Legislative Power in Emerging African Democracies

In This Review

Legislative Power in Emerging African Democracies
Edited by Joel D. Barkan
Lynne Rienner, 2009
277 pp. $59.95
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Most observers would concur with Barkan's view that democracy cannot thrive without an effective and influential legislature to balance the power of the executive. Since most of the recent defects in governance in Africa can be blamed on unaccountable leaders, this view seems particularly germane to democracy there. Yet, oddly, the evolution and current state of legislatures in Africa have attracted little attention. This collection of case studies of the legislatures in Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda begins to rectify this oversight. Barkan's central empirical thesis is that all over Africa, a young, educated, and professional class of parliamentarians has begun to advance the power of legislatures, pressuring presidents to accept more democratization. As the case studies show, this has meant that legislatures have begun asserting their constitutional prerogatives -- notably, the oversight of government spending and activities. It also appears to have meant that legislators have voted themselves salary increases and other perks, and the experiences of Kenya and Nigeria, for instance, certainly suggest that legislators' commitment to democratic values is uneven at best. The book's real lesson is that the legislative branch can balance the power of the executive branch even when the former's members are not particularly virtuous.