Department of Government
New publication

Democratic backsliding in Africa? Autocratization, resilience, and contention

Why have most African countries not achieved greater political liberalization? What explains the lack of progress toward the ideals of liberal democracy across the region?

Picture of the book "Democratic backsliding in Africa?" to the left, and Lise Rakner to the right

Main content

In their new book, Lise Rakner together with Leonardo R. Arriola and Nicolas van de Walle present the collaborative research efforts of researchers and graduate students from Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, Norway, Uganda, The US, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The group members have all participated in the four-year research project Breaking Bad: Understanding Backlash against Democracy in Africa funded by the Research Council of Norway.

In examining how incumbent leaders in African countries attempt to contain societal pressures for greater democracy, the chapters explain how governments go beyond the standard tools of manipulation, such as electoral fraud and political violence, to keep democracy from unfolding in their countries. The book emphasizes two distinct strategies that governments frequently use to reinforce their hold on power -  the legal system and the international system - but which remain overlooked in conventional analyses. It documents how governments employ the law to limit the scope of action among citizens and civil society activists struggling to expand democratic liberties, including the use of constitutional provisions and the courts. The book further demonstrates how governments use their role in international relations to neutralize pressure from external actors, including sovereigntist claims against foreign intervention and selective implementation of donor-promoted policies. While pro-democracy actors can also emplow these legal and international strategies to challenge incumbents, in some cases to prevent democratic backsliding, the book shows why and how incumbents have enjoyed institutional advantages when implementing these strategies through six country case studies of Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

Click here to read the book.