Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa

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Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa
By Rachel Beatty Riedl
Cambridge University Press, 2014
286 pp. $95.00
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Africa’s fledgling democracies feature both stable, strong political parties, in countries such as Ghana, and fractious, weak, and unstable parties, in countries such as Benin. In this finely crafted book, Riedl argues convincingly that the main factor in determining the strength of parties in any given country in the region is the extent to which the authoritarian regime that dominated politics prior to the country’s democratic transition was able to influence the terms of democratization. But the relationship is somewhat counter-intuitive: the greater the staying power of the old regime, the more likely it is that the opposition coalesced into a well-institutionalized, strong party. The book’s best sections smartly observe and carefully compare the electoral politics of Benin, Ghana, Senegal, and Zambia. Riedl demonstrates that in contemporary Africa, single-party authoritarian rule might well have left a positive legacy.

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