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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Democratization in Africa
Earl Coneth-Morgan

(Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997)
197pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 43.95; ISBN 0-275-95780-2.

This book is a welcome addition to the debate about Africa's experience of democratization. In his introduction, the author says "our most basic premise is that the transition from coercive rule to democratization is above all a matter of power" (p.4). In subsequent chapters, he takes us through detailed analyses and arguments concerning the various factors that have influenced this transition in various African states, if indeed the transition has happened at all. Some of the factors explored include: colonial experience, institutional structures (both traditional and modern), the nature of authoritarian, questions of political uncertainty and insecurity, "ethnopolitics", military corporate interests and, finally, imperatives imposed by external donors.

Chapter 6, "The Ethnopolitical-Democratization Conflict Nexus" will be of particular interest to the readers of this digest. Strategies of ethnic power elite are examined in relation to democratization processes Ethnic-based political parties and ethno-regionalism are identified as factors which influence the extent and nature of the transition to democratization. The author cites examples from a number of countries - Ethiopia, Angola, Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Uganda, Niger, Rwanda, Togo, Zaire, Kenya, Congo and Ghana (see pp. 109-113) - where inter-ethnic imbalances have played a role in determining the path of democratization.

In this book, the realities of political power and its relationship to both historical and contemporary factors are key material for the author's analysis and theory-building. Being more of a practitioner than an academic myself, I did find some of his arguments quite lengthy and complex. At times I felt that he could have made the same point with fewer words. I suspect that his complexity of language and logic might be a problem for someone who is not fluent in the English language.

On a number of occasions, as I was reading, I found myself wanting the author to take his theory a step further to give us some insight into predicting the conditions that would make it more likely for successful democratization to take place. This perhaps would recommend the book as a useful starting point for action-research about trends and patterns for predicting and shaping future democratisation in Africa, as well as in other countries of the "developing" world.

Steve Williams, Responding To Conflict, Birmingham, UK

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