Political Liberalization and Democratization in Africa: Lessons from Country Experiences

By Kuenzi, Michelle | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, September 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Political Liberalization and Democratization in Africa: Lessons from Country Experiences


Kuenzi, Michelle, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Political Liberalization and Democratization in Africa: Lessons from Country Experiences. Edited by Julius Omozuanvbo Ihonvbere and John Mukum Mbaku. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Pp. xxi, 373. $69.95.

Political Liberalization and Democratization in Africa makes a solid contribution to the mounting literature on political development in Africa. Such is the case not so much because of the novel insights it presents as because of the keen, thorough descriptions provided of the democratization process in numerous African countries. This collection exhibits a coherence not often found in edited volumes. The book contains eleven country chapters on the theme of liberalization and democratization in Africa. Most of the country chapters cover similar topics within this general subject, which facilitates cross-country comparisons. The individual authors have in-depth knowledge of the countries they write about and provide illustrative examples and interesting anecdotes to support the broader principles and arguments they lay out. Thus, this book provides rich descriptions of the political experiences of most of the countries covered in the volume.

The introductory chapter by editors Julius Omozuanvbo Ihonvbere and John Mukum Mbaku and the overview chapter by Mbaku on the transition to democratic governance highlight well the general themes, challenges, and dynamics found across countries. Both the introductory chapters and some of the case studies are, however, characterized by a bit of redundancy, and there are no attempts to explain why democratization appears to have progressed more fully in some cases than in others. Moreover, we are not left with any sense of whether the democratization process has differed from one geographical region to the next. Nonetheless, some of the chapters dovetail very nicely. For example, the chapters on Zambia and Malawi (both by Ihonvbere), and on South Africa (by Roger Southall) help the reader understand the dynamics of political change in the southern African region as well as the interdependent nature of different political outcomes. Unfortunately, Sam Moyo's chapter on Zimbabwe focuses almost exclusively on the land reform process and gives very little attention to other recent trends and political events. In addition, the chapter cites numerous putatively positive implications of the recent land occupations for democracy and development and gives short shrift to some well-known negative effects. …

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