Academic journal article African Studies Review

Democratization in Africa: Progress and Retreat

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Democratization in Africa: Progress and Retreat

Article excerpt


Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, eds. Democratization In Africa: Progress and Retreat. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the National Endowment for Democracy, 2010. A Journal of Democracy book, xxvii + 360 pages. Figures. Tables. Maps. Index. $30.00. Paper.

How is Africa ruled? Better than before, according to Larry Diamond in his introduction. Of Africa's fifty-odd countries, twenty are now full-fledged "electoral democracies" and only Somalia and Swaziland have held wo competitive elections (x).

At the same time, many of these elections have been blatantly rigged and deeply flawed. Recently, there have been five outright reversals of democracy, and a large number of countries have very low levels of democratic quality; restricted freedom and political competition, widespread corruption and clientelism, and a "big man syndrome" prevail. Elections are becoming a means of power preservation in Africa.

Most of the individual chapters of this collection of twenty-four short essays were published in the Journal of Democracy between 2007 and 2009, and they fall into two categories. The introduction and the first eight chapters discuss the levels and trends of democracy in Africa, and the challenges to it. The rest are dedicated to individual countries.

Without turning to a sterile discussion on the definitions of democracy (we know an elephant when we spot one), the first chapters take up issues like the untamed presidents (H. Kwasi Prempeh), the "big man syndrome" (Larry Diamond), and informal politics (Daniel N. Posner and Daniel J. Young). These are core problems to democratization on the continent. Adding to the problem is the arrival of China, which "gives new lease to authoritarian regimes in Africa" (Richard Joseph) and growth without prosperity (Peter Lewis). However, one possible remedy is addressed, namely the legislatures as "significant institutions of countervailing power" (Joel Barkan).

The country chapters address these core problems more or less explicitly. However, all sub-Saharan countries cannot be covered in a book like this, and some important countries are missing. For instance, President Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire is at the time of writing struggling to hold on to the presidential power he has had for ten years, despite electoral defeat. …

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