Political Parties in Africa: Ethnicity and Party Formation

Many assume that ethnic identity plays the main role in holding African political parties together. Yet as Elischer shows in this careful analysis of ten African countries, the picture is more complicated. In some countries, such as Kenya, parties are indeed organized largely along ethnic lines -- mostly, Elischer argues, because no single ethnic group dominates and a number of ethnic groups each account for more than ten percent of the citizenry and can thus aspire to electoral success on the basis of ethnic loyalty. But Elischer shows that in other countries, especially ones in which there is a large core ethnic group, political parties make fewer appeals based on ethnicity, instead defining themselves through economic and social policies or by rallying around a charismatic politician. Elischer’s book is empirically sound and well argued; it is the best analysis of this subject to date.

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