The Tortuous Trajectories of Democracy and the Persistence of Authoritarianism in Africa


This paper offers a systematic account of political regime changes in Sub-Saharan Africa from 1996-2010. Are democratic transition processes a variance of a singular domestic politico-institutional model (political protest, political mobilization, and democratization), as Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle (1997) claimed, or do other variables matter in democratic transition processes? What conditions create and maintain democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa? Combining qualitative and quantitative methods, this paper examines the development of Sub-Saharan African political regimes, contrasting the pre and post-Cold War periods (1960-1989 and 1996-2010) to understand their determinants. It focuses on the new transformations observed since the beginning of the twenty-first century, assessing recent regime history and examining the factors (political, governance, economic and international) that have contributed to democratic development in some states and autocracy in others. The findings show that democratic transitions are not only the variance of the Bratton and Van de Walle model, which downplays economic and international variables. The process is mainly, but not always, determined by domestic politico-institutional factors. Foreign intervention and economic conditions are also important determinants of democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa in the post-Cold War era.