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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


Democracy in Africa
Edited by Marina Ottaway

(London: Lynne Rienner, 1997). Distributed by The Eurospan Group.
176pp. Index. 35.95; ISBN 1-55587-312-X.



Democracy in Africa is the product of a conference sponsored by SAIS African Studies Program. The nine contributors have each examined a piece of the democratization puzzle.

Ottaway poses the fundamental problem for democracy in Africa -'current political openings are not necessarily the beginning of a straightforward process. . .' (p.8). Each chapter addresses one facet of 'the dangerous in-between period, when incumbent governments and opposition groups have to settle down for the long haul that will determine whether African countries will enjoy lasting political transformation or revert to authoritarianism'.

Two essays address the key relationship between democracy and economic development. Nicholas van de Wall and Carol Graham both pay special attention to the timing of economic reforms in new democracies: they must be taken immediately during the honeymoon period and be based on a consensus forged through persuasion. Excellent case studies of Zambia, Mali, and Madagascar (van de Wall) and Senegal and Zambia (Graham) provide conclusive evidence for the importance of timing of economic reform.

Two essays describe groups which are key in the democratization process. The military is Eboe Hutchfil's emphasis, both how that institution has contributed to and impeded the democratization process. Jennifer Widner analyzes the relationship between political parties and groups in civil society. She suggests that while associational groups have proliferated in Africa, political parties have made little effort to forge links with these groups. Widner explains the patterns found across the various countries.

Why democratization does not proceed in a unilinear fashion is the focus of Peter M. Lewis' analysis of Nigeria and Michael G. Schatzberg's study of Zaire. Lewis sees weakness in civil society, offering only 'anemic challenges to authoritarianism' (p.136). Schatzberg catalogues how Mobutu co-opts and subverts emerging political movements, even as economic and political structures disintegrate. While the chapter was written before Mobutu's demise, the generalizations concerning how hijacking by political elites disrupts the democratic process are as applicable in the post-Mobutu period as before.

Finally, David Gordon examines the role of foreign donors in the democratization process. His finding - that it may be easier for donors to exert pressures against nondemocratic governments than to positively influence the evolution of nascent democracies - is not an optimistic one for the future of African democracy.

Strikingly absent from systematic discussion is the role of ethnicity in the democratization process. Ethnic divisions can impede the professionalization of the military and prevent the formation of democratically competitive political parties. Yet the omission of ethnicity suggests that these contributors do not see ethnicity as a major impediment to democratization, rather institutions in government and civil society hold the keys to the democratization process.


Karen A. Mingst, University of Kentucky



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