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Reviewed by:
  • Democracy and Elections in Africa
  • Shadrack Wanjala Nasong'o
Lindberg, Staffan I. 2006. Democracy and Elections in Africa. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 227pp. $24.95.

In Democracy and Elections in Africa, Staffan Lindberg sets out to examine the centrality of elections in the process of democratization in Africa by focusing on the democratic qualities of political participation, competition, and legitimacy. Noting that elections alone are insufficient to make a democracy, he rightly observes that no other political institution precedes participatory, competitive, and legitimate elections in instrumental importance for self-government. He contextualizes his analysis in the existing literature by arguing that it is full of discordant voices, to the extent that it has been characterized as a dialogue of the deaf. In his view, this is a consequence of the fact that scholars of African democratization pay too little attention to careful conceptualization of dependent variables, clear delineation of hypotheses about the relationship between cause and effect, and rigorous measurement and compilation of comparable data. The study of political change in Africa, he argues, still suffers from inadequate theoretical specification, methodological rigor, and, perhaps most of all, insufficient collection of data suitable for comparative analysis. Accordingly, he develops sixteen variables, which he applies to a data set of 232 elections conducted in Africa between 1989 and June 2003.

The book is divided into seven short, crisp chapters. The introductory chapter elaborates the role of elections and justifies the choice of studying Africa; it undertakes a survey of preindependence and postindependence elections in Africa. In chapter two, Lindberg delineates his data-collection and data-processing methods and operationalizes the key concepts employed in his study. Chapter three is a survey of elections in Africa over time—elections for which Lindberg assesses their frequency and number, and attempts an evaluation of their democratic qualities in terms of how free and fair they were; extent of participation in the form of voter turnout and full opposition participation; electoral outcome in terms of whether the election resulted in regime change or not; electoral competitiveness measured in terms of winning candidate's share of votes, largest party's share of votes, and turnover of power; and electoral legitimacy, interpreted in terms of a peaceful process, in which the losers accept their defeat.

Chapter four focuses on first, second, third, and later elections in Africa, with a view to evaluating their "self-reinforcing power." This process leads to chapters five and six, in which the causal effects of elections vis-à-vis democratic qualities and the interface between elections and civil liberties are treated respectively. In chapter seven, Lindberg puts his findings into a broader comparative perspective with regard to the rest of the democratizing world. He delineates the democratic lessons for consolidation from his study, as well as the policy implications of his findings.

Lindberg employs an empirical approach, with emphasis on the quantitative measurement of variables and multivariate regression analysis of the relationships between the dependent and independent variables. He arrives [End Page 134] at several interrelated conclusions about the relationship between elections and democratization in Africa. First, he concludes that elections not only signify democracy, but in fact, through their self-reinforcing and self-improving quality, breed democracy, especially when repeated over time. Second, he concludes that elections in new electoral regimes in Africa demonstrate a significant and positive causal effect, and that this power of elections has been underestimated and understudied. Third, he concludes that elections are neither the outcome of liberalization, nor indicators of democratization, but seem to be a causal factor for both. Fourth and finally, he concludes that moving from authoritarian rule to a competitive electoral regime tends to lead to further democratization: successive uninterrupted cycles of elections tend to promote greater "democraticness" of both the electoral regime and the society in general, including expansion of civil liberties, a competitive party system, participatory politics, and enhanced political legitimacy.

The main significance of Lindberg's study is that it marks a sharp departure from other Africanist studies of the democratization trajectory in Africa on account of its optimism. Much of the previous Africanist scholarship, especially since the mid-1990s, has been overly pessimistic about the prospects for democracy...


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