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Africa Today 47.1 (2000) 133-136

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Diouf, Mamadou. 1998. Political Liberalisation or Democratic Transition: African Perspectives. New Path Series No. l. Dakar: CODESRIA. 83 pp.

The process of political liberalization or democratic transition in Africa, though incomplete, has been phenomenal. Its varied ways of manifestation have generated extensive intellectual interests. Researchers have been investigating these forms of manifestation, debating their origins, principal agents, the onward rushes and reversals, successes and failures, and generally attempting to draw general or specific typologies of the process. Given the expanse of publications available on the theme, Diouf tries to systematize the available research into a "state of the art review." He also hopes to engage an African theoretical ordering of the process.

Three broad themes are used to achieve this aim in the monograph. First is the geography of transition and its conceptualization. The section also revisits theories of transition and the actual steps discernible in this process. Diouf borrows extensively from the experience of Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe in understanding the geography of transition and the theories used. The author tabulates the process to illustrate how African countries have performed in relationship to democratic transition. This remains a highly unpredictable process for which the tables provided cannot adequately capture the dynamism involved.

In understanding the steps to transition, the Carter Center African Governance Program's Quality of Democracy Index, Bratton and van der Walle's Global Coalition for Africa/CMA and the African Leadership Forum transition indexes are used. These are contrasted with G. Martin's work that identifies some six phases of transition (pp. 14-15). The theories of transition are discussed on the basis of a conceptualization of "authority as conditional" involving the capacity of "validation at regular intervals" in a manner that "should be constitutionally determined" (p. 8).

Beginning with the role of the elite, Diouf argues that many social categories have been significant in the process of democratic renewal in [End Page 133] Africa. The process has unleashed loyalties that trace to and borrow from the pre-colonial times in Africa. New modes of identity have emerged to oppose the authoritarianism of despotic rulers of independent Africa. The "intellectuals" of the people include the clergy, prophets, healers, malamoi, marabouts and similar others. This has acted to introduce new African modes of representation that were never in the public limelight earlier.

Pride of place in this section is given to non-African analysts of the democratic process in Africa. The African component is entailed in the remarkable work of Eli El Kenz with CODESRIA's Algerian national working group that is accorded deserved attention but only in so far as it highlighted the tensions between the positive and negative poles within social movements. Can we reduce the African scholarly contribution in this debate to such sporadic mention as Diouf does in this study? What kind of African perspectives (the rider of the monograph title) is Diouf interested in?

In the second section of this monograph, Diouf highlights five research directions that deserve attention. First is the nexus between what is uniquely African and what is universal in the transition process. Second is how to identify the beginnings and ends to better understand the uncertainty of the process. Third is how the institutional systems of the transition can be pointers to the shape of future regimes. Fourth is an analysis of how the international financial organizations and their political conditions account for the external constraints on democratization in Africa. Last is an examination of the role of social movements in the democratization process in Africa. Here, Diouf is concerned with the youth and student movements, religious issues, and the dynamics involved in the opposition struggles. Indeed, the nature of the opposition and its commitment to democracy is one of Diouf's suggested areas for research.

While the research directions highlighted above are important, Diouf should have acknowledged that research and publication on some, if not all, of these themes are underway. Then he could have identified the gaps with more clarity. Diouf also has failed to acknowledge the consensus...


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