“Rigging is better than Coups”: Why Authoritarian Regimes in Africa Commit to Continental Democracy Provisions


In a new draft paper prepared for the 59th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association (ISA) in San Francisco, April 4–7, 2018, Christian von Soest (GIGA Institute of African Studies) and I examine why authoritarian regimes in Africa formally support and ratify continental provisions aimed at democracy-promotion and against so-called unconstitutional changes of government. In particular, we analyze the signature and ratification patterns of the Democracy Charter, the most explicit framework to strengthen democracy on the African continent. The map above provides a simply overview of these patterns, blue means a state has signed and ratified, green indicates only signature and yellow neither signature nor ratification.

Here’s the abstract of the new paper:

Sub-Saharan Africa, where the clear majority of countries is not governed by liberal democratic governments, features strong continental provisions against unconstitutional changes of government (UCG). While originally designed to increase regime stability and confined to the irregular transfer of power, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance from 2007 increased the “democratic deepness” of the UCG criteria. Why do regimes that obviously violate democratic principles subscribe to this Democracy Charter? Extant research implies that continental democracy provisions amount to nothing more than cheap talk. Based on existing literature, descriptive statistical analysis and original field work in Ethiopia, a pivotal electoral autocracy, the paper analyzes the rationale of African nondemocratic regimes in ratifying the Democracy Charter. In contrast, we find that there is a clear, but not linear ratification pattern of the Democracy Charter. Electoral autocracies and in particular electoral democracies are most committed to the Charter, while the remaining closed autocracies such as Somalia or Eritrea stay out of the regional normative consensus. West Africa, the most democratic African region, has been at the forefront of pushing for the Democracy Charter, while donor pressure does not explain ratification behavior. In order to prevent further pushes for democratization, however, electoral autocracies in particular have made sure that the liberal script is not too binding. Despite strong provisions on paper, implementation has been lagging behind. The Democracy Charter’s progressive potential has remained limited.

“Rigging is better than Coups”: Why Authoritarian Regimes in Africa Commit to Continental Democracy Provisions