Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa

That is the title of a new book by Rachel Riedl of Northwestern University on party system development in Africa following re-democratization in the early 1990s. Riedl writes:

To explain these country’s divergent development, I point to earlier authoritarian strategies to consolidate support and maintain power. The initial stages of democratic opening provide an opportunity for authoritarian incumbents to attempt to shape the rules of the new multiparty system in their own interests, but their power to do so depends on the extent of local support built up over time. Where authoritarian incumbents are strong, they tightly control the democratic transition process, which paradoxically leads to higher party system institutionalization in the new democratic system.  Conversely, where authoritarian incumbents are weak, they lose control of the transition agenda and new players contribute in uncoordinated ways to press for greater reform and more open participation, which results in lower party system institutionalization in the democratic era.  The particular form of the party system that emerges from the democratic transition is sustained over time through isomorphic competitive pressures embodied in the new rules of the game, the forms of party organization, and the competitive strategies that shape party and voter behavior alike.

The book is an excellent resource for understanding the evolution of party systems on the Continent.

Implied in the book’s argument is the centrality of state capacity to well-ordered development and consolidation of democracy. As the case of Mali shows, if there was ever a precondition for democracy it is certainly a reasonable level of state capacity. In other words, there has to be empowerment before limitation, or else you get collapse.

2 thoughts on “Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa

  1. Why is democracy a preferred end? I mean, why democracy over monarchy or statelessness? To me, democracy is that system that blurs the class consciousness between the ruler and the ruled;

    Democracy means that the ruler is just a caretaker of collectively owned government. Like all forms of socialism, the incentive to exploit and not maintain long term capital value of a certain territory is drastically reduced, as the caretaker and his cronies seek to get as much as they can, while in power. Democracy is promotes shortsightedness.

    Compare that with a monarchy. The monarch de facto owns everything. It is his private property, and therefore the incentive to maintain value long term is higher than in a democracy. Should the king “over-exploit,” he knows he will lose his splendor, as the capital value of his kingdom will be reduced.Therefore, there is tendency toward farsightedness and controlled exploitation.

    These are just two points I want to lightly demonstrate. I have often read your posts, but nowhere you have justified democracy over another system; or why in a multiethnic Africa, it should be the preferred mode of political organization. To me, you seem to treat democracy as a given and a good thing.


  2. Perhaps the corruption, brutality and political inefficiencies of monarchism are the possible reason? The reason why people treat democracies as a good thing is that a stable democracy is noted for having far less corruption, political violence and peaceful transfers of power.
    And for all your praise of monarchy, perhaps you should take a moment to think of exactly why most monarchies that survived into the 20th century were either overthrown or gave up power. It was because they didn’t display any of these incredible traits you ascribe to them.


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