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Democracy promotion in Africa: the institutional context

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Democracy is seen by many as a viable means to rebuild the legitimacy of African states. However, African democracy is often based on a particular set of institutions which tend to concentrate power in the executive. A powerful president operates in a context of a minimal separation of powers, with few possibilities to restrain the executive, and a highly majoritarian party-political landscape. Democratic reforms and democracy assistance policies were first directed primarily at multiparty elections and political parties. Later donors have shifted to a broader approach of good governance and human rights. However, both the narrow electoral and the broader good governance and human rights approaches do not address sufficiently the institutional context of multi-party competition, which is characterized by the fusion of powers and a powerful presidency. This is a serious flaw which also limits the impact of current democracy promotion policies. This contribution suggests that democracy promoters could address this institutional gap by advocating for institutional reforms through which accountability in Africa may be increased, notably through greater inclusion of parliament and interest groups and of civil society actors in policy-making. Moreover, donors can set an example by introducing such reforms in the donor-recipient policy dialogue process they themselves conduct.

Keywords: Africa; democracy promotion; hybrid regimes; institutions; presidentialism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands

Publication date: April 1, 2011


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