It is now widely accepted that, in many cases, the democratization process that began in Africa in 1990 has been crippled by several factors (Chazan 1994; Bratton 1994; Lemarchand 1992). These factors range from weak patterns of state-society relations to economic disequilibium. Another potential obstacle that has received little examination is the trend, particularly in West Africa, of military rulers resigning their commissions and competing in “democratic” elections designed and supervised by their regimes (The New York Times, 24 October, 1996). We call this phenomenon political transmutation. In the past five years successful transmutation has occurred in Ghana, Niger, Chad and the Gambia. The attempt failed in Nigeria in 1993, but may soon be resurrected by the current military regime. Both the incidence of this type of transition and the likelihood that there will be additional attempts requires that we carefully study the circumstances that facilitate this type of transition.
Recent democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa suggest that the ruling authoritarian regimes may seek, although not always successfully, to retain power by any means necessary. For example, Haggard and Kaufman noted that often “authoritarian regimes do not permit fully competitive elections and rely on intimidation, manipulation and cooptation to restrict the activity of independent interest groups, and political opposition” (1995, 11). In almost all the cases such regimes were characterized by single, dominant parties led by civilians. Rarely do these cases involve military rulers. It appears that the favored option for the military is to become the power behind the throne after disengaging from direct governing. Several factors account for the armed forces' reluctance to transmute their regime through elections. One is the fear that such an attempt would eventually seriously weaken the military's corporate interests.