Economic Change and Political Liberalization in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Economic Change and Political Liberalization in Sub-Saharan Africa

Edited by Jennifer A. Widner
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994
307 pp. $45.00
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This collection of papers from a 1992 Harvard conference poses one central question: how has political liberalization in Africa been affected by economic decline and externally imposed economic reform? Most would agree that the collapse of single-party systems in the space of a few years has been the most important phenomenon in Africa since the end of colonialism, and that economic pressures have been instrumental in this process. Here the consensus ends, however, and the analytical minefield begins. The bad news is that nobody has a persuasive explanation for the political economy of this continent-wide change; the good news is that nobody claims to.

Hence this is a modest book, full of tentative but fertile hypotheses and the kind of intellectual groping that marks what Ernest Wilson in a concluding piece on research agendas calls the "paradigmatic interregnum" of current political science. Robert Bates takes a promising tack with a "human capital" analysis, arguing that constituencies for change form around "embattled professionals" who have invested in the acquisition of skills that they cannot transfer to foreign countries through emigration. Other authors examine the political consequences of the decline of rent-seeking opportunities for public officials caught in the squeeze of structural adjustment. Country studies of Benin, Cameroon, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, and the Ivory Coast bring home the hazards of generalizing about Africa and suggest the importance of collecting much more comparative data before imposing theories that purport to explain cause-and-effect relationships between economics and politics.