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Prospects for Democratic Development in Africa
Policy Brief

Although Africa has been one of the least democratic regions of the world, it has been experiencing widespread pressures for democratic change since 1990. Although pressure-from both domestic civil societies and international donors-has failed to bring about a transition to democracy in most cases, it has succeeded in many. Today, about a third of all African countries are at least electoral democracies, and virtually all regimes in sub-Saharan Africa have at least legalized opposition parties. Conventional political science theories view Africa's democratic prospects as grim because of its extreme poverty and deep ethnic divisions. This essay takes a more hopeful and "developmental" view. It argues that democratic change can occur in Africa and must if it is to develop economically. But this will inevitably involve a long-term process of political and social change and, in particular, institution building. African countries need new, more appropriate, and more effective institutions to control corruption, provide a market-oriented enabling environment for economic growth, and generate incentives for political parties to craft broad multiethnic appeals and constituencies. If institutions of governance, electoral politics, and civil society can be strengthened and innovatively designed, there is hope for democracy in Africa. But this will also require heavy international conditionality and pressure for more responsible policies and more effective institutions, as well as greater international support for those African regimes that appear serious about democracy and good governance. African societies are ready for a new democratic beginning, but they require the right institutional frameworks at home and vigorous engagement of the international community if deeply entrenched patterns of statism, corruption, repression, ethnic exclusion, and violence are to be overcome.

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