Electoral Politics in Africa

Electoral Politics in Africa: Continuity in Change since 1990 – with Nicolas van de Walle. Cambridge University Press.

Several hundred multi-party elections have been held in 46 of the 49 countries of Sub-Saharan

Africa since a wave of democratization swept across the region in the early 1990s. This book explores the role of electoral politics in Africa from multi-party transitions drawing on cross-national data and more in-depth analysis of 8 countries: Senegal, Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, Kenya and Mozambique.

Multi-party elections have been institutionalized during this quarter century but, we do not observe broader democratic consolidation in most of these countries. Instead the democratization of the early 1990s remains incomplete in much of the region to this day. Despite much apparent change since 1990, many of the same men, and rather fewer women, remain in positions of power today. On the whole, and with notable exceptions, the same political class that dominated national politics before transitions continue to do so.

A usually unexamined presumption in much work on democratization in the region is that progress or regression is happening as fast as for these socio-economic trends. In fact, we will argue that a striking disjuncture currently contrasts the great changes in African society, and the relative stagnation in its politics, even as we recognize the change brought on by the introduction of hundreds of competitive elections over the last two decades. This book will both document this paradoxical disjuncture between a rapidly changing Africa and stagnant electoral politics and investigate its implications for electoral politics.

Given the regularization of multi-party elections, coupled with the change in media landscape and demographic trends including higher growth rates, urbanization, and unprecedented access to schooling –why do we observe relative political stasis? We argue that two key factors promote continuity: presidentialism and the “liability of newness.” These factors enhance the sitting president’s incumbency advantage.

Still, elections can serve a “political moments,” which generate substantial change. In very young and still unsettled electoral systems, in addition, we argue that each election also provides a moment of temporary political fluidity. This political opportunity can result in substantial democratic gains, or conversely, backsliding.

Table of Contents

1.  The Puzzle of electoral continuity

2.  The evolution of electoral competition 1990 – 2015

3.   The impact of elections on democracy

4.   Political parties and electoral competition

5.   Candidates and electoral campaigns

6.   Analyzing issues in presidential campaigns

7.  The African Voter

8. Do African elections matter?