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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .


Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective
Michael Bratton & Nicholas van de Walle.

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
Index. Bibl. 45.00; ISBN 0-521-55429-2.
Pb.: 15.95; ISBN 0-521-55612-0.


Attempts at analyzing the processes of social transformation in Africa have usually suffered from the fallacies of locational specificity (the tendency to insist that Africa can only be analyzed from the standpoint of its cultural uniqueness) and locational diffusion (the tendency to analyze Africa within so-called global or universal paradigms). Bratton and van de Walle do well to chart a middle course whose analytical and theoretical strength is that it enables African formations to be related to broader perspectives within which their singularities come out in bold relief. With regard to democratization whose core - democracy - is a contested concept, this approach which enables the authors to formulate a politico-institutional perspective, is invaluable. This approach, and the primacy given to political institutions, is the major reason the book succeeds more than many others, in explaining the chequered fortunes of democracy in Africa. By linking the nature of pre-democratization regimes which were mostly neopatrimonial, to the democratic experiments, the authors show why democracy has been so difficult to enthrone in Africa. The analysis is grounded on very rich comparative data from all over Sub-Saharan Africa. However, I regard as a major shortcoming, the failure to pursue further the implications for democratic success of a pervasive feeling amongst the political classes in Africa that recent democratization efforts in Africa, institutions and all, are a Western imposition. Can democracy couched in too "foreign" garb really succeed in Africa?


Eghosa E Osaghae, University of Transkei



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