In This Review

Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective
Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective
By Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle
Cambridge University Press, 1997, 307 pp

This ambitious academic study explores the wave of reform that swept Africa between 1990 and 1994, when 23 of the continent's 42 one-party states held competitive elections and installed nominally democratic regimes. Using multivariate statistical analysis, the authors try to determine what political, economic, and international factors most convincingly account for patterns of mass protest, political liberalization, and regime transition. The authors find that legacies of neopatrimonialism strongly shaped regime transitions, but that differing experiences of political participation and competition prior to 1990 helped determine varying outcomes. Economic conditions explain little about varying political patterns, and explicit political pressures from foreign donors do not correlate positively with liberalization. Given the lack of cohesion among opposition forces in many countries, plus a shallow commitment to democratic procedures and principles among elites, the authors are pessimistic that widespread consolidation of democratic regimes in Africa will soon occur. One must question whether all the relevant influences can really be reduced to numbers. Nevertheless, the exercise produces many stimulating ways of looking at democratization.