Democratization in Africa 1990-2010: an assessment

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Over two decades have passed since the 'third wave' of democratization began to roll across sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1990s. The introduction to this collection provides an overall assessment of the (lack of) progress made in democratization processes in Africa from 1990 to 2010. It highlights seven areas of progress and setbacks: increasingly illegitimate, but ongoing military intervention; regular elections and occasional transfers of power, but realities of democratic rollback and hybrid regimes; democratic institutionalization, but ongoing presidentialism and endemic corruption; the institutionalization of political parties, but widespread ethnic voting and the rise of an exclusionary (and often violent) politics of belonging; increasingly dense civil societies, but local realities of incivility, violence and insecurity; new political freedoms and economic growth, but extensive political controls and uneven development; and the donor community's mixed commitment to, and at times perverse impact on, democracy promotion. We conclude that steps forward remain greater than reversals and that typically, though not universally, sub-Saharan African countries are more democratic today than in the late 1980s. Simultaneously, we call for more meaningful processes of democratization that aim not only at securing civil and political rights, but also socio-economic rights and the physical security of African citizens.

Keywords: democracy promotion; democratic institutions; democratization; hybrid regimes; military intervention; political parties; presidentialism; sub-Saharan Africa; uneven development; violence and insecurity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2011

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