The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy
This fine study of the role that African legislatures play in promoting democracy and government accountability deserves to be widely read. Opalo’s well-informed general history of the development of legislatures in the region shows how the origins of parliaments in the waning days of colonial rule—as well as their evolution in the ensuing postcolonial authoritarian regimes—ensured their institutional weaknesses relative to the executive branch, an imbalance that continues in some countries. Two well-researched case studies in Kenya and Zambia offer contrasting examples of how an authoritarian past can produce different kinds of legislatures. In Kenya, the executive branch of the colonial and early postcolonial governments centralized power, granting the legislature only a modicum of procedural autonomy. But in the democratic era, the legislature has emerged as a relatively strong institution; being left to its own devices allowed it to develop organically over time. In Zambia, on the other hand, the regime micromanaged the legislature and thus prevented it from developing its own mechanisms of accommodation and compromise. The result in Zambia, Opalo argues, is a much weaker institution.