In This Review

Democracy in Translation: Understanding Politics in an Unfamiliar Culture
Democracy in Translation: Understanding Politics in an Unfamiliar Culture
By Frederic Charles Schaffer
Cornell University Press, 1998, 168 pp

Western lenders and aid donors have often pressured African countries to adopt multiparty systems in the belief that democracy produces governments more accountable to their citizens. This probing and highly original study suggests the fallacy of this approach. The author's research on voter attitudes, behavior, and language in Senegal reveals an altogether different reality. To the ordinary Wolof-speaking voter, "democracy" implies something desirable -- but material necessity often colors its meaning. Political language is often laden with connotations embedded in a popular culture of hierarchy, clientelism, religious loyalty, and communal solidarity. As a result, voter preferences have little to do with policy choices, candidate qualifications, or concepts of the public good at a national level. More likely they reflect fealty to a secular or religious patron, solidarity with the political consensus of a local community, and expectations of material paybacks from the victorious candidates. The author finds few signs that indigenous Senegalese concepts of democracy are changing or moving closer to Western definitions. A significant contribution to the literature on transitions to democracy.