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Understanding and Deploying the Political Settlement Framework in Africa  

Hazel Gray

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

Article

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

Land-Related Conflict and Electoral Politics in Africa  

Catherine Boone

Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.