- Party Politics and Economic Reform in Africa's Democracies by M. Anne Pitcher
Utilizing a variety of methodologies and creative application of political science theory, this book examines the confluence of liberalization and party politics in nascent democracies. The title of the book refers to "Africa's democracies"; Pitcher frequently references examples from around the continent and offers quantitative assessment of a cross-section of twenty-seven sub-Saharan countries. However, most of the empirical evidence is drawn from case studies of Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa. Economic reform here is explored mainly in terms of the privatization of state-owned enterprises, a key dimension of liberalization programs.
Pitcher seeks to demonstrate that differences among nations in the qualities of their democratic and party systems are related to different trajectories of institutional development—in particular, privatization of economic institutions. The decision to commit to—and follow through with—privatization, she argues, reveals how emergent democratic governments cope with distributional conflicts. Her theoretical framework is based on the political scientist Kenneth Shepsle's notion of "credible commitment." Following Shepsle, Pitcher explores two types of commitment—motivationally credible and credible in the imperative sense—at different points in time, beginning in the 1990s, again with particular reference to privatization as a key indicator of private-sector development. Focusing her analysis on countries in which the motivational commitment was high, Pitcher examines three patterns. First, a context of limited democracy and a volatile party [End Page 201] system—the pattern seen in Zambia, Malawi, and Mali—leads to ad hoc private-sector development and privatization. The second pattern is seen in countries that are considered illiberal democracies but have stable political parties. This combination promotes what Pitcher calls "partisan" private-sector development and privatization; she highlights Mozambique and Ghana, where ruling parties transferred state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to partisan supporters. The third pattern describes liberal democracies such as South Africa, Mauritius, and Cape Verde, which also boast stable party systems. This combination allows for credible commitment in the imperative sense, and parties such as South Africa's ANC have worked to build consensus and respond to organized distributional interests.
The book consists of seven chapters. The initial chapters, which lay out the theoretical foundations and the connections among state capacity, democratization, and institution-building, contribute to larger debates in comparative politics. But the key strength of the book lies in Pitcher's treatment of the country cases, each of which reflects the author's deep understanding of the region.
Zambia has been widely credited as an aggressive privatizer. Yet Pitcher demonstrates how the weak, fragmented party system in the country, combined with the generally feeble quality of its democratic reforms, led to unpredicted consequences for privatization. Her reading of the fluid nature of political parties in Zambia is adroit in and of itself, as is her treatment of the country's ad hoc approach to privatization and private-sector development more broadly. But by situating her discussion in the context of a larger analysis of parties and the party system, Pitcher also provides a framework for understanding why privatization has unfolded so chaotically and with such damaging repercussions for the state.
The discussion of the Mozambican case and its heretofore stable two-party system is even richer, owing both to the greater stability of parties in the country and to Pitcher's expertise in Mozambican politics. Ironically Mozambique, a nation in which party stability was high and democracy was limited, engaged in the most aggressive and arguably most successful privatization. In the process, however, the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) co-opted organized labor and silenced political dissent while leading a process that benefited party interests. Pitcher concludes that through the privatization process FRELIMO ultimately strengthened both its hold on the state and the state itself. Thus, for some countries at least, "privatization has not 'hollowed out' the state, but 'filled it in'" (185). This conclusion functions as a forceful rejoinder to arguments about neopatrimonialism in...