In This Review

Votes, Money, and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa
Votes, Money, and Violence: Political Parties and Elections in Sub-Saharan Africa
Edited by Matthias Basedau, Gero Erdmann, Andreas Mehler
University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2007, 301 pp

Given that experts generally concur that political parties are key to democratic consolidation in sub-Saharan Africa, there is remarkably little compelling analysis of the evolution of parties in the region. This collection of papers provides a useful corrective. As multiparty elections are becoming more routine, several patterns can be discerned. Few parties with clear programmatic ambitions have emerged, and parties are instead much more likely to appeal to ethno-regional constituencies and clientelistic logic. Funding has emerged as a central constraint, particularly for opposition parties that cannot access state resources, and legislative candidates are often expected to fund their campaigns out of their own pockets. Among a generally strong collections of papers, several stand out: Erdmann examines the extent to which parties in Africa have behaved the way observers have expected them to. Vicky Randall's chapter argues that parties often fail to defend the interests of the constituencies they rely on for electoral support. To the general view among Africanists that formal political institutions matter less in the region than informal practices such as clientelism, Christof Hartmann's paper offers a carefully documented rebuttal, showing that a wide variety of formal electoral rules exist in the region -- and that political actors take these rules seriously enough to fight over them on a regular basis.