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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Authoritarian Rule and Democracy in Africa: A Theoretical Discourse



Economic reform and liberal democracy have emerged as the dominant ideas shaping the political and economic structures of countries in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Starting haltingly in the mid-1970s, democracy had triumphed by the end of the 1980s in practically all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. There has also been a swift movement toward democratic régimes in Asia though several countries, especially in South-East Asia, have continued to resist the democratizing trend. The closing years of the 1980s witnessed a dramatic fall of communist régimes in most countries of East and Central Europe and their replacement by fledgling democracies. It is in Africa and the Middle East that the democratic movement has made the slowest progress.

The last few years have, however, been marked by intense struggles for democratic reform in several African countries and the 1990s are likely to be the decade for transition to democracy in a growing number of African countries. In this highly topical study, Yusuf Bangura tackles the profoundly important and complex questions of the foundations and determinants of authoritarianism and democracy in Africa. The paper addresses itself to such questions as: How does one explain the persistence of authoritarian and military rules in a large number of African countries? What are the key processes involved in the transition from authoritarian and military régimes to civilian and democratic ones? What are the structural pre-conditions for sustenance of democratic systems in African countries? What are the implications of economic crisis and structural adjustment for the prospects of democracy in the continent?

A good deal of the mushrooming literature on this subject tends to focus on the political dimensions of democracy – the multi-party system, free elections and civil rights. And few analysts are able to resist the tendency to transplant in its entirety to Africa the democratic model as it has emerged in the West over decades. One of the strengths of Bangura's approach is that democratic struggles are placed within the wider social and economic context and the analysis is rooted in the institutional and historical reality of the region. The paper argues that it is the forms of accumulation interacting with a number of socio-economic variables which mainly determine the nature of the dominant political system.

The author identifies three dominant patterns of accumulation as transnational capitalist production, rent-seeking capitalism and petty commodity production. It is the strength or weakness of these patterns interacting with variables such as rural-urban integration, welfare services, social system and state-civil society relations which ultimately determine the shape of the political régime. In the last part of the paper, Bangura applies the above model to the Nigerian experience with focus on structural adjustment and democratization, demilitarization and civil governmental authority, civil society and the state and the democratization of the rules of competition.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Mar 1991
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD