In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section African Political Parties

  • Introduction
  • The Classic View of African Politics
  • A Virtual Consensus on African Political Parties
  • Journals
  • Data
  • The Way Ahead

African Studies African Political Parties
Matthias Krönke, Sarah Lockwood, Robert Mattes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0238


Since the era of decolonization, political parties have played a crucial role in shaping the national political landscape of independent Africa. They have served as vehicles for mobilization, governance, and opposition; provided platforms for the expression of diverse ideologies, aspirations, and interests; channeled patronage and resources; and attempted to hold governments accountable. Despite playing such a crucial role, however, the study of political parties in Africa has lagged significantly behind its counterparts in North America, Europe, and many parts of the Global South. In the immediate post-independence period of the 1960s, scholarly work largely assessed the continent’s nascent political parties through functionalist typologies, examining issues such as interest articulation, aggregation, and recruitment. Reflecting the rapid closing of democratic spaces, however, those who studied parties in the 1970s and 1980s came to assess them, where they still existed, as institutions of mobilization, development, and legitimation. Following the new democratic openings of the late 1980s and early 1990s, scholars scrambled to (re)assemble the concepts and analytic tools that had been evolving in the Global North since the early 1960s. Parties in the region have long been assumed to be weak, with many taking their ethnic nature and lack of organizational capacity as given. However, a newer literature has started to push back on some of these long-held assumptions and claims, questioning, for example, whether parties can really be weak if they possess the capacity to distribute gifts or coordinate government decisions with electoral considerations. Other works, similarly, have focused on the activities of opposition parties and the ways in which they have acted to stem the decline of democracy. Still others have complicated the relationship between parties and patronage. It is at this critical moment in the study of political parties in Africa that we offer this annotated bibliography—encompassing a range of classic and cutting-edge literature, and seeking to act as a guide to the state of the field today. It is important to note, however, that this bibliography is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to serve as a starting point for scholars and enthusiasts seeking a solid foundation in the study of African political parties. The selected resources are drawn from a diverse range of disciplines, including political science, African studies, sociology, and history, and cover a range of regions and electoral system types. Ultimately, this bibliography on political parties in Africa hopes to stimulate further research, analysis, and discourse on this crucial subject.

The Classic View of African Politics

The scholarly view of Africa’s political parties that emerged in the late twentieth century proceeded from a larger, more fundamental view of the political system in post-independence Africa as one that combines the formal offices and rules imposed by colonial powers and/or adopted in the post-independence period with elements of the patrimonial rule of precolonial times—or what scholars have called neo-patrimonialism (Bratton and van de Walle 1997). In this sense, the primary impetus of African governance comes from “big-men” executives and authority flows to subordinate officials such as military officers, ministers, legislators, or party leaders through personal links, as much as through legal procedures or organizational organograms. Political support is maintained through personal charisma and exchanges of favors. While Chabal and Daloz 1999 goes further than most by ascribing to Africa a distinct political culture that is inhospitable to Western-style states, many scholars at the time emphasized the importance of personal rule in Africa in its different interactions (see, e.g., Jackson and Rosberg 1982) The classic statements of this view include the works cited in this section.

  • Bratton, Michael, and Nicolas van de Walle. Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transition in Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139174657

    One of the classic studies of transition to democracy on a continental scale, testing both comparative and Africa-specific hypotheses about the nature and impetus of transition processes as well as their outcomes across forty-seven African countries. The overall analysis is based on the argument that what distinguishes African regimes from other regions is their neo-patrimonial character, which they define in terms in of presidentialism, clientelism, and the use of state resources.

  • Chabal, Patrick, and Jean-Pascal Daloz. Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument. Oxford: James Currey, 1999.

    This controversial, but also highly influential, book rejects the notion that colonialism was decisive in shaping African societies’ efforts to build effective state bureaucracies and stable political systems. Instead, the authors argue that the political culture from the pre- to the postcolonial period hinders the development of Western-style states. Though extreme in its claims, it is typical of how African political institutions were frequently compared in the literature at the time.

  • Jackson, Robert, and Carl Rosberg. Personal Rule in Black Africa: Prince, Autocrat, Prophet, Tyrant. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520313071

    The authors describe African political systems as distinct from many other contemporary systems because of the centrality of personal relations (such as factions, patron-client networks, and ethnic manipulation) rather than institutions. Based on this insight, they identify various types of personal rule. The description of personal rule is an important backdrop against which much scholarship on African parties and party systems unfolds for the following two decades.

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