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Reviewed by:
  • Votes, Money and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • John W. Harbeson
Matthias Basedau, Gero Erdmann, and Andreas Mehler, eds. 2007. Votes, Money and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa. Uppsala, Sweden: Nordic African Institute. 301pp. $37.50.

Votes, Money and Violence is a richly and carefully researched inquiry into the roles of political parties, political-party systems, and electoral systems and their relationships to democracy in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. Also included are two chapters exploring the roles and reasons for political violence in relationship to parties and elections in emerging democracies and one on the role of money. The volume is drawn from papers presented in Hamburg, Germany, in May 2003 at a meeting of the Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies, a conference entitled "How People Elect Their Leaders: Parties, Party Systems and Election in Africa South of the Sahara."

The volume's authors are thorough, careful, and balanced throughout. With distinctive transparency, they work through many of the problems, pitfalls, and issues they confront in arriving at their conclusions. Indeed, they are so conscientious in this respect that many of the important conclusions and hypotheses their work suggests tend to be somewhat obscured, so careful are they to qualify their findings. In presenting their findings rather as a work in progress, the book will be more valuable to those with a strong interest but less background in the subjects than if the authors had presented their findings and supporting evidence in a more forthright manner.

Notwithstanding their thoroughness, balance, and analytical transparency, many significant themes emerge in the book—themes that deserve attention from other researchers, as these authors acknowledge.

First, while everyone grants the importance of parties to the viability of democracies, nascent or otherwise, the book's editors are correct in stating that African political parties have received less attention than they deserve, beyond a general recognition that they are weaker and less programmatic than they need to be. The same is at least as true for party systems, including not numerous structural possibilities, but (equally I would add) whatever rules of the game parties work out—or fail to work out—to frame and regulate their electoral competition.

Second, the dispassionate examination of the roles, reasons, and functions of violence in electoral circumstances—as distinct from a focus on how to end or prevent it—is a useful contribution of two of the book's chapters. The connections of violence to other dimensions of parties and party-system structures and functions will be a useful focus for further research. [End Page 130]

Third, the authors usefully consider and weigh the question of how, and in what ways, what is known and generally accepted about the roles and functions of parties and party systems in industrialized-society contexts applies outside these settings in places like sub-Saharan Africa. One finding in particular stands out: that party polarization may be inversely related to the stability and sustainability of democracy.

Fourth, while the importance of the informal politics in relationship to formal institutions has long been well understood, the book rightly emphasizes this connection in the context of African parties and elections, notably the role of patronage and clientelistic networks. This emphasis is particularly apt in the context of electoral campaigns—what happens before election day.

Fifth, in all the concern with electoral processes and outcomes, the broad question of what exactly it means to have a representative democracy has received less attention than it deserves. Clearly representativeness includes, but is not limited to ensuring, appropriate ethnic and gender balances. Vicki Randall contrasts movement parties that, she hypothesizes, may give voice to women's concerns at particular moments before, as she puts it, "external economic pressures and conservative vested interests (re) assert themselves" (p. 101). She expresses concern for how these and other interests "vulnerable to marginalization and redefinition" can be adequately represented by parties, movement or otherwise.

Sixth, one chapter offers a valuable inquiry into the merits of blocking from electoral participation, or even registration, parties that appeal narrowly to a single ethnic, sectararian, or other particularistic interest, as some African countries have done so as to...


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