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Article

Queer Activism in Africa  

Ellie Gore

From Pride marches in Entebbe to legal battles in Lilongwe, the struggle for queer liberation in Africa has intensified over the past two decades. This has given rise to diverse formations of queer activism and organizing across the African continent and, in turn, to a burgeoning academic literature on the politics and practices of queer African activism. From a legal perspective, this period has seen progress in the status of queer or LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) rights in some parts of the continent. Elsewhere, this has paralleled a rise in forms of state-sponsored homophobia. The Ugandan government’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill is one prominent example, which garnered international notoriety in 2009. Focusing on waves of political homophobia in countries like Uganda, some Western media commentators have characterized Africa as homophobic, a continent where queer individuals face violence and persecution. Yet heightened international concern over the plight of queer Africans has not always been accompanied by an understanding of the movements, alliances, organizations, and activists working on these issues on the ground, nor has it incorporated the voices and experiences of queer Africans themselves. Thus, narratives of “homophobic Africa” belie the multiple, far-reaching ways Africans are coming together to contest homophobia, unsettle heteronormativity, and assert their rights. Among this growing array of activist groups are the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, Freedom and Roam Uganda, the Association of LGBTI People in Zimbabwe (GALZ), and LEGABIBO (Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana), to name just a few. In the academic literature, scholars have converged around a key set of issues and debates in an attempt to document and understand the character of contemporary queer politics and activism in Africa. This includes debates over language, naming practices, and terminology and discussions of political and religious homophobia, processes of globalization, the impact of HIV interventions and international aid funding, and the political economy of development. The complexity of these issues defies generalization and necessitates a concern for specificity: for an understanding of the shifting social, cultural, economic, and political contexts in which struggles over queer liberation and LGBTI rights are taking place in Africa; of the historical legacies of colonialism and uneven patterns of global development; and of the opportunities and constraints shaping queer activism in each setting. Against this background, scholars engaged in the study of queer activism must interrogate whose experiences, voices, and priorities are being heard (and whose are being excluded) and seek to center those activists at the grass roots who are leading the struggle for queer liberation and erotic justice on the continent.

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

Tax, Politics, and the Social Contract in Africa  

Wilson Prichard

Though traditionally thought of as the preserve of technical experts—lawyers, economists and accountants—the study of taxation has recently attracted growing attention, with mounting recognition that taxation is fundamentally political, and lies near the core of the relationship between states and citizens. The first, and most common, question about the politics of taxation is: what are the political barriers to more effective and equitable taxation, and how can these political barriers may be overcome? However, it is important that any discussion of the politics of taxation also consider a second question: How can the expansion of tax collection be linked to the construction of stronger fiscal contracts, thus ensuring responsiveness and accountability in the use of tax revenues? The expansion of taxation represents a transfer of wealth from private citizens to the state, but becomes publicly desirable only if it is then consistently translated in improvements in publicly provided goods and services, and broader improvements in the quality of governance. This makes it incumbent on those interested in taxation to consider not only how best to raise additional revenue, but how best to raise additional revenue in ways that increase the likelihood that new revenue will be translated into broader public benefits. It is now widely accepted that in many cases political resistance represents the most important barrier to more effective taxation in Africa—particularly with respect to the taxation of elite groups. This, in turn, reflects two broad political challenges: the expansion of taxation frequently confronts resistance from influential political and economic elites, while it has historically been very difficult to build popular coalitions in favor of taxation in contexts of limited transparency and significant distrust of taxation and the state. That said, recent research has shed growing light on the contexts in which reform is more likely, and the reform strategies that may contribute to overcoming political resistance. This has been accompanied by the growth of parallel research that has highlighted the contexts in which the expansion of taxation is most likely to spur public mobilization and demand-making—and thus the strategies that reformers might adopt in seeking to strengthen the links between revenue-raising and improvements in public services and accountability. Ultimately, it increasingly appears that the kinds of political strategies that can support more effective and equitable taxation are also likely to contribute to encouraging encourage expanded popular engagement and stronger links between taxation and public benefits. These include efforts to stress horizontal equity in tax collection, to expand transparency and popular engagement in tax debates and to more clearly link expanded revenue to specific public uses, in order to build popular support for reform. Such strategies have the potential to contribute to virtuous circles of reform in which new taxation is translated into valued public benefits; thus building popular support for the further expansion of more equitable taxation.

Article

HIV and AIDS in Africa: Global Politics and Domestic Consequences  

Alan Whiteside

AIDS is a new disease that was first recorded in 1981. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there were concerns that it would decimate populations; prevention was slow to take hold, and there was no cure. By the mid-1990s it was clear, in the developed world, that it would be mostly contained to specific populations. Effective but expensive treatment was unveiled in 1996. However, in Africa there were fears of a continent-wide epidemic. AIDS emerged in central Africa (HIV1) and west Africa (HIV2) and spread from there. In the 1990s it reached southern Africa, the current epicenter. It has become evident that AIDS has not meant the collapse of economies and nations or the hollowing out of populations. Treatment options mean people can live normally provided they adhere to the drug regime, but they are costly. The worst epidemic is in the southern cone of Africa. Here it continues to have political consequences, although causality is hard to ascribe. Unique features of the disease are that the modes of transmission include its geographic location and the excessive involvement of donors in the response; the lack of African ownership makes it a global political problem. At the moment the lives of millions of Africans depend on the generosity of the West, and that future is uncertain. AIDS is a greater challenge to southern and eastern African states than anywhere in Africa and indeed the world. The international engagement particularly in the provision of treatment means the disease has global political ramifications.

Article

The Political Role of the African Middle Class: The Over-Politicization of an Elusive Category  

Dominique Darbon

The African middle class (AMC) is an elusive category with high political significance. In spite of its vagueness and its controversial nature, this so-called social category is consistently used by a number of individual actors and institutions alike, including IO, NGOs, business interests, and political leaders in Africa for political purposes. The words “African middle class” are suggestive enough to produce new images of African social structures and turn the “hopeless continent” into a “miracle,” a new “powerhouse.” They are strong enough to grant new legitimacy to failing political leaders and the well off and to let people and academics alike anticipate the rise of democratic, stable, uncorrupted institutions. However, people “of the middle of the diamond” in Africa do not exist as a social community or a class. They do not share a common political identity. They have no political role of their own. The diversity of social subgroups may occasionally mobilize together, but for a short period of time and on highly different grounds. The political role of the AMC is as elusive as their mere existence. New social groups of limited prosperity are on the rise. However, they are far from making a class and mobilizing for political purposes. The rise of middle classes in emerging countries became a research theme at the beginning of the 2000s. The discussion took root in sub-Saharan African countries in the 2010s without any in-depth debate about its relevance. It was as if the AMC or classes already existed before the examination of a still very confused and heterogeneous set of transformations of the social structure of African societies was conducted. As a result, the AMC concept appears in almost all analyses as elastic, elusive, cobbled together, and uncertain as to its boundaries, its characteristics, its components, or its homogeneity. This confusion does not prevent authors from anticipating the meaning and effects of the AMC for political stability and democratization. Before studying how the people grouped behind this label can affect and be affected by politics and policies, it is necessary to understand how politically loaded this middle-class label is.

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

Governing Africa’s Seas in the Neoliberal Era  

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

Southern Africa: Regional Politics and Dynamics  

Stephen Chan

Southern Africa is a region marked by huge tensions caused by the longevity of colonial rule and racial discrimination. Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa all achieved independence only years after most of Africa, and only with protracted militarized struggle. Even those countries that did enter independence in the 1960s, alongside most of Africa, were marked by the struggles of their neighbors—Zambia, host to exile liberation movements, was a frequent military target; and wars, sponsored or supported by apartheid South Africa, continued to rage in Angola and Mozambique even after they achieved independence. This has marked the post-independence politics of most countries of the region, almost all of whom have gone through, or remain within, an era of one-party politics or dominant party rule. In part, this can be read as a residual longing for stability. In other part it can be read as a “liberation generation” using its history as a lever by which to hang onto power. Having said that, the politics of each country has distinctive characteristics—although one has certainly been protracted effort to adhere to forms of ethics, such as “Humanism” in Zambia, and truth and reconciliation in South Africa. The contemporary politics of the region, however, is one with forms of authoritarianism and corruption and, in many cases, economic decline or turmoil. The rise of Chinese influence is also a new marker of politics in the region as all of Southern Africa, with many different former colonial powers, enters a new era of problematic cosmopolitanism—with the international jostling with already sometimes-volatile elements of ethnic diversity, balancing, and conflict.

Article

Surveys and Their Use in Understanding African Public Opinion  

Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz

In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of public opinion surveys in Africa. While experts on economic development and health had long been collecting individual-, household-, and community-level data on the continent, efforts to gather information on what Africans thought about their governments, societies, and political and economic situations, more broadly, were limited before the late 1990s. Certainly, this expansion was enabled by the wave of political liberalizations that hit most African countries at the end of the Cold War, thus creating conditions under which citizens could be more open in discussing attitudes and behaviors, particularly with regard to politics. However, it also coincided with a growth in the popularity of public opinion surveys globally. The distribution of data-collection efforts has not been uniform across countries: more surveys have been conducted in countries with higher levels of economic development, political openness, and security, such as Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, than in more challenging settings, such as Eritrea, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus, our knowledge of what Africans think about politics and economics varies significantly from country to country. Myriad organizations have been involved in these efforts. Academic organizations, both on the African continent and overseas, have been at the forefront of such work in Africa. The most prominent among these has been the Afrobarometer, which has conducted dozens of surveys, in about two thirds of the continent’s countries, since 1999. The majority of studies, however, are made up of contributions by other entities, including for-profit companies, media houses, and even political campaigns. In total, these surveys vary in their methodologies, focuses, quality, and the accessibility of their data for researchers, policymakers, and the general public. These developments have had significant impacts on academic studies, policymaking, and even countries’ domestic politics. Surveys have improved understandings of Africans’ attitudes, assessments of the status quos in their respective countries, decision-making processes, and hopes and priorities for the future. For academics, these data have provided new opportunities for testing theories—oftentimes upending or at least complicating extant conventional wisdom—and catalyzing the development of new research programs. Candidates and parties use enhanced understandings of the electorate to develop different persuasive strategies. Governments frequently attempt to control, limit, or strategically use survey enterprises. Media in some countries regularly report on popular attitudes and campaign-time “horse races.” In some instances, the release and interpretation of public opinion data have become quite politicized. And election observers frequently propose collection of public opinion data before elections as a guard against flagrant rigging. In sum, these developments have, in myriad ways, fundamentally changed how African countries are studied and governed.

Article

Aid, Political Conditionality, and Other International Efforts to Support Democracy in Africa  

Christine Hackenesch

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

Women’s Political Movements and Civil Society in Africa  

Aili Mari Tripp

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

The Democratic Dividend: Public Spending and Education Under Multipartyism  

Robin Harding

A substantial body of scholarship has considered the impact of regime types on public spending and basic service provision, much of which has implications for education. While some of the theoretical and empirical conclusions from this work are globally applicable, there are also important ways in which the relationship between democracy and education may be influenced by the African context. The most useful theoretical arguments for why democracy may influence public spending, and spending on education in particular, focus on the political incentives generated by multiparty electoral competition. Related but distinct arguments focus on how this may impact in turn on education outcomes, and on why these dynamics may vary because of factors that are particularly pertinent in many African countries. These include variations in the degree of electoral competitiveness and political competition as well as in levels of economic development and ethnic fractionalization. A large body of empirical evidence investigates these various arguments, evaluating the impact of democracy on both education spending and education outcomes. Although evidence for the positive impact of democracy on education is compelling, evidence for this relationship in Africa remains limited and is hampered by limitations to data. In particular, although evidence suggests democracy may have a positive impact on access to education in Africa, there is less evidence for its impact on the quality of education. Future work should continue to address these issues while seeking to investigate sources of heterogeneity in the impact of democracy on education in Africa.

Article

Sport and Politics in Africa  

Michelle Sikes

African politics have always had a significant effect on sport, despite cherished mantras that sport and politics are mutually exclusive. Conversely, sport has played a meaningful role in the politics of African nations, from nation-building to widening foreign policy options, to making national alliances of countries that may not have otherwise supported each other, particularly with respect to the anti-apartheid struggle. Twentieth-century African politics have been a laboratory for the testing and ultimate debunking of the long-standing notion that African sport (or any human activity) exists in a vacuum, apart from the political realities of the culture within which it exists.

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

Political Parties and Regime Outcomes in Multiparty Africa  

Adrienne LeBas

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

Article

Reconsidering African Elections  

Carolien van Ham and Staffan Lindberg

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

Article

Election Campaigns and Political Mobilization In Africa  

Dan Paget

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

Article

International Relations in Africa in Theory and Practice  

Timothy M. Shaw

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

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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.