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Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa

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  • Date Published: April 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107623019

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About the Authors
  • Why have seemingly similar African countries developed very different forms of democratic party systems? Despite virtually ubiquitous conditions that are assumed to be challenging to democracy – low levels of economic development, high ethnic heterogeneity, and weak state capacity – nearly two dozen African countries have maintained democratic competition since the early 1990s. Yet the forms of party system competition vary greatly: from highly stable, nationally organized, well-institutionalized party systems to incredibly volatile, particularistic parties in systems with low institutionalization. To explain their divergent development, Rachel Beatty Riedl points to earlier authoritarian strategies to consolidate support and maintain power. The initial stages of democratic opening provides an opportunity for authoritarian incumbents to attempt to shape the rules of the new multiparty system in their own interests, but their power to do so depends on the extent of local support built up over time. The particular form of the party system that emerges from the democratic transition is sustained over time through isomorphic competitive pressures embodied in the new rules of the game, the forms of party organization and the competitive strategies that shape party and voter behavior alike.

    • Explains why some new African democracies have developed highly stable, institutionalized party systems while others have not
    • Suggests a new approach to classifying authoritarian regime features and their legacies for democracy, based on the nature of ruling-party linkages to local power brokers
    • Identifies mechanisms - institutional isomorphism - that make political parties within each national system more likely to resemble each other and the system as a whole more likely to endure over time
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    • Winner (in Hardback) of the 2013–2014 Best Book Award, African Politics Conference Group, American Political Science Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "This well-designed comparative study helps to explain the structure of political party competition in Africa's new democracies. The author shows how and why authoritarian precedents continue to shape institutional outcomes. Future analysts of party systems and democratic stability will have no choice but to take Riedl's important and challenging findings into account."
    Michael Bratton, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and African Studies, Michigan State University

    "The most thorough, wide-ranging and important study of African political parties to date. If students of democratization and African politics want to know about African parties and party systems - and Reidl convincingly argues that they should - this is the place to start."
    Nic Cheeseman, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford

    "In this model work of comparative-historical analysis, Rachel Beatty Riedl unravels an important puzzle in contemporary African politics: why party competition is more stable in some African democracies than others. In so doing, she advances an argument with truly global resonance: how democracies work in the present depends on how dictatorships tried to accumulate power and rewire authority in the authoritarian past. Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa is a major achievement."
    Dan Slater, University of Chicago

    "In this first-rate former dissertation, Riedl asserts that the nature of authoritarian regimes significantly influences the strength of ensuing democratic governments … An excellent bibliography and useful tables and figures add to Riedl's book's utility. Summing up: highly recommended."
    C. E. Welch, Choice

    "Africa's fledgling democracies feature both stable, strong political parties, in countries such as Ghana, and fractious, weak, and unstable parties, in countries such as Benin. In this finely crafted book, Riedl argues convincingly that the main factor in determining the strength of parties in any given country in the region is the extent to which the authoritarian regime that dominated politics prior to the country's democratic transition was able to influence the terms of democratization. But the relationship is somewhat counter-intuitive: the greater the staying power of the old regime, the more likely it is that the opposition coalesced into a well-institutionalized, strong party. The book's best sections smartly observe and carefully compare the electoral politics of Benin, Ghana, Senegal, and Zambia. Riedl demonstrates that in contemporary Africa, single-party authoritarian rule might well have left a positive legacy."
    Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs

    "Rachel Beatty Riedl's Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa represents one of the most important contributions to the study of African politics in recent memory. Meticulously researched and theoretically innovative, the book is essential reading for those seeking to comprehend the character and dynamics of political life in Africa's democratic societies."
    Peter VonDoepp, Journal of Modern African Studies

    "There is much to commend about Riedl's work - recognized in awards by two sections of the American Political Science Association - including her careful situation of her research in the broader literatures on parties and regime change, her close examination of the nature of authoritarian strategies and transitions in her four disparate cases, and the logical and convincing unfolding of her argument."
    Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz, African Affairs

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2016
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107623019
    • length: 286 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.42kg
    • contains: 22 b/w illus. 28 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. A theory of party system variation
    2. Variations in party system institutionalization in Africa
    3. Competing explanations: from colonial rule to new democratic institutions
    4. Modes of authoritarian power
    5. Authoritarian power and transition control
    6. The emergence and endurance of the multiparty system
    7. Africa and beyond: party systems in new democracies.

  • Author

    Rachel Beatty Riedl, Northwestern University, Illinois
    Rachel Beatty Riedl is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, Illinois. Riedl is an Executive Committee member of the Program of African Studies; is affiliated with the Program in Comparative-Historical Social Science; serves as a Faculty Associate in Equality, Development, and Globalization Studies at the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies; and is a Faculty Associate at the Institute for Policy Research. She has also served as a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the Program on Democracy at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, Connecticut. Her work has been published in such journals as Comparative Political Studies and the African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review. She has consulted for USAID, the State Department, and the World Bank on governance reforms throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Riedl has been the recipient of fellowships and grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. Her dissertation was awarded an honorable mention for the Juan Linz prize for best dissertation in comparative democratization from the APSA in 2009.


    • Winner (in Hardback) of the 2013–2014 Best Book Award, African Politics Conference Group, American Political Science Association
    • Honourable Mention (for the Hardback), 2015 Best Book Award, Comparative Democratization Section, American Political Science Association

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