Things you probably didn’t know about African politics today


Though much of the media attention on Africa highlights conflict, such as the crises in the Central African Republic and in South Sudan, civil conflict in Africa is on the decline. Scott Straus at University of Wisconsin wrote in 2012:

“Contrary to common assumption, major forms of large-scale organized political violence in sub-Saharan Africa are declining in frequency and intensity, and the region is not uniquely prone to the onset of warfare.”

Looking at the most recent elections, voter turnout is similar in the average African country (66 percent) to turnout in the United States (67 percent). There is quite a range, however. Looking at only African countries classified as electoral democracies by Freedom House, the lowest turnout in the most recent presidential election was in Liberia (37 percent) and the highest was in its neighbor, Sierra Leone (91 percent). Analysis of voter turnout in Africa’s multiparty regimes suggests some of the same political institutions that influence turnout in developed democracies also influence turnout in new democracies in Africa.

Parliaments in Africa have greater representation of women than the U.S. Congress. As Aili Tripp (also at University of Wisconsin) wrote late last year:

The number of women cabinet ministers and the importance of their portfolios are also increasing in Africa, in some cases rivaling cabinets in mature democracies.

The standard narrative of voting in African countries focuses on candidates buying support from voters, but campaigns in Africa also mirror some American practices. For example, some African democracies have begun holding and televising presidential debates. Kenya’s first presidential debate happened in 2013, and is fully available online, including Twitter hashtags and an in-set of a sign language interpreter. Malawi has slated three presidential debates this year in advance of the May elections.

Remittances from abroad are projected to surpass foreign aid as the major source of external funds in African countries – so governments might adjust accordingly when forced to choose between the demands of donors and those of their expatriates.

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