Pathways to democracy

Authored by: Nic Cheeseman

Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138081246
eBook ISBN: 9781315112978
Adobe ISBN:


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One of the most important and contested discussions in political science relates to the extent to which the past shapes the present and, by extension, the future. However, while much of the literature on democratization in Africa has highlighted the centrality of long-term institutional legacies, relatively little attention has been given to the question of how, methodologically speaking, this kind of analysis can best be conducted. This chapter seeks to put this right by setting out and evaluating the main ways that Africanist political scientists have thought about path dependency in recent times, paying particular attention to historical institutionalist approaches. It then proceeds to summarize an argument presented in Democracy in Africa (Cheeseman 2015) and to assess the extent to which the historical constraints identified in that book have continued to shape the trajectories of African states. Finally, the chapter concludes by arguing that work on political institutions has tended to focus too heavily on either formal institutions, such as constitutions and legislatures, or informal institutions, such as widely held norms, with insufficient attention being paid to how the two interact. Any historically institutionalist frameworks that we build that do not take informal institutions into account can only provide a partial guide as to likely democratic trajectories of African states.

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