Compared to political developments in Eastern Europe and Latin America, democratization in sub-Saharan Africa has been more problematic and uneven. Looking at the performance in four subregions—central Africa, East Africa, southern Africa, and West Africa—yields no convincing evidence of a “wave” of democratization; countries next to each other differ considerably with regard to their Freedom House scores. This does not mean that democratization has necessarily stalled, but it does demonstrate that the prevailing vertical cleavages along ethnic, racial, or religious lines can make such a transition volatile, as suggested by the cases of Burundi, Mali, and even Kenya. While political competition in mature democracies, typically divided along horizontal group or class lines, tends to generate positive-sum outcomes, such competition in Africa easily turns into “prisoner’s dilemma” games. The uncertainty about the value of cooperation in such situations usually produces political “truces” that are easily abandoned if the costs of adherence exceed the benefits. Against the background of this prevailing political logic, this article calls for a new approach to conceptualizing notions of “institution” and “power” in the analysis of politics in the region.