1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Democratization, Equity and Stability: African Politics and Societies in the 1990s



The 1990s have witnessed remarkable changes in the way African societies are governed. A large number of military and one-party dictatorships have collapsed in the face of mass civil protests; and a new wave of democratization is sweeping the continent. One of the most interesting aspects of this process is the increasing attention granted to crafting political systems that reflect the plural character of African societies. But democratization has not followed a uniform pattern, and there have been major setbacks in some countries. Problems of political instability and violence have given rise to regional security initiatives that have ambiguous implications for democratization.

In this Discussion Paper, Yusuf Bangura focuses on actual political reforms in various African countries. He stresses the need to analyse concrete political processes, rather than relying on broader discussion of the socio-economic preconditions for democracy in the region. In fact, differences among countries in levels of industrialization, types of state formation, methods of public administration and the development of modern social classes have not been significant determinants of real patterns of political change. Democratization has been the outgrowth of political phenomena — a function of the strength of opposition parties and groups in society to force incumbent governments to honour basic rules of political contestation, and to uphold the rule of law.

The first part of the paper discusses conceptual issues of democracy and minority representation, the second provides an overview of patterns of authoritarian rule, the third analyses the main issues of political reform, and the fourth focuses on patterns of democratization. The final section of the essay explores the problem of military security as perceived both by external powers and by African governments during their quest for stable political transitions.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 May 1998
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD