs from 1989 to the present, is associated with the worldwide wave of democratization. During this period, constitution-making has centered on rebuilding the political community as well as structures that had been distorted by political manipulation and violence during the era of authoritarian rule. This third phase is also marked by promoting the participation of citizens in the affairs of their own countries and the accountability of governments. A well-designed constitution can promote these objectives. In addition, inclusiveness and peaceful settlement of conflicts can be seen as a vehicle for national dialogue, good governance, and the consolidation of peace.

Article

Until the end of the 1980s, most observers believed that democratic prospects in Africa were limited, given the low level of economic development, the absence of strong nation-states, and the inexistence of a long history of social and political pluralism. However, beginning in 1989, a wave of popular protests demanding democratic reforms swept the continent. Within a couple of years, virtually all the countries liberalized their political systems. Since then, Africans have shown consistently that they strongly prefer and support democratic rule. At the same time, democratic institutions such as electoral commissions and constitutional courts have taken root on the continent. These developments suggest that the question of the feasibility of democracy in Africa is no longer relevant. Nonetheless, the existence of democratic demands, support, and institutions does not mean that democracy is easy to establish and consolidate. In many African countries, democratic gains are reversible and face several hindering factors, including state weakness, autocratic mindset, unstable and divided civic and political organizations, and widespread identity politics. This is why the level and quality of democracy on the African continent vary dramatically from country to country and from one region to another.

Article

Aderanti Adepoju

Intraregional migration of cross-border workers, unskilled and temporary contract workers, undocumented migrants, highly skilled professionals, and refugees characterize the migration landscape in Africa and is reflected in distinctive and changing configurations in the different subregions: labor migration in the west and central areas, movement of refugees in the eastern and southern areas, and migration of skilled professionals from west and east to southern Africa. Migrants and refugees in Africa share a number of common features: both are caused in large part by a set of interrelated factors—conflicts, underdevelopment, poor governance, and economic and social deprivation—and movements are confined largely to the continent. Youth unemployment, a major trigger for irregular migration, together with emigration of skilled professionals, pose serious challenges for many countries; remittances from the diaspora, though a lifeline for poor families left behind, do not compensate for the loss of skills. The refugee situation is highly dynamic and fluid. The sheer numbers of refugees in Africa, their composition, and the challenges they face and the limited success obtained thus far in the search for a permanent solution require sustained efforts in what is regarded an African problem requiring essentially an African solution.