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Article

Tarik Dahou and Brenda Chalfin

As blue growth (widely accepted as the sustainable development in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole) is gaining increasing traction, oceans and seas are seen as new frontiers for global capitalism. In African countries this trend has spurred a new wave of appropriation and control of maritime spaces for the blue economy. At a time of unprecedented expansion of global production and trade, the African continent is facing new challenges in maritime governance. The governance of the seas has profoundly changed in the 21st century with the explosion of maritime transport, the globalization of the exploitation of marine resources, and the growing concern for environmental issues. The idea of an integrated policy of seas and oceans management became a cornerstone of international and national instruments aiming to regulate maritime circulation and exploitation of marine resources. Integrated maritime management policies put emphasis on liberalization of the marine sectors and resources and the security agenda, taken in its broad sense to guarantee freedom of trade and environmental sustainability. These efforts, whose putative purpose is to combine economic, social, and environmental goals, has resulted in an unsteady balance between different sectors, scales, and actors and opened the door to controversies, dissent, and politics. Although the priorities of this global policy agenda continue to transform the maritime governance in Africa, the African states and societies are also actively reshaping it. While African states alter international maritime policies according to their own ends, these are also constantly molded through struggles over norms, resources, and spaces and conflicts arising from the dialectics of possession and dispossession. The text focuses on the four key areas of maritime governance: ports, offshore exploitation, security, and environment. Even though from the perspective of integrated maritime governance these fields are interwoven, they are subject to particular policies. Hence, while focusing on policies in each area separately, it also analyzes their relationships with each other in order to illuminate the complexity of power configurations.

Article

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

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.

Article

Support for democracy, human rights, and good governance reforms in Africa has become a prominent objective in engagement by European Union (EU) institutions, EU member states, and the United States with African countries since the early 1990s. Western actors have gradually increased democracy aid, used sanctions, and developed a range of other instruments to support political reforms on the continent. Academic research has analyzed the “substance” and “content” of political reforms that Western actors seek to promote, what instruments they use, and how effective these instruments are in different political contexts. This body of work comes to mixed conclusions as to whether and under what conditions external support has contributed to democratic reforms in African countries between 1990 and 2015. Yet, evidence suggests that external democracy support has made some positive contributions and has been more effective in Africa compared to other regions. However, after a period of 25 years during which democracy support gradually became an important element in the United States’ and European cooperation with African countries, this agenda is now under considerable pressure. Domestic challenges to democracy within Europe and the United States, domestic dynamics in African countries, and the rise of China as an alternative political model make it difficult for European and other external actors to contribute to political reforms on the continent. In this new era of uncertainty, there are three main areas to which policymakers as well as academic research should pay more attention. First, more debate is needed how the contestation of democratic norms in Europe and the United States affects not only the legitimacy but also the decision-making processes on democracy support. Second, more research is needed how urbanization, demographic change and digitalization and their combined effects influence political reforms in Africa and what implications emerge for democracy support. Finally, how China’s more proactive and assertive foreign policy will affect democracy support in Africa is an area that policy-makers and researchers should follow closely.

Article

The roots of contemporary women’s mobilization in Africa were in nationalist movements and in the early single-party era, when women’s mobilization was often closely aligned with and controlled by the ruling party and state. This changed in the multiparty era after the 1990s and how new forms of mobilization came to be characterized by their autonomy from political parties and the state. This autonomy allowed for new issues to be taken up as well new forms of mobilization ranging from grass-roots activism to nationwide campaigns, broad coalitions and cyber activism. In the early 21st century, the demands range from opposition to all forms of violence against women, to financing of businesses, the right to abortion, the adoption of gender quotas in government and the legislature, and many other concerns. After the mid-2000s, restrictions on freedom of association and speech began to impinge once again on civil society in many countries, sometimes constraining women’s activism.

Article

Jeremy Sarkin

African prisons are some of the least-studied penal institutions anywhere in the world. This is not true everywhere on the continent, as prisons in some countries such as South Africa are adequately studied and have been the subject of commissions of inquiry stretching back to colonial times. It is also difficult to generalize about Africa. For example, there are massive disparities between north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Usually, not much information beyond generalities exists for many of them across the African continent. As a result, many negative perceptions endure that are not reflective of the different systems and the different countries in the region. The focus of the research has often been on specific themes and certain countries only and has generally focused on problems. There is, however, a need to portray a more realistic situation in prisons in all fifty-four countries more accurately, without generalizing, and to provide more solution-orientated research to a variety of issues. This can be partly achieved by comparative investigation. While the conditions in many African prisons are harsh and difficult for inmates, comparatively speaking, prisons in Africa are not the worst in the world. However, they are generally overcrowded, and there is much violence. Issues generally concerning health, food, sanitation, amenities, and other matters remain generally problematic. However, much data is missing from a range of countries. More research is needed to gather more data and to interrogate the diverse prisons in the different countries. There is a need for more holistic research that understands prisons not as isolated institutions but as part of criminal justice systems. There is a need to understand how methods of policing, the conduct of prosecutions, and court processes all have an impact upon conditions within the prisons of a particular country.

Article

One reason why dictatorships flourished in Africa until the 1990s was that constitutions concentrated excessive powers in presidents. The democratic revival of the 1990s led to the introduction of new or substantially revised constitutions in a number of countries that for the first time sought to promote constitutionalism, good governance, and respect for the rule of law. A key innovation was the introduction of provisions providing for separation of powers. However, in many cases the reintroduction of multipartyism did not lead to thorough constitutional reform, setting the scene for a subsequent struggle between opposition parties, civil society, and the government, over the rule of law. This reflects the complex politics of constitutionalism in Africa over the last 60 years. In this context, it is important to note that most of the constitutions introduced at independence had provided for some degree of separation of powers, but the provisions relating to this were often vaguely worded and quickly undermined. Despite this, the doctrine of separation of powers has a long history, and the abundant literature on it shows that there is no general agreement on what it means or what its contemporary relevance is. Of the three main models of separation of powers, the American one, which comes closest to a “pure” system of separation of powers, and the British, which involves an extensive fusion of powers, have influenced developments in anglophone Africa. The French model, which combines elements of the British and American models but in which the executive predominates over the other two branches, has influenced developments in all civilian jurisdictions in Africa, particularly those in francophone Africa. The common denominator among the models is the desire to prevent tyrannical and arbitrary government by separating powers but doing so in a manner that allows for limited interference through checks and balances on the principle that le pouvoir arrête le pouvoir. The combined Anglo-American (common law) and French (civil law) models received during the colonial period remain applicable today, but despite its adoption in the 1990s, the effectiveness of the doctrine of separation of powers in limiting governmental abuse has been curtailed by the excessive powers African presidents still enjoy and the control they exercise over dominant parties in legislatures. South Africa in its 1996 Constitution, followed by Kenya in 2010 and Zimbabwe in 2013, entrenched a number of hybrid institutions of accountability that have the potential not only to complement the checks and balances provided by the traditional triad but also to act where it is unable or unwilling to do so. The advent of these institutions has given the doctrine of separation of powers renewed potency and relevance in advancing Africa’s faltering constitutionalism project.

Article

Toyin Falola and Chukwuemeka Agbo

In line with Thomas Hodgkin’s assertion, the search for Africa’s struggle for liberation, equality, self-determination and the dignity of the African is traceable to the result of the centuries of relationship between Africa and Europe dating at least since the 15th century. That association left Africa at the lowest ebb of the racial pyramid which Europeans had formed. As Africans at home and diaspora began to gain Western education, they began to question the racial and discriminatory ideas of whites against black people. They initiated the campaign for African equality with other races drawing inspiration from Africa’s culture and history to argue that Africa had contributed to world development just like any other race. At home in Africa, this new class of elites launched the struggle for the end of colonial domination in the continent. This movement to lift Africa out of the pit of subordination became known as Pan-Africanism. The movement has recorded tremendous successes, an outstanding example being the decolonization of the continent and the improved position of Africans in diaspora. Scholars have done a great deal of work on these movements and successes. Nevertheless, there is urgent need for a critical appraisal of 21st-century Pan-Africanism.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Richard E. Mshomba

Since independence, African states have been striving for economic development, but relatively few countries have achieved their goal. Between 1970 and 2016, real GDP per capita in sub-Saharan Africa grew by an annual average of just 0.48%. However, there was a wide range of economic performance across different countries, as well as clear variation in growth rates over time. Countries such as the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Madagascar had, on average, a negative growth rate in terms of real GDP per capita. Meanwhile, countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Swaziland had positive average annual growth rates of at least 3%. The differences in economic growth rates reflect the diversity of economic structures, governance, and political stability across African states. Although deeper economic integration among African countries may work to reduce the large disparities in economic development, any projections must nonetheless recognize that countries will differ in their economic trajectories. Variation over time is also important. The dominant patterns of economic development in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and 1990s on the one hand, and the 1970s and past the 1990s on the other, were quite different, reflecting a long business cycle. If we look solely at economic growth statistics, the 1980s and 1990s can be described as lost decades. On average, real GDP per capita on the continent declined annually by 1.54% and 0.62% in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively. By contrast, between 2000 and 2016, real GDP per capita increased by an annual average of 2.13%. One important debate has focused on whether these shifts are primarily the result of domestic or international factors. Structural adjustment programs (SAPs) imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have been blamed for the decline in the economic fortunes of African countries in the 1980s. At the same time, they are praised for pulling many countries out of unsustainable macroeconomic policies. Moreover, a balanced overview of Africa’s development trajectory must conclude that even without major policy shifts such as those brought forth by the SAPs, many countries would still have remained highly dependent on one or just a few commodities, and would therefore have continued to experience wild swings in their business cycles in the absence of international intervention. The lack of economic diversification of many economies on the continent means that the future is hard to predict. However, the prerequisites for a prosperous Africa are not a mystery—they include good governance, economic diversity, and genuine economic integration.

Article

The African Union (AU), an international organization comprising all 54 independent states in Africa and Western Sahara, was established in May 2001 to, among other things, promote regional integration, interstate solidarity, peace, good governance and to enhance the African voice in the global system. Pan-African organization is like the proverbial forest that has bad trees dotted around its many good trees. The AU has been very successful in addressing the needs of the African political class but it is yet to make a significant difference in the lives of many ordinary Africans. The importance of the pan-African organization to African political elite is such that they would have created it today if it did not already exist. The AU has socialized African leaders to accept liberal values as the foundation of international cooperation in Africa; enhanced the agency of African political class on the world stage; and established progressive and innovative rules and norms for the African continent. It has also created many useful decision-making structures that have contributed to the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts in Africa. The AU has, however, been less successful in connecting its activities and programs to many ordinary Africans; providing common public goods and services valued by commoners in Africa; giving voice to the majority of young people in Africa; promoting intra-Africa trade, good governance, and financial independence of the African continent as well as struggled to address the expressed material needs and quotidian concerns of ordinary Africans.

Article

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 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

International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.

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

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 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

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

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.