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.

Daron Acemoglu talks State Building

Last month MIT Economist Daron Acemoglu (co-author of Why Nations Fail) gave the Nemmers lecture at the Northwestern Econ Department (see video here).

In the lecture he defines inclusive institutions as having two components: (i) pluralism and (ii) political centralization.

Now, when most people talk about institutional development they like to focus on the first component. This is the crowd that will tell you that what Rwanda needed after 1994 was electoral democracy and free market institutions and all would be well (Did you know that Mali has elections this July?) But history teaches us that that is not the whole story. There is also the problem of Stateness (aka political centralization), and how it comes about.

Finally Acemoglu and Robinson are addressing what I think is a weakness in their inclusive-institutions-as-the-fundamental-cause-of-long-run-growth argument – the question of the need for political centralization through state building (and the messiness it entails). In the lecture, Acemoglu makes the argument that pluralism can actually lead to state building (or makes it easier) through the creation of “consensually strong states”; and that the process of state building can lead to pluralism due to the centralizing leader’s need to cut deals with local elites. In other words, there is reverse causation between pluralism and stateness.

The takeaway is that inclusive institutions result from the joint development of sustained economic growth and a wider distribution of political power.

This is all good, although I wish Acemoglu and Robinson explored the role of coercion in state-building. My reading of history may be completely out of whack, but when I look back in time I see a lot of conquests and forcible inclusion into states and a lot less “deal making.” Conquests not contrasts appear to be the modal MO of state formation.