In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Democratization in Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Colonialism
  • Independence
  • Authoritarianism
  • Protest and Democratization
  • Democratic Consolidation
  • State Development
  • Institutional Development
  • Personal Rule
  • Patronage and Clientelism
  • Elections
  • Electoral Fraud and Election Observation
  • Identity Politics
  • Identity in Voting
  • Conflict and Violence
  • Civil War
  • Political Economy of Agriculture
  • Political Economy of Industrialization
  • Political Economy of Aid

Political Science Democratization in Africa
Clark Gibson, Brigitte Zimmerman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0134


On a continent once dominated by dictators and one-party states, elections are now entrenched in Africa. From the end of colonialism until 1991, not a single incumbent party or dictator was replaced by a peaceful vote. Since the “third wave” of democracy hit Africa’s shores, however, only two countries have not held some form of electoral contest for their president or legislature and, as of this writing, elections have replaced ruling parties or presidents thirty-five times since the early 1980s. There remains, however, great debate about the quality of electoral processes in Africa. Many incumbents use a variety of legal and illegal means to remain in office, employing strategies to conduct elections so as to meet only the minimum standards of the “free and fair” judgment typically rendered by international and domestic groups. Widespread fraud still taints the majority of elections, although different countries possess quite varied trajectories. Reverse transitions are increasingly common as well, as democratic consolidation falls prey to coups, economic recessions, or other challenges. Democratization in Africa remains incomplete and elusive, and the literature leaves much to be explored.

General Overviews

Understanding the political evolution in Africa requires knowledge of many aspects of the continent’s history. UNESCO 1981–1993 provides the broadest overview and has the farthest historical reach. Fage and Tordoff 2002 discusses Africa’s evolution through a political economy lens, discussing both external colonial factors and internal religious and ethnic dynamics. A comparatively different approach considers each country in its evolution from before colonial times (Schraeder 2004).

  • Fage, J. D., and William Tordoff. A History of Africa. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.

    This extensive volume examines a broad range of topics pertaining to African development and politics. Drawing on case studies across Africa, it provides a narrative history of the continent’s experience with colonialism, development trends, and current cultural and religious movements.

  • Schraeder, Peter J. African Politics and Society: A Mosaic in Transformation. 2d ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2004.

    Provides a comprehensive review of the evolution of African politics and society from precolonial times to the present. The volume also contains a valuable appendix with country-specific research references.

  • UNESCO. General History of Africa. 8 vols. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981–1993.

    The most ambitious undertaking in the academic literature on Africa, these eight volumes consider all facets and periods of African history, from prehistoric society to the late 20th century.

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