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'Well, what can you expect?': donor officials' apologetics for hybrid regimes in Africa

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Most sub-Saharan African countries are neither liberal democracies, nor fully authoritarian. Officials from Western governments that provide assistance to these 'hybrid regimes' often become apologists for their lack of democracy. Rather than cogently arguing why democracy promotion activities should not be a priority, such donor officials frequently claim either that their host country is more democratic than it actually is, or that it could not be any more democratic for the time being. Drawing on some 70 interviews with donor officials in three African countries - Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda - over a period of more than a decade, this paper examines numerous individuals' common use of three methods to deflect criticism of the democratic credentials of their host countries: (1) focusing on election day, rather than the campaign and conditions as a whole; (2) setting the standard very low (do not expect too much); and (3) setting a long time horizon (do not expect it too soon). Perhaps equally important, the paper also explores the various reasons why these donor officials make such excuses for authoritarian practices.

Keywords: Kenya; Malawi; Rwanda; authoritarianism; democratization; elections; foreign aid donor; hybrid regime; illiberal democracy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada

Publication date: April 1, 2011


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