Beyond Ethnic Politics in Africa
By Dominika Koter
Cambridge University Press, 2016, 220 pp.
The ethnic violence that has marred recent elections in African countries, such as Kenya and Nigeria, has reinforced the notion that African politics is structured by stringent ethnic logics. In fact, as Koter shows in her fine book, the political salience of ethnicity varies enormously within and across African countries. Even in countries with easily identifiable ethnic groups, politicians and political parties don’t necessarily rely on such cleavages. Based on a careful comparison of Benin and Senegal (and buttressed with examples from Botswana, Guinea, Kenya, and Mali), Koter’s research reveals that African leaders play the ethnic card on the national level only when they can’t rely on strong traditional or religious leaders at the local level to mobilize voters on their behalf or when they lack the organizational capacity and resources to make broader appeals based on promises to deliver services and create economic opportunity. Koter’s model of careful scholarship is representative of a wider trend toward high-quality research on the evolution of African electoral politics.