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  • Multiethnic Coalitions in Africa: Business Financing of Opposition Election Campaigns by Leonardo R. Arriola
  • Daniel J. Eizenga
Leonardo R. Arriola. Multiethnic Coalitions in Africa: Business Financing of Opposition Election Campaigns. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xxiii + 301 pp. List of Figures. List of Tables. List of Abbreviations. Appendixes. References. $30.99. Paper.

In this book Leonardo Arriola examines the question of why opposition parties are able to form multiethnic coalitions in some African countries but not in others. He argues that opposition parties in Africa have historically [End Page 214] been unable to establish cross-cleavage coalitions because of the indivisible nature of the presidential office and the uncertainty surrounding whether winning candidates will uphold commitments to disperse rewards—such as ministerial positions—once in office. The book offers a theory of “pecuniary coalition formation” to explain how opposition candidates overcome these challenges. The theory asserts that multiethnic coalitions are most likely to emerge where incumbents have lost influence over the political allegiance of business elites because of liberalizing financial sector reforms. Such reforms enable entrepreneurs to support opposition candidates without fear of reprisals from the regime in power. When this is the case, opposition parties obtain monetary support from business leaders, which in turn allows opposition leaders to provide money, favors, and goods in exchange for the endorsements of politicians from other ethnic backgrounds.

Arriola maintains that this causal explanation holds in the context of African societies where, he argues, the principal cleavage between groups in political competition is distinguished along ethnic lines. However, the book fails to explain how ethnic groups are conceptualized from country to country. It assumes that ethnic groups can be treated equally across all countries throughout Africa regardless of their political relevance. The author’s “Multiethnic Opposition Coalitions” dataset, which consists of election and coalition data for thirty-six sub-Saharan African countries from 1990 to 2005, supplies no measure for assessing the political significance of one group as compared to another. This omission is conspicuous, since the relative importance of multiethnic coalitions is bound to the political relevance of the cleavages being bridged. Conversely, the book assumes that ethnic identity is the foremost political cleavage in any given African society. In order to establish the general validity or implications of the argument, the book would have needed to address these conceptual issues in more depth.

Another problematic aspect of the book is that it does not explore the ability of opposition leaders to deliver the votes of their coethnic constituents after they join a multiethnic coalition. In the absence of provided evidence, the assumption that opposition leaders are capable of generating the bargained-for votes is tenuous. If voters cast their ballots based on ethnicity, what ensures that they will vote for the non-coethnic leader of the coalition over an alternative coethnic representative, another coalition altogether, or the incumbent candidate? Thus the book submits two contradictory and untested assumptions: first, that political cleavages exist primarily along ethnic lines and are equally relevant between countries; and second, that voters will cast their ballots for whomever their co-ethnic candidate supports regardless of ethnic identity. Further evidence is necessary to establish the causal connection between voters and their coethnic candidates.

Despite these issues, many aspects of Arriola’s work are compelling. The use and development of innovative measures of political control over the banking sector stand out as a testament to Arriola’s ability and creativity [End Page 215] as a scholar. The parsimonious style of explanation and logical consistency of the argument throughout the book make it engaging. Methodologically, the author’s employment of quantitative and qualitative methods to test his propositions is impressive. In each chapter Arriola seamlessly integrates and compares data from fieldwork in two case studies, Kenya and Cameroon. The foundation of his argument concerning the relationship of the business class to the state and later to incumbent regimes is corroborated through both the quantitative analysis and qualitative cases. Through a careful examination of the state-led financial sector, banking sector, and liberalization of capital, the book demonstrates that African states that implemented liberalizing financial reforms ultimately generated a business class free from state regulation and more...