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Reviewed by:
  • Multi-party Elections in Africa
  • John Quinn
Michael Cowen and Liisa Laakso , eds. Multi-party Elections in Africa. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. 387 pp. Appendix. Bibliography. Index. $65.00. Cloth.

Multi-party Elections in Africa is an edited volume consisting primarily of case studies of elections in twelve Anglophone African countries during the 1990s, although many chapters examine earlier elections as well. Two other case studies examine Ethiopia and Guinea-Bissau, but there are no chapters devoted to Francophone countries. This book can best be thought of as a reference book with an overview of the literature on elections as well as detailed summaries of these relatively recent elections and their outcomes. Links between communal, regional, and ethnic groups and voting, [End Page 193] especially for presidential candidates and/or political parties, are the most common theme. Some authors propose specific theories to account for electoral behavior.

There are three exceptions to the single-case format. The introductory chapter surveys, in great detail, the literature on election studies in sub-Saharan African from decolonization to the present, and it is worth reading as a stand-alone. The second chapter includes three countries—Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland—while the appendix includes statistical analyses (fixed effects, bivariate regression models) examining the link between elections and some macroeconomic variables associated with political cycles.

Despite its strength in empirical detail and complex description, the book displays some weaknesses. First of all, it is hard to read: nearly three hundred and fifty pages of a font that other books reserve for endnotes! Then, too, there is so much rich information about rapidly changing parties, personalities, regional political voting blocks, and ethnic alliances that non–country experts may have a hard time keeping track of it all; a few more maps or tables or charts would have helped keep all the individual trees in their respective analytical woods. Also, the most recent elections included date from 1998 or earlier; hence the discussions of Ghana and Kenya do not cover the demise of Rawlings and Moi. Furthermore, the chapter on Nigeria focuses primarily upon the Abacha years (1993–98) and the country's failed transition to democracy. Finally, several of the chapters deal with local or bi-elections where regional generalizations are harder to make. These analyses can be interesting in their own right, although the result is that the book covers mostly studies of elections held under "less-than-democratic" rule.

Since most of the scholars examine one country, comparative examination of electoral or political systems is problematic. In one case, for example, the author attributes electoral disproportionality (the difference between percent of vote received and the percent of seats received) to the d'Hondt system of proportional representation, despite the fact that the comparative literature usually considers it to be very proportional (perhaps the true culprits were low district magnitudes and high minimum thresholds?). Also, the chapter on Malawi argues that neopatrimonialism resulted in flawed elections, while the evidence offered shows that candidates were threatened with kidnapping and other forms of repression. Simple authoritarianism could explain the results, therefore, without a more elaborate structural variable. Finally, the study of local elections in Namibia discusses the importance of turnout without reference to such rates in other surrounding countries under similar circumstances.

Nonetheless, this is a useful reference work for examining nascent electoral and party development in (mostly) Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa before the end of the century. It provides a wealth of information on parties, personalities, and ethnic coalitions up to and including the 1990s. [End Page 194] It deserves a place in research libraries or on the shelves of those looking for detailed documentary evidence from this period and for these countries.

John Quinn
Truman State University
Kirksville, Missouri