Democratization in Africa: The Theory and Dynamics of Political Transitions

By Earl Conteh-Morgan | Go to book overview

2 Explaining Democratization:
An Alternative to Existing
Conceptualizations

Civilization is shifting its basic outlook: a major turning point in history where the presuppositions on which society is structured are being analyzed, sharply challenged, and profoundly changed.

Alfred North Whitehead

The international systemic character of watershed events is that they are capable of spawning continuities and discontinuities in values and beliefs far beyond the geopolitical boundaries of their origin. The current democratization processes in a way constitute the dynamics of discontinuity between coercive rule and political liberalization resulting from the combined impact of world historic and international current events. They are broadly based demands of the need to evaluate a polity's coercive state and politico-economic structures; and they are articulated in large part by domestic and external criticisms directed at the authoritarian form of state governance. Democratization behaviors are set apart from other sorts of political events (coups, riots, rebellions, etc.) and transformative processes above all by the mutual intersection of two interrelated factors: the combination of economic stagnation and domestic-political agitation; and the coincidence of international structural alteration of power (hegemonic decline, cessation of major power rivalries, etc.). Thus, democratization as a process can transform social structures without necessarily bringing about basic changes in political-economic values. What is unique to the current democratization inspired partly by the demise of the Cold War is that basic changes in political structure (for example, political liberalization) and economic structure (for example, economic liberalization) occur together in a mutually reinforcing (or destructive) fashion. Some of these changes occur through intense sociopolitical conflicts in which ethnic, regional, religious, class, group, and other struggles play a key role.

This conceptualization of democratization is predicated on the rationale that smooth and/or turbulent democratization is probably affected by similar current macro-structural and historical contexts. It also underscores the alternation

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