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  • Political Openness in Post Authoritarian Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA):Domestic and External Pressure to Conformity
  • Osaore Aideyana, Osunde Omoruyi, and Benedicta A. Ideho


More than two decades after the third wave of global democratization broke on Africa’s shores starting in 1985,1 there is ample evidence that the extent to which these African states have imbibed democratic principles is mixed. The process of political reform or democratization at best has been a very long-term, complicated and messy affair. A wide variety of states has headed along the path from authoritarianism towards, ostensibly, democracy. Some states, like South Africa and Benin, have transitioned quite well. Many others like Togo have faltered, and some like Gambia have collapsed back into authoritarianism.

This combination of outcomes of democratization in Africa has led to an emphasis on issues of consolidation in the literature on democratization.2 These different outcomes raise one important question: what accounts for these divergent paths of consolidation? Aside from the cross-national study by Englebert and Boduszynski,3 there has been no effort to compare countries in the context of a common world, political economy within [End Page 191] which they operate. Approaches that treat all countries as fundamentally similar provide only limited insights into the variations in democratic experiences. This article attempts to start filling in this space. In doing so, our approach (following Englebert and Boduszynski and Diamond),4 is to first classify all sub-Saharan African countries into sets of political regimes by looking at their democratic performance over the 1985-2010 period.

We then review the degree to which dominant modernization and Modern World System (MWS) theories account for differences among these categories. The findings of this article suggest that most of the conventional variables, particularly of the modernization type, do not adequately explain the divergent processes of democratic consolidation in each country because they place too much emphasis on internal affairs, societal pressures, and developments within the nation-states themselves.5

Instead, the degree to which an African country is tied politically, economically, and socially to western countries and western-led multilateral institutions is a crucial factor in explaining democratic success or failure.6

Assessing Africa’s Third Wave?

In response to earlier feedback, the authors are convinced that assessing Africa’s democratization challenges scholars to pursue potentially contradictory conceptual goals. Consequently, we identify three potential sources of these goals.7 The first is the development of a differentiated conceptualization of democracy and democratic consolidation that captures the diverse experiences of countries. The second is the identification of a complex set of national and global variables/dynamics that translates into the ability to consolidate the post-1990 transitions. A third source of contradictory goals involves identifying a theoretical perspective that provides significant analytical mileage toward an understanding of the explicit causal path between the international and domestic factors affecting democratic consolidation in Africa.

Before fleshing out what we consider to be the relevant aspects of these conceptual issues, we wish to note the following: first, ours is not an effort to address every aspect of the democratization process in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular regime transitions. There is no shortage of systematic explanations of domestic and international factors of political regime changes in Africa in the period under review (Bratton and van de [End Page 192] Walle; Dunning; Lindberg; Diamond and Plattner, to name but a few).8 Second, we acknowledge that the consolidation of democracy in Africa involves indigenous political values, and the establishment of many other valued domestic institutions such as civilian control of the military, independent legislatures and courts, viable opposition parties, and a free press. In the same way, we note the limited capacity of Western powers and corporations to promote democracy abroad. Against this cautious tone, we are however of the view, not unlike others (Pridham; Nwajiaku; Herbst and Decalo, for example),9 that vulnerability to the democratic demands of Western donors helps to mold democratic outcomes, even though this does not fully explain them.

The major issue raised by the first potential source of contradiction is how to reach a definitional consensus of the terms democracy and democratic consolidation. The two terms are endowed with assorted...


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pp. 191-217
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