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This article contends that since the dramatic disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, most of Africa has not experienced democratic transitions. Instead, in response to pressure from external donors, the changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the evolution of African political thinking, tolerated, tame, and often co-opted opposition political parties have emerged. However, the media, the electoral process, campaign funding, and permission to participate in politics continue to be controlled tightly and coercively by governing political, security, and military elites.
The one-party state and its disproven ideology is being replaced in many countries by the authoritarian multiparty state, which keeps on a tight leash as much opposition as it allows. The only exceptions are Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Benin, Cape Verde, South Africa, and Zambia, where highly unpopular longtime leaders were removed from office through open elections. As has been frequently noted, it is the second election after the ballot-box ouster of an incumbent that is critical, not the first. In 1996 Benin held a second election in which the defeated, dictatorial ex-president was reelected.
This article uses three variables to examine the extent and nature of political change in Africa since 1988: ideology, leadership, and political succession. Each variable has a distinct, quantifiable component that is derived from a set of concepts. Thus, the leadership variable asks about changes in the demographic, social class, interest, ethnic, study abroad, and other compositional characteristics of an emerging political elite. The ideology variable asks whether there have been significant shifts in attitudes, values, and practices toward socialism versus capitalism, including the variants of Afro-communism, African socialism, and state and prebendary capitalism, as well as shifts from authoritarian one-party state politics to democratic value systems and institutions. The succession variable looks for possible changes in modes of succession from reliance on coercion through coups, assassinations, and forced exiles to negotiated and/or electoral successions.(1)
There are multiple explanatory factors that help to account for political change in Africa. These include economic growth or recession, external aid, foreign direct investment, agricultural productivity, balance of payments, terms of trade, ethnic affiliations and expressions, the state-owned and state-managed sector, elections, multiple versus single political parties, and status of the media. The choice of three variables is based on the assumption that each is a core or fundamental factor in chains of complex causation. The three variables are present in all African politics and are to some degree independent from economic factors. The variables are generally driving or propelling factors rather than those that are pulled along.
Succession, defined as the replacement of the maximum political leader, whether president, prime minister, king, or dictator, is a biological inevitability. Although many African states have experienced extreme longevity for a single leader - twenty or more years in office - succession will occur. The management of succession is the primordial political test for all African states. Where it is mismanaged, the result is often massive violence and even civil war (such as in Liberia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Chad). Thus, the longitudinal tracking of succession events from independence to the present provides important clues to the evolution of African political systems. These events can be tracked for the entire continent, by regions, or for individual countries. The tracking is based on empirical, verifiable data subject to statistical manipulation.
Changes in political leadership in terms of social composition, age, ethnic and/or regional origin, education, and career can also be tracked over time by country, region, and continent. Leadership changes provide valuable clues for understanding political behavior and public policies. For instance, changes in political generations may represent major revisions in power and influence.
Ideologies can be tracked empirically in terms of spectrums of economic and political policies and practices. Actual and alleged changes from socialism to capitalism, single to multiple party states, are reflections of ideological changes in public discourse.
The use of a moment or period in time to indicate a series of major political changes is inherently arbitrary. However, such demarcations are frequently used historical devices. The disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which vastly accelerated during 1988, had important and lasting consequences for Africa. It resulted in a massive loss of external aid and political support for Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique and the end of regimes once classified as "Afro-Communist." It also dealt a serious blow to the ideology and legitimacy of one-party states and to highly state-interventionist regimes in Africa.
The winding down of the Cold War strengthened the domestic and external forces supporting democracy and human rights in Africa and the willingness of donor and nongovernmental agencies to press such objectives.(2) The viability of economic alternatives to participation in the world economy and to capitalist strategies became severely constrained. The demands for free elections, civilian rule, and multiple political parties under economic policies of structural adjustment were voiced by domestic opposition groups in many African countries and their non-African supporters. Like 1848 for Europe, 1988 seemed to many observers a watershed year in African politics from which there would be neither a return to authoritarian rule nor a halt to the momentum of democratization. Subsequent events indicate that these expectations have neither been fulfilled nor merely reduced to wishful thinking.
Why All of Africa?
A study of political succession in Africa requires the maximum cohort possible - all fifty-three independent African states. While regional and subregional samples are possible, these may be disaggregated from an all-African cohort. Succession events in Africa are billiard balls bouncing on and off neighboring and even distant states. Thus, the current civil war in Algeria has important implications for predominantly Islamic African states, for Algeria's neighbors, and for prospects of ending other civil wars, such as those in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Treating Africa as a network of political impacts and influences often centered on succession makes sense.
Political succession is defined as the replacement of the maximum political leader by whatever means - death in office, exile, assassination, contested elections, military and/or police coups, or …