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The local appropriation of democracy: an analysis of the municipal elections in Parakou, Republic of Benin, 2002–03

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 November 2006

Thomas Bierschenk
Department of Anthropology and African Studies, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität.


Ever since the ‘democratic renewal’ of 1989–90, Benin has been regarded as a model democracy in the African context. The holding of local elections in 2002–03 can be seen as the culmination of this turn to democracy. Donors attach high expectations to decentralisation and local democracy. Based on an empirical analysis of municipal elections in Parakou, the country's third-largest city, the paper tries to gauge whether these expectations have been realised. The paper argues that while multi-party democracy has been instituted under considerable pressure from the outside, the particular form it has taken derives instead from rationales of national and local politics which go back to the late colonial period, and from recent developments in Benin's rent-based economy.

Research Article
© 2006 Cambridge University Press

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Initial drafts of this paper were presented at the Institute for African Affairs at Hamburg in May 2003, at the Max-Planck-Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, and at the universities of Roskilde, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Uppsala. I am grateful to Andreas Mehler, Günther Schlee, Christian Lund, Peter Geschiere, Jan Kees van Donge, Paul Nugent and Sten Hagberg for the invitations and to participants at these seminars as well as to Galilou Abdoulaye, Agnès Badou, Nassirou Bako-Arifari, Dirk Kohnert and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments made during the revision of these drafts. I am grateful to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for financing the underlying research on the municipal elections. An extended French-language version of this paper with more ethnographic detail is available at