Breaking BAD: Understanding the Backlash Against Democracy in Africa

Project team: Lise Rakner (Project leader), Leonardo Arriola, Siri Gloppen , Kendra Dupuy, Vibeke Wang, Fiona Shen-Bayh, Svein-Erik Helle (post-doctoral fellow) and Lisa-Marie Måseidvåg Selvik (PhD candidate).

Time frame: 08/01/2017-08/01/2021

Project description:

Are dictators abusing formal institutions in a backlash against democracy, or are formal institutions increasingly restraining the discretionary power of more-or-less democratic politicians?

Most African countries today have multiparty elections. They have clear divisions between the electoral, legislative, executive and legal institutions. Power is not concentrated in the hands of one single actor. It all looks nice on paper. In real life, things often appear different. Multiparty elections and legislation are often used as tools by the ruling elites in a backlash against democracy. From restrictive laws smothering civil society organisations in Ethiopia to closing down media outlets in Tanzania, this development takes place in both seemingly democratic and outright authoritarian regimes. At the same time, both the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the election in Kenya and the military’s endeavours to carry out a constitutionally correct coup in Zimbabwe illustrate a trend that formal institutions bind behaviour. How should we understand this dual development?

Breaking BAD will study this trend across a set of African countries (Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe). We will study the history and development of key legal and political rights, and combine this knowledge with collecting new data on elite behaviour in the same countries today. This will give us a better understanding of the composition, causes and consequences of the backlash against the democracy. We will also map and analyse the responses to this backlash, both from domestic and international actors. The project will use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to develop robust theories and analysis based on both within- and between-country comparisons.

The aim of the project is not only to increase our understanding of processes of democratisation and autocratisation, but also to produce policy-relevant output to decision-makers both within and outside the countries in question.

The project is anchored in the CMI research program on Political Inequalities, PINQ initiative and is a joint University of Bergen and CMI research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council.

The Advisory Board on Breaking BAD consist of Ellen Lust, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Helge Rønning, Emmanuel Gyimah Boadi, and Jackie Dugard.

Past Activities 2018

November 30, 2018: Panel at the African Studies Association 61st Annual Meeting, titled ‘Democratic Rollbacks in Africa’. Chairs: Leonardo R. Arriola, University of California, Berkeley and Lise Rakner, University of Bergen. Discussant: Carrie Manning, Georgia State University.

  • Kendra Dupuy and Lisa Marie Selvik: “Restrictions on Participation Rights in Africa: Trends, Causes, Consequences, and
    Organizational Responses”.
  • Leonardo R. Arriola and Matthew Gichohi: “Institutional Reform and Democratic Retrenchment in Kenya”.
  • Vibeke Wang and Siri Gloppen: “Democratic Backlash: The Case of Malawi”.
  • Svein Erik Helle and Lise Rakner: “Tanzania: Change Through Stability?”.

October, 2018: Lise Rakner: “The International Dimension of Backlash Against Democracy”. Presentation at the WIDER Development Conference panel on Aid and Governance, Helsinki.

23 July, 2018: Lisa-Marie M. Selvik and Kendra Dupuy: “Civil Society Actors Responding to the Democratic Backlash: Mapping activists’ actions against government clampdown in Tanzania”. Paper presented at IPSA 2018, in panel titled ‘Responses to the Democratic Backlash’.

23 July, 2018Lise Rakner: “Don’t Touch My Constitution! Civil Society Resistance And Political Turnovers In Africa´s Pluralist Regimes”. Paper presented at the IPSA 25th World Congress of Political Science, in panel titled ‘Responses to the Democratic Backlash’.

29 June, 2018: Lise Rakner, Nicolas van de Walle, Leo Arriola and Franklin Oduro, participated in radio show titled ‘Threats to democracy in Africa’, aired on Class 91.3 FM in Accra Ghana.

27-30 June, 2018: Breaking BAD Workshop, Accra, Ghana:

May, 2018: Lise Rakner: “Breaking BAD: Understanding Backlash Against Democracy in Africa“. CMI Insight.

February, 2018: Kendra Dupuy and Aseem Prakash: “Do donors reduce bilateral aid to countries with restrictive NGO laws?: A panel study, 1993-2012“. Journal Article in Non-Profit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.

8-10 January, 2018: Svein-Erik Helle: ‘Unfair where? Within-country variation in the playing field in the 2016 Ugandan elections’. Presentation at Nasjonal fagkonferanse i statsvitenskap, Bergen. 

Past Activities 2017

October, 2017: Svein-Erik Helle and Lise Rakner: “The Impact of elections: The case of Uganda“. Book chapter, in Johannes Gerschewski and Christoph H. Stefes (2017): Crisis in Autocratic Regimes. Lynne Rienner Publishers, p. 111-134.

September 2, 2017:  “Politician defection in Zambia”, paper presented at Annual meeting American Political Science Association (APSA), San Fransisco (Leo Arriola, Danny Choi, Fiona Davis, Ingvild Skage, Lise Rakner, Melanie Thompson).

August 20-24. Opening workshop, Breaking Bad: participants: Leo Arriola, Fiona Shin-Bayh, Kendra Dupuy, Siri Gloppen, Svein Erik Helle, Marja Hinfelaar, Lise Rakner (PI), Nic van de Walle, and Vibeke Wang.

August 23, 2017: EADI panel: Shrinking space for associational rights: Participants. Kendra Dupuy and Marja Hinfelaar.

August 23, 2017: Panel EADI: Breaking Dad: Understanding backlash against democracy in Africa. Participants: Fiona Shen-Bayh, Svein Erik Helle, Lise rakner

August 9, 2017: Lise Rakner: “Understanding Backlash against democracy in Africa”. Presentation, Nordic Political Science Association (NOPSA) Annual Meeting, Odense, Denmark.

March 8, 2017: Lise Rakner: “Understanding Backlash against democracy in Africa”. Presentation, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, London.