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Electoral Politics and Africa's Urban Transition
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Book description

Two aspects of contemporary urban life in Africa are often described as sources of political change: the emergence of a large urban middle class and high levels of ethnic diversity and inter-ethnic social contact. Many expected that these factors would help spark a transition away from ethnic competition and clientelism toward more programmatic elections. Focusing on urban Ghana, this book shows that the growing middle class and high levels of ethnic diversity are not having the anticipated political effects. Instead, urban Ghana is stuck in a trap: clientelism and ethnic voting persist in many urban neighborhoods despite changes to the socio-economic characteristics and policy preferences of voters. Through a unique examination of intra-urban variation in patterns of electoral competition, Nathan explains why this trap exists, demonstrates its effects on political behavior, and explores how new democracies like Ghana can move past it.

Reviews

'Noah L. Nathan's book is certain to become a classic study. It represents the very best among a new generation of scholarship focused on Africa's major transformations - demographic, economic, and political. Drawing on empirically rich and methodologically sophisticated analyses, Nathan convincingly explains why ethnic voting and clientelistic politicking continue to thrive in Africa's rapidly growing cities. This is the go-to book for understanding politics in urban Africa.'

Leonardo R. Arriola - Director of the Center for African Studies, University of California, Berkeley

'In this incisive and important book, Nathan explains why vast changes in demographic and class distribution that accompany urbanization have not produced programmatic policies or improved resource allocation. This rigorous and theoretically rich study is a must-read for connecting the political behavior of politicians and voters in the context of urban Africa.'

Rachel Beatty Riedl - Northwestern University

'Urbanization is one of the most important trends in contemporary Africa, yet its implications for politics remain poorly understood. Noah L. Nathan’s excellent and deeply illuminating book begins to fill this critical gap. Exploiting variation in outcomes across different parts of urban Ghana, Nathan shows that the rise of an urban middle class often fails to move politics away from clientelism and that the ethnic heterogeneity of urban spaces often does little to diminish the importance of ethnicity in electoral politics. For those wanting to understand the dynamics of politics in Africa today, Electoral Politics and Africa's Urban Transition is essential reading.'

Daniel N. Posner - James S. Coleman Professor of International Development, University of California, Los Angeles

'In an era of booming research on Sub-Saharan Africa, Nathan has marked himself as one of the truly outstanding young scholars of the region. In this book, he throws sand in the gears of the standard account linking the growth of the middle class to the shift from clientelistic to programmatic politics by developing a rich argument with important implications for local party strategies, voter turnout and voting behavior. Nathan skillfully tests those implications with an impressive mix of original quantitative and qualitative data that he gathers across neighborhoods and census tracts in Accra. The careful attention to electoral geography provides big analytical and empirical payoffs, and this book is sure to draw wide attention from scholars of clientelism, party competition, urban politics and Sub-Saharan Africa.'

Erik Wibbels - Robert O. Keohane Professor of Political Science, Duke University

'In recent years, as the urban population of Ghana has burgeoned, it has become more ethnically diverse, and its middle class has grown both in wealth and in size. Contrary to the expectations of many, its politicians continue to champion ethnic appeals and distribute private benefits. In this book, Noah L. Nathan asks why so little has changed. While addressing this question, he skillfully combines ethnographic and quantitative evidence and the studies of urban migration in the industrial west. Smart, honest, and learned: this is a deeply thoughtful book.'

Robert H. Bates - Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, Harvard University

'Most observers of electoral politics in poor countries argue that higher incomes would create an urban middle class that would then eschew the parochial considerations of poor rural voters and demand universalistic policies to improve the general welfare. Nathan’s careful deconstruction of electoral politics in Accra, Ghana’s increasingly prosperous capital, shows one instance in which the theory does not hold … He argues that the low capacity of the Ghanaian state, the huge unmet demand for state resources, and the presence in Accra of many poor recent migrants from the countryside all push politicians to continue their successful past strategies.'

Source: Foreign Affairs

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