In This Review

African Parliaments: Between Governance and Government
African Parliaments: Between Governance and Government
Edited by M. A. Mohamed Salih
Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 304 pp
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Women in African Parliaments
Women in African Parliaments
Edited by Gretchen Bauer and Hannah E. Britton
Lynne Reinner, 2006, 235 pp
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The success of sub-Saharan Africa's democratization over the last 15 years has hinged in part on the extent to which it has managed to revitalize the region's legislatures. These two books offer perhaps the first assessment of the region's parliaments in the era of democratization, and they provide much useful material on present-day politics. The continuing dominance of the executive branch in systems that are imperfectly democratic is one implicit conclusion, in particular from Salih's book. Another, more optimistic theme concerns the legislatures' ability to foster greater popular participation in politics. In the more democratic countries, the legislature has been able to promote a more responsive style of government. In the less democratic countries, despite the return of competitive elections, the legislature is still little more than a rubber stamp and a source of patronage for the president.

What of the role of women in these parliaments? Bauer and Britton's terrific collection of essays probes the current paradox of a region in which women are relatively quite well represented in parliament even as their social status remains lamentable. The authors show that women make up an unusually large proportion of all African parliamentarians (typically as much as a quarter of the representatives), thanks to constitutionally mandated quotas. More tentatively, the book also argues that women's representation does make a difference in terms of policy outcomes that are more favorable to women, although the degree of democracy in the country appears to matter more than the gender balance in parliament.