Project book 2022


Project Book: ‘Democratic Backsliding in Africa?’

The final output of the Breaking BAD project is out in the form of an edited book, titled Democratic Backsliding in Africa? Autocratization, Resilience, and Contention. The book is edited by Leonardo Arriola, Lise Rakner, and Nic van de Walle and gathers contributions from all the project members on our case countries; Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The book was presented by project leader Lise Rakner at the panel “Democratic Backsliding. Analytical Perspectives” at the APSA Annua Meeting in Montreal, 15 September 2022.

It will also be discussed at ‘Author meets critics’ at the ASA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, 18 November 2022, by Leonardo Arriola, Lise Rakner, and Nic van de Walle in conversation with Ellen Lust.


Why have most African countries not achieved greater political liberalization? What explains the lack of progress toward the ideals of liberal democracy across the region? This book advances ongoing debates on democratic backsliding with specific reference to Africa. In examining how incumbent leaders in African countries attempt to contain societal pressures for greater democracy, the chapters explain how governments go beyond the standard tools of manipulation, such as electoral fraud and political violence, to keep democracy from unfolding in their countries. The book emphasizes two distinct strategies that governments frequently use to reinforce their hold on power – the legal system and the international system – but which remain overlooked in conventional analyses; it also documents how governments employ the law to limit the scope of action among citizens and civil society activists struggling to expand democratic liberties, including the use of constitutional provisions and the courts. The work further demonstrates how governments use their role in international relations to neutralize pressure from external actors, including sovereigntist claims against foreign intervention and selective implementation of donor-promoted policies. While pro-democracy actors can also employ these legal and international strategies to challenge incumbents, in some cases to prevent democratic backsliding, the book shows why and how incumbents have enjoyed institutional advantages when implementing these strategies through six country case studies of Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The book is published by Oxford University Press in November 2022, as part of the Oxford Studies in African Politics and International Relations series.

About the book

  • develops a theoretical framework to account for democratic backsliding and autocratization

  • adds an international dimension to analyses of autocratization processes in Africa

  • examines how the opposition and civil society have also been able to use aspects of the same legal mechanims to challenge incumbents

  • an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence

Table of Contents

1: Democratic Backsliding in Africa? Autocratization, Resilience, and Contention
Leonardo R. Arriola, Lise Rakner, and Nicolas van de Walle

2: Political Participation and Regime Responses
Kendra Dupuy, Leonardo R. Arriola, and Lise Rakner

3: Legal Strategies: Constitutional, administrative, judicial, and discursive lawfare
Siri Gloppen, Thalia Gerzso, and Nicolas van de Walle

4: International Strategies: Sovereignty Claims and Selective Compliance
Lise Rakner and Nicolas van de Walle

5: Ghana: A Stagnated Democratic Trajectory
Franklin Oduro, Lisa-Marie Selvik, and Kendra Dupuy

6: Kenya: Executive Dominance through Constitutional Bargaining
Matthew K. Gichohi and Leonardo R. Arriola

7: Malawi: Democratic Fits and Starts
Siri Gloppen, Fidelis Kanyongolo, Fiona Shen-Bayh, and Vibeke Wang

8: Zambia: Backsliding in a Presidential Regime
Marja Hinfelaar, Lise Rakner, and Nicolas van de Walle

9: Uganda: A Story of Persistent Autocratic Rule
Sabiti Makara and Vibeke Wang

10: Zimbabwe: Contested Autocratization
Siri Gloppen, Marja Hinfelaar, and Lise Rakner

11: Conclusion
Leonardo R. Arriola, Lise Rakner, and Nicolas van de Walle