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Article

Organized Crime and Criminal Networks in Africa  

Mark Shaw and Tuesday Reitano

Organised crime and criminal networks are an outcome of Africa’s weak systems of state reach and governance, and in turn they further undermine effective state-building. Defining “organized crime” is challenging in the African context. African policy discussions did not use this term until recently, and it is so broad that it covers an enormous range of activity. Nevertheless, it is arguably now generally used and accepted, denoting organized illegal activities by a group of people over time that generate a profit. Such terminology is also now widely referred to internationally and in a UN Convention (which defines an “organized criminal group” but not organized crime itself) to which almost all African states have subscribed. The term “criminal networks” is often also used in African debates, denoting the more flexible and dynamic criminal arrangements that characterize the continent. Organized crime and criminal networks in Africa appear in many different forms, shaped largely by the strength of the state, and the degree that political elites and state actors are themselves involved in them. Broadly, organized crime can be said to occur along a continuum on the continent. On one side are well-established and -organized mafia-style groups such as the hard-core gangs of the Western Cape in South Africa or militia style operations engaged in ‘taxing’ local populations and economic activities, both licit and illicit. In the middle of the continuum, are relatively loose, and often highly effective, criminal networks made up both of Africans (West African criminal networks being the most prominent) and a range of foreign criminal actors seeking opportunities. On the other end, are sets of criminal style entrepreneurs, often operating as companies (the Guptas in South Africa, for example) but with a variety of forms of state protection. Illicit financial outflows in particular are a serious concern, but governance and regulatory reforms will be far more critical than the suppression of illicit markets themselves by law enforcement agencies, given also evidence that suggests a high degree of collusion between some African police and criminals in several illicit markets. Violence too remains a key tool for criminal control and advancement at all points along the spectrum, with the strength of the state and the collusion between state actors and criminal groups often determining the form, intensity and targets of that violence. That is one reason why the link between organized crime and conflict on the continent remains a concern, with actors (who in many cases exhibit criminal or mafia-style attributes) seeking to enhance their resource accumulation by control or taxation of criminal markets. Given this and other factors, the impact of organized crime on Africa’s development is severe, and although in some key markets the illicit economy provides opportunities for livelihood and a source of resilience, these opportunities are negated by the extent of environmental damage, the growth of drug use among the poor and marginalized, human rights abuses of migrants and those being trafficked, the violence engendered, and the economic distortions introduced.

Article

Changing Patterns of Political Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Kate M. Carter and Scott Straus

Contrary to common assumption, major forms of large-scale organized political violence in sub-Saharan Africa have declined in frequency and intensity, and the region is not uniquely prone to the onset of warfare. African civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s are less common compared to the mid-1990s. The character of warfare has also changed. Contemporary wars are generally small-scale, fought on state peripheries and increasingly across multiple states, and involve factionalized insurgents who typically cannot hold significant territory or capture state capitals. Episodes of large-scale mass killing of civilians are also on the decline. That said, other forms of political violence that receive less attention in the academic literature are increasing or persistent. These include electoral violence and violence over access to livelihood resources, such as land and water. Geopolitical shifts since the end of the Cold War are a leading candidate to explain the changing frequency and character of warfare in sub-Saharan Africa. New global priorities, including changes in external state funding opportunities for insurgents, an emphasis on change through elections, investments in conflict mediation strategies, and the rise of China are hypothesized as critical factors shaping the new patterns of warfare.

Article

Electoral Violence and Political Competition in Africa  

Liisa Laakso

Electoral violence in Africa has garnered a lot of attention in research on African politics. Violence can be the result of manipulation of the electoral process or a reaction to that manipulation. While there is an agreement to distinguish it from the wider political violence by its timing with elections and motivation to influence their outcome, the analysis of its types, content, and impacts varies. There are different assessments of whether repetition of elections reduces violence or not. Elections in Africa are more often marred with violence than elections in other continents, but there is lots of variation between African countries, within countries, and even from one election to another. In addition to well-judged use and development of the existing datasets, qualitative methods and case studies are also needed. Much of the literature combines both approaches. In the analysis of the factors, causes, and contexts of electoral violence, researchers utilize distinct frameworks: emphasizing historical experiences of violence, patrimonial rule and the role of the “big man,” political economy of greed and grievance, as well as weak institutions and rule of law. All of them point to intensive competition for state power. Preelection violence often relates to the strategies of the government forces and their supporters using their powers to manipulate the process, while post-election riots typically follow in the form of spontaneous reactions among the ranks of the losing opposition. Elections are not a cause of the intensive power competition but a way to organize it. Thus, electoral violence is not an anomaly but rather a manifestation of the ongoing struggle for free and fair elections. It will be an issue for researchers and practitioners alike in the future as well.

Article

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.

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

Terrorism as a Global Wave Phenomenon: New Left Wave  

David C. Rapoport

By the 1960s the international world changed dramatically. While the nuclear balance of terror created by the atomic bomb prevented war between the First and the Second Worlds, proxy wars between the superpowers were conducted in the “Third World.” The Cold War began and the Soviet Union attempted to arouse radical groups in the Third World, an effort that grew immensely as overseas empires of Western states dissolved. The UN membership expanded because of the great number of “new” states. Two events in Third World countries were critical: Castro’s triumph in Cuba and the long Vietnam War. Vietnam was particularly crucial in animating terrorist groups throughout the West. A total of 404 groups emerged: 192 Revolutionaries and 212 Separatists. There were two Revolutionary types: 143 Nationals and 49 Transnational. The Transnationals, a product of the developed world, saw themselves as Third World agents. Nationals and Separatists aimed to remake their own states. Nationals sought equality and Separatists sought a new state that often included elements from neighboring states. Separatists were present everywhere except Latin America where all groups were Nationals. As in the First Wave, university students provided most of the initial terrorist recruits. Women became important again except among Separatists. Cuban and PLO training facilities intensified bonds with foreign groups. The PLO was the most conspicuous group because it conducted more assaults abroad than at home. Groups from different countries cooperated in attacks, that is, OPEC ministers kidnapping (1975). At home, targets with international significance like embassies were struck. Publicity again became a principal concern, which made hostage taking preeminent for the first time, a practice that became very lucrative for some groups. Over 700 hijacked airlines intensified the wave’s international character. The Sandinista took Nicaragua’s Congress hostage in 1978, which sparked a successful insurrection. Many Third World hostages were foreigners from the developed world involved in commerce, and their companies quickly paid enormous ransoms. Earlier waves produced more deaths. The wave began ebbing in the 1980s; new groups stopped emerging. Israel eliminated PLO facilities for training terrorist groups. International counterterrorist cooperation became effective. Terrorists now found the UN hostile. Six of the eight successes occurred when the Cold War ended and Soviet support disappeared. Most were very limited. The PLO became so weak it was allowed to return home and negotiate for a two-state solution, one still not achieved. The South African ANC produced the only real success partly because its tactics were so restrained.

Article

Peacebuilding Initiatives in Africa  

Paul Jackson

Africa is a place of enormous variation and its countries have had very different postcolonial experiences. However, it is clear that since the 1940s peace has been elusive for many across the continent. A series of wars driven by poverty, identity, political economy, and failing states led to a widespread crisis of governance and extensive international intervention. Reductions in the security capabilities of states have also led to the growth of violent transnational groups, particularly those related to Islamic extremism in the Maghreb, Nigeria, and Somalia but also criminal networks involved with drug and people smuggling. This wide variety of conflicts also generated an equally wide range of responses as the international community began to develop ways of combating conflicts through reform of its own peacekeeping capacity. The optimism of the 1992 Agenda for Peace, which called for the UN to become the central instrument in the prevention and ending of conflicts, has given way to a more sanguine approach, as mixed results have led to diverse outcomes for African countries and Africa’s own peace and security architecture. In the end, despite the rapid development of important local and localized bottom-up peacebuilding initiatives, the state remains central to the overarching aims of peace and stability across the continent. It is here where the variations in performance can be found in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and post-conflict reconstruction.

Article

The Rise of “Peaceocracy” in Africa  

Gabrielle Lynch

The term “peaceocracy” refers to a situation in which an emphasis on peace is used to prioritize stability and order to the detriment of democracy. As such, the term can be used to refer to a short-lived or longer-term strategy whereby an emphasis on peace by an incumbent elite is used to close the political space through the delegitimization and suppression of activity that could arguably foster division or conflict. At the heart of peaceocracy lies an insistence that certain actions—including those that are generally regarded as constituting important political and civil rights, such as freedom of speech and association, freedom of the press, and freedom to engage in peaceful protest and strike action—can spill over into violence and foster division and must therefore be avoided to guard against disorder. Recent history suggests that incumbents can effectively establish a peaceocracy in contexts where many believe that widespread violence is an ever-present possibility; incumbents have, or are widely believed to have, helped to establish an existing peace; and the level of democracy is already low. In such contexts, a fragile peace helps to justify a prioritization of peace; the idea that incumbents have “brought peace” strengthens their self-portrait as the unrivaled guardians of the same; and semi-authoritarianism provides a context in which incumbents are motivated to use every means available to maintain power and are well placed—given, for example, their control over the media and civil society—to manipulate an emphasis on peace to suppress opposition activities. Key characteristics of peaceocracy include: an incumbent’s effective portrait of an existing peace as fragile and themselves as the unrivaled guardians of order and stability; a normative notion of citizenship that requires “good citizens” to actively protect peace and avoid activities that might foster division and conflict; and the use of these narratives of guardianship and disciplined citizenship to justify a range of repressive laws and actions. Peaceocracy is thus a strategy, rather than a discreet regime type, which incumbents can use in hybrid regimes as part of their “menu of manipulation,” and which can be said to be “successful” when counter-narratives are in fact marginalized and the political space is effectively squeezed.

Article

The Globalization of Protest in Africa  

Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle

Academic studies on the globalized dimension of African protests have complexified the understanding of “transnational social movements,” too often considered as the mechanical and adequate response to a newly globalized neoliberal economy. The long history of globalized protest in and about Africa, starting from the antislavery campaigns to the global justice movements, shows that these movements, often initiated outside the continent, have contributed to the “invention of Africa.” The notion of “extraversion” developed by Jean-François Bayart to explain African states’ relation to the outside world helps interrogating the material and symbolic asymmetrical relationships inside these networks but also the agency of African protesters in shaping their causes. Resources, legitimate knowledge, and audiences of protest are structurally located with Western actors, creating misunderstanding or conflicts in these globalized networks. But African activists do benefit from their internationalization, acting as a protection and a—sometimes contested—legitimation. Also, against the imposition of supposedly universal causes, African protesters have developed new concepts and narratives, especially on gender and sex rights, to assert an African way of framing these causes. Far from being completely constrained by Western agenda, funding, or audience, some local conflicts also benefit from often international ramifications born out of the development of transnational criminal economies. Lastly, reflections on the regional variations and the diffusion of protest inside the continent shows a differential density of international networks and the growing importance of social media in the globalization of protest.

Article

Central Africa: Regional Politics and Dynamics  

Andreas Mehler

The variety in climate, vegetation, and population density in Central Africa is enormous, but some of the main features of policymaking and informal rules of politics—at first sight at least—appear quite similar between N’Djaména and Kinshasa, between Libreville and Bangui, in a vast territory bigger than the European Union: clientelism, personalization of power, politicized ethnicity, the impact of external intervention, and a legacy of repeated political violence establish some constant features. On the other hand, the variable size of countries (from island states in the Gulf of Guinea to large territorial states) has also come with various challenges. Also, Central Africa features land-locked countries such as Chad and Central African Republic, which negatively impacts economic development, in contrast to countries located at the Gulf of Guinea with an easy access to maritime trade routes. At closer inspection all of the eight countries have a specific history, but this overview article rather stresses the commonalities. Featuring in this contribution are the countries of Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial-Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe. The limited achievements of pro-democracy movements in Central Africa in the 1990s have enduring consequences on politics in Africa. Authoritarian regimes have consolidated their grip on power after surviving severe crises in most Central African states. Big man politics continue to prevail, only few opposition parties have upheld their initial strength and lack internal democracy. Enduring violent conflicts in DRC and CAR (and arguably to a somewhat lesser extent in Chad), have undermined conviviality between groups and state capacities in providing public goods with dramatic consequences on effectiveness and legitimacy of the state and its representatives. Prospects for a future allowing for more participation, truly competitive elections, and a peaceful change of government are therefore also grim. However, both violent and peaceful forms of contestation since about 2015 are also signs of renewed mobilization of citizens for political causes across Central Africa. New topics, including consumer defense and ecological issues, plus now-ubiquitous social media, may all be drivers for a new episode of engagement after two decades of frustration. The limited achievements of regional integration and the lack of dynamism of subregional organizations means that Central Africa is still a much less consolidated subregion compared to, for example, West Africa.

Article

Social Media and Elections in Africa  

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

Central African Republic: Coups, Mutinies, and Civil War  

Timothy Stapleton

Since independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic (CAR) has experienced numerous military coups both successful and unsuccessful, mutinies by disgruntled soldiers and civil wars that have had terrible impacts on civilians. Three career military officers took power by force and led the country for a total of 36 years: Bokassa (1965–1979), Kolingba (1981–1993), and Bozize (2003–2013). From the 1960s to 1990s, both military and civilian rulers politicized, regionalized, and weakened the CAR military by packing it with supporters from their home areas and ethnic groups, and establishing alternative security structures and bringing in foreign troops to secure their regimes. In this period, the CAR military became a Praetorian force obsessed with the country’s internal political power struggles. In the 1990s, in the context of the post-Cold War political liberalization of Africa, the CAR’s transition to democracy was undermined by a succession of army mutinies over lack of pay and other grievances that fatally weakened an already fragile state. A series of civil wars in the 2000s and 2010s resulted in the near dissolution of the CAR military and the partition of the country into a network of fiefdoms dominated by antagonistic local armed factions separated from each other by beleaguered UN peacekeepers.

Article

Guinea: The History of the Military as a Political Actor  

Paul Clarke

The Guinean military was deeply intertwined with political power for the first 50 years after dependence in 1958. Under its founding president, Ahmed Sékou Touré, who led Guinea as a one-party state from 1958 to 1984, it was built with support from the Warsaw Pact and became a small, competent force which supported national development and regional peacekeeping. While Touré politicized the army, it was not an important political actor, and in the end it fell victim to Touré’s brutality. Colonel Lansana Conté seized power after Touré, leading a military dictatorship that fully controlled the government and succumbed to factionalism, corruption, and indiscipline. Conté died in 2008, and within a year, the successor regime had slipped into so much brutality that the military leaders accepted transition to civilian rule, making Guinea a fledging multiparty democracy since 2010, while the military returned to the barracks.

Article

Benin and Togo: Loyalist Stacking and Rival Security Forces  

Julien Morency-Laflamme

Benin and Togo’s postcolonial histories have been shaped by the actions of military personnel. In both cases, governments were either placed into power or toppled by the military. This trend ended in Benin after 1991, when the military returned to the barracks. In Togo, as of 2020, Faure Gnassingbé’s government still relies on the armed forces to remain in power. To understand this path divergence, it is necessary to look at the regimes that arose in 1967 in Togo and 1972 in Benin. After years of coup cycles and failed civilian or military governments, two leaders—Mathieu Kérékou in Benin and Étienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma in Togo—established stable military governments. In order to end coup cycles, both leaders put in place coup-proofing measures that profoundly influenced the composition of the armed forces of their respective countries. In Benin, the Kérékou government implemented a series of measures to heighten divisions among the armed forces and to preclude the coordination of rivals. In Togo, the Eyadéma government filled the army with those from the leader’s ethnic group and pushed out any rivals. While both strategies were effective, as no successful coups were staged in either country after the early 1970s, they also influenced each government’s ability to rely on their armed forces to defend the standing regime. In Benin, the Kérékou government fell, as it could not rely on the armed forces to quell a civic resistance campaign, while in Togo, the Eyadéma government could count on military personnel to crush a similar campaign. Consequently, the 2020 Togolese government is still ruled by the Eyadéma clan and relies on ethnically stacked armed forces to maintain its power. In Benin, a new civilian government has started the process of reprofessionalizing the armed forces.

Article

Liberation Movements in Power in Africa  

Roger Southall

Liberation movements in Africa are nationalist movements that have resorted to armed struggle to overthrow colonialism, white minority rule, or oppressive postcolonial governments. Claiming to represent the national will, some are intolerant of opposition, others dubious of the legitimacy of multiparty democracy: this difference is a reflection of whether the military wing of the liberation movement dominates the political movement or whether the reverse situation applies. In the post–Cold War era, liberation movements espouse notions of the “developmental state,” continuing to ascribe the state a primary role in economic development event though they may simultaneously embrace the market. The extent to which they subordinate political considerations and freedoms to the pursuit of economic growth dictates whether they pursue paths of authoritarian development or developmental stagnation

Article

State Formation and Conflict in Africa  

Didier Péclard

Dominant narratives and theories developed at the turn of the 21st century to account for the links between state formation and civil wars in Africa converged around two main ideas. First was the contention that the increase in civil wars across the continent—like that in many parts of the globe, including South Asia and Central Europe—was linked to state failure or decay. Violent conflict thus came to be seen as the expression of the weakness, disintegration, and collapse of political institutions in the postcolonial world. Second, guerrilla movements, once viewed as the ideological armed wings of Cold War contenders, then came to be seen as roving bandits interested in plundering the spoils left by decaying states, and their motives as primarily, if not only, economic or personal, rather than political. However, recent research has challenged the reductionism that underlay such accounts by looking into the day-to-day politics of civil war, thus moving beyond the search for the motives that bring rebels and rebel movements to wage war against the established order. Drawing on this literature, this article argues that violent conflict is part and parcel of historical processes of state formation. Thus, in order to understand how stable political institutions can be built in the aftermath of civil war, it is essential to study the institutions that regulate political life during conflict. This implies a need not only to look at how (and if) state institutions survive once war has broken out, but also to take into account the institutions put in place in areas beyond the control of the state.

Article

Hegemonic Political Regimes in Africa  

Joshua B. Rubongoya

Hegemonic political regimes in Africa reflect the continent’s political history, in particular, its colonial past and postcolonial present. Hegemony is primarily a reference to the nature and character of specific modes of power. Political hegemony denotes prolonged, unchecked dominance and control, often by a dominant political party that comprises a section of the ruling coalition. On the continent, regime hegemony is embedded in neo-patrimonial structures of power. It is the outcome of (a) African patrimonial logics and Western bureaucratic institutions and (b) complex networks of patron–client relationships along with resource allocations which form the basis of political legitimacy. As well, the struggles for independence bequeathed a “movement legacy” that continues to frame political organization. African discourses regarding the exercise of power address hegemony in the context of statist–corporatist regimes which, by definition, concentrate power in the state by closing political spaces and promulgating self-serving ideologies, both of which produce unchallenged social realities. Paradoxically, the state is deinstitutionalized, power is personalized, and informality underpins decision making. In deconstructing hegemony in Africa, emphasis is placed on how three key tensions that distinguish hegemony from democracy are resolved. Hegemonies diminish consent in favor of effectiveness, opt for consensus at the expense of participation and competition, and subordinate representation to governability. The consequence of all this is that African polities struggle in sustaining a governance realm that is rooted in consent, competition, and representation. Finally, the nature and character of political hegemony among African polities vary and mutate over time, from independence to the late second decade of the 21st century.

Article

Cameroon: The Military and Autocratic Stability  

Kristen A. Harkness

The military plays a vital role in upholding Cameroon’s authoritarian government. Since independence, in 1960, the country has been ruled by a single political party and only two presidents: Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya. Both have gone to great lengths to secure military loyalty: counterbalancing rival forces, personalizing command hierarchies, ethnically stacking both the regular military and presidential guard, and providing extensive patronage benefits to soldiers. Ahidjo and Biya have both also repeatedly used the security forces to repress threats from below and stabilize their dictatorships. Combined gendarme, army, and paramilitary units have been deployed to defeat the southern maquis rebellion of the 1960s; the mass protests for democratization in the 1990s; the fight against Boko Haram, beginning in 2014; and the Anglophone separatist movement, which exploded in 2017. Whether facing nonviolent demonstrators or armed rebels, the military has never defected or refused to obey orders. Yet, as the 1984 coup attempt demonstrated, the bounds of military loyalty are not limitless. When Ahidjo retired, the northern Muslim Fulbe members of the elite Republican Guard attempted to prevent Biya—a southern Christian Beti—from rising to power.

Article

Conceptualizing Militias in Africa  

Rebecca Tapscott

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

Power Sharing as a Strategy to Resolve Political Crises in Africa  

Michael Bratton and Peter Penar

Power sharing is often offered as a strategy to resolve political crises. In contrast to power capture and power division, power sharing entails exercising power in cooperation with rival groups. The outcome of power sharing largely rests on the purpose and context of the agreement. Power sharing has proven effective at attenuating political violence and providing stability when enacted to guide a transition from white-minority to black-majority rule in former settler states (e.g., South Africa) or to bring persistent civil wars to an end (e.g., Sierra Leone and Burundi). However, in the context of an election dispute, power sharing fails to solve the underlying concerns that contribute to election-related conflict. Although power sharing may attenuate or end violence, the outcome is poor reconciling election winners and losers and deepening democratic practices (e.g., Kenya and Zimbabwe). Recognizing the failure of power sharing after election disputes, external mediators—particularly in West Africa (e.g., Côte d’Ivoire and The Gambia)—have tended to emphasize maintaining normal constitutional processes rather than power-sharing settlements.