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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

The American South and LGBT Politics  

Jay Barth

The cultural distinctiveness of the South led to a backlash in the region in the years following the rise of a national LGBTQ movement. In the decades that followed, political science research showed that the South remained fundamentally different than elsewhere in the nation in terms of attitudes regarding LGBTQ individuals and policies, both regarding overall views and Southerners’ imperviousness to personal contact with queer individuals in terms of reshaping attitudes. In electoral politics, explicit group-based appeals regarding LGBTQ individuals were often employed. And, policy divergence between the South and non-South was stark. While unambiguous shifts have occurred in the South in a more pro-LGBTQ rights direction, the region remains distinctively conservative when it comes to LGBTQ politics. Particularly striking are Southern attitudes toward transgender individuals and policies. That said, “two Souths” have begun to cement on LGBTQ politics as urbanized and suburbanized areas have diverged. Moreover, within the region’s Republican Party, a factional divide has begun to show itself across the South. The South remains consequential in gauging whether backpedaling on the dramatic progress made on LGBTQ rights is occurring in the United States.

Article

Religious Traditions in Politics: Protestantism  

Evert van Leeuwen

Protestantism was labeled when German noblemen wished to retain control of their own country church. Martin Luther’s theology based on faith and the scripture became in this way a matter of political dispute. His rejection of the pope as the final authority in matters of religion brought the Lutheran country churches within the power and economy of the local noble rulers, liberating them from financial obligations to Rome. Luther’s actions were, in the first phase of Protestantism, followed by those of Anabaptists and cantons in Switzerland (Huldrych Zwingli) and cities in France (Martin Bucer in Strasbourg; John Calvin in Geneva). Calvin stood for a kind of theocratic regime based on his doctrine of predestination. His views spread over France and the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands) as a liberation from the feudal system. In the second phase of Protestantism, the political dimension became less significant, and the focus became instead upon Protestant believers’ looking inward to find the Light, or God, in themselves. Political action then became the consequence of the intention to do well, by seeking justice and seeing that every human being is created in God’s image. Many groups were persecuted, as the earlier Anabaptists were, and left Europe for the New World. There they became activists for the abolition of slavery, equal rights for all human beings, and social justice. The third phase of Protestantism is characterized by ideas of rebirth and regeneration. Sin and evil can be washed away and people can start a new life in the blessing of Jesus Christ, following his guidance as evangelicals. In matters of politics, personal norms and values become more important than social justice or reform, leading to bans on, for instance, abortion and homosexuality as sinful ways of life. In the early 21st century, a significant number of Protestant groups are active in right-wing politics, and their membership continues to grow in the Americas, Africa and Asia.