Name: Alexander m baker



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Name: Alexander M Baker



Degree programme: MSc Development Studies

(this course within the Department of Politics and International Studies)


Course: Government and Politics in Africa
Essay No: 1
Seminar Tutor: Renee Horne
Essay Title:
Evaluate the importance of neopatrimonial structures and processes

for maintaining political stability in present-day Africa.



Submission Date: January 9, 2012

Word Count (including footnotes): 3,943

In the years following independence, ‘big men’ presidents across much of sub-Saharan Africa brought stability by “appropriating the state” and employing “a system of patron-client ties” (Jackson and Rosberg 1982, p.39-153). These characteristics came to be associated with neopatrimonialism and were considered features of early postcolonial African politics (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.62). Despite implications that neopatrimonialism would disappear as polities matured, neopatrimonialism remains highly discussed more than fifty years after independence. Perhaps this is not surprising in reference to Cameroon, where President Paul Biya has ruled for 29 years. However, it is more surprising in regards to Ghana, where three different presidents have now won competitive democratic elections.

This paper critically evaluates the neopatrimonial narratives of continuity and transition established by Bratton and van de Walle (1997) in Democratic Experiments in Africa. These narratives are set within the context of Cameroon and Ghana over the past thirty years (1981-2011). It is argued that neopatrimonialism as defined by Bratton and van de Walle continues to be practiced in both Cameroon and Ghana. However, their emphasis upon institutions over contextual factors has inadequately explained important continuities and changes that have occurred over the past thirty years.

The first section assesses the theoretical origins of neopatrimonialism and explains the implications of Bratton and van de Walle’s institutional approach. The second section locates the practical origins of neopatrimonialism in Cameroon and Ghana. The third section evaluates Bratton and van de Walle’s narrative of continuity with a focus upon Cameroon and Ghana. The fourth section evaluates Bratton and van de Walle’s narrative of transition with an examination of the 1992 Cameroonian presidential election and the 1992 and 2000 Ghanaian presidential elections. Finally, the conclusion summarizes the paper’s findings.

Neopatrimonialism – Origins and Implications of an Institutional Approach
In order to fully interpret Bratton and van de Walle’s explanation of neopatrimonialism, we must consider the origins of the term. Weber’s concept of patrimonialism, a form of political leadership that emphasizes personal power, reemerged in the work of Roth (1968) and Eisenstadt (1973). Roth recognized similarities between Weber’s ideal type and African examples of “personal rulership on the basis of loyalties that do not require belief in the ruler’s unique personal qualification, but are inextricably linked to material incentives and rewards” (Roth 1968, p.196). Eisenstadt added the ‘neo’ prefix to make clear that the contemporary examples were “hybrid political systems in which the customs and patterns of patrimonialism co-exist, and suffuse, rational-legal institutions (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.62). In a variety of case studies during the 1970s and 1980s, neopatrimonialism was applied and affirmed within African political analysis (Erdmann and Engel 2007, p.97). For example, in describing Cameroon, Medard explained that, “while in the developed states the patrimonial reality coexists with a strong institutionalization of power, in underdeveloped states it undermines the state itself … neo-patrimonialism prevents the creation of a modern state” (1982, p.181). Bratton and van de Walle’s appropriation of neopatrimonialism builds upon this prior work.

In Democratic Experiments in Africa, Bratton and van de Walle place neopatrimonialism at the centre of their analysis of regime transitions in sub-Saharan Africa, describing neopatrimonialism as “the core feature of politics in Africa” (1997, p.62). Although their analysis builds upon prior work, it is uniquely situated within the context of the political turbulence of the early 1990s during which many African leaders were replaced and de jure single-party states disappeared (1997, pp.7-8). While earlier explanations of neopatrimonialism were tasked with explaining the methods of rulers in the static environment of the “ancien régimes of postcolonial Africa” (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.61), Bratton and van de Walle’s analysis has to incorporate explanations of both continuity and transition. In both instances, they place an emphasis upon the role of neopatrimonial institutions.

As we will see, two substantial flaws in Bratton and van de Walle’s approach limit the value of their analysis. The first is their dichotomous and exclusive interpretation of neopatrimonialism and democracy. As they explain, a “regime transition [from neopatrimonialism to democracy] is a shift from one set of political procedures to another” (1997, p.10). This dichotomous and exclusive explanation makes it impossible to account for the coexistence of both neopatrimonialism and democracy within their framework, as appears to be happening in Ghana.

The second limitation is their reliance upon institutional explanations over contextual explanations to account for continuity and transition. In a preamble to their analysis, Bratton and van de Walle defend their focus upon institutions by describing other “analytical instruments,” such as economic or international factors, as “essentially secondary or supporting” and “too blunt to discriminate among the particular political histories of countries undergoing regime transition” (1997, p.41). By broadly studying all of sub-Saharan Africa, Bratton and van de Walle are forced to narrow the focus of their analysis too much in order to make their claims broadly applicable. Their approach thus leads to incomplete and reductive explanations of Cameroonian and Ghanaian politics.


The Emergence of Neopatrimonialism in Cameroon and Ghana


Cameroon was so quickly and commonly cited that its “neopatrimonial nature” became well established (van de Walle 1994, p.91). Ahmadou Ahidjo, the first President of Cameroon and a Muslim from the North, was elected following the independence of the former French mandate of Cameroon in 1960. In 1961, the former Southern Cameroons of the British mandate gained independence and also joined the country to form a new federal republic. Ahidjo won five elections between 1960 and 1982. During his presidency, Ahidjo took significant steps to consolidate his power, abandoning federalism and forming a one party state (Takougang 2004, p.75). His leadership was indisputable, as “M. Ahidjo became the source of all power … one of his first tasks was to stifle competition and nearly all rivals for legitimacy, and in so doing gained control over the recruitment of senior staff” (Bayart 1984, p.143).

Concerned about his health, Ahidjo resigned in 1982 and was succeeded by his former Prime Minister, Paul Biya. A Christian from the French-speaking South, Biya, like Ahidjo before him, quickly moved to consolidate his power. Within two years, Biya had resolved a feud with Ahidjo (by condemning him to imprisonment if he returned from France) and survived a coup of the presidential palace guards (Mehler 1998, pp.48-51). He has remained President for twenty-nine years, having won reelection again in October 2011.

Ghana was not so quickly associated with neopatrimonialism. Ghana gained its independence in 1957, the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to do so. Kwame Nkrumah had been a prominent opponent of colonial rule since the late 1940s and led the Gold Coast and Ghana in the years before and after independence (Petchenkine 1993, pp.4-7). He stood out for his prophetic charisma, his socialist beliefs, and his outspoken commitment to promoting African unity. However, he was also criticized as an impractical ruler for a newly independent state, in which a “stampede for jobs and opportunities of all kinds … made a mockery of the political ideals of sacrifice and struggle … When Nkrumah’s disciples began to lose faith and become preoccupied with political interests, a change came in Ghana” (Jackson and Rosberg 1982, pp.202-203). He was ousted from power by a military coup in 1966 and lived in exile until his death.

Nkrumah’s leadership was followed by coups and instability as military and civilian leaders alike failed to consolidate power or initiate reform (Jeffries 1989, pp.77-83). Finally, in 1981, dissatisfied with the civilian leadership he had helped to install in a coup two years prior, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings initiated a second coup and decided to lead Ghana himself. He began his leadership with grand and revolutionary rhetoric, promising that “so long as there is not justice, I would dare say that ‘let there be no peace’” (Rawlings 1981 cited in Herbst 1993, p.27). Rawlings left the presidency in 2001, having spent 20 years as Ghana’s head of state.

In recent years, Cameroon and Ghana have continued to be described as neopatrimonial. In describing Cameroon, van de Walle argues that “the state was never developmental in orientation; political management was a primary consideration in economic policymaking” (1994, p.141) and “whatever his real inclinations, Biya responded … by resorting to tried and true neopatrimonial practices” (1994, pp.147-148). Yet, while Biya’s continued leadership has rendered a static appearance to Cameroonian politics, Ghana has been through a period of transition in which it has appeared to become an example of African democratic success. Rawlings stood down from the military, formed the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and allowed for general elections in 1992. After serving the constitutional maximum of two terms, Rawlings was replaced by John Kufour of the rival New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 2001, who was himself replaced by Rawlings’ former Vice President John Atta Mills (NDC) in 2009. Yet despite these significant changes, neopatrimonialism “has actually regained strength and intensity with the establishment of a multiparty system … the primary institutional heritage in Africa is neo-patrimonial and Ghana is no exception” (Lindberg 2003, p.123).

Besides their continued associations with neopatrimonialism, Cameroon and Ghana share other similarities that make them suitable for comparison. The two countries had the same GNI per capita in 2009 (1,190 USD) and similarly sized populations (both close to 20 million), although Ghana has had significantly higher GDP growth rates since 1989 (Cameroon 1989-99: 0.5, 1999-09: 3.4; Ghana 1989-99: 4.3, 1999-09: 5.6) (World Bank 2011a, p.1) (World Bank 2011b, p.1). Both have maritime ports, plentiful natural resources, access to oil reserves and slowly diversifying economies (Mehler 1989, pp.51-55) (Booth, et al. 2005, p.4). Put simply, Cameroon and Ghana are similarly wealthy and economically secure in comparison to other African countries. Furthermore, while they may appear to be political contrasts (Ghana the democratic exemplar, Cameroon not), they have also both maintained an undeniable level of political stability over the past 30 years. Cameroon has had one leader during that period, Ghana has had three leaders; both have avoided major inter-state conflict or sustained intra-state conflict.

A Narrative of Continuity
Bratton and van de Walle reason that the stability of African regimes is attributable to institutions or “the broad routinization of an established set of behavioral norms and procedures” (1997, p.63). Neopatrimonialism is thus expressed through three “political institutions that have been typically stable, predictable, and valued in Africa’s neopatrimonial regimes … presidentialismsystematic clientelismuse of state resources” (1994, pp.63-66). This creates a relevant but narrow narrative of continuity in which these three institutions overshadow other explanations of stability.

Presidentialism is characterized as the “systematic concentration of political power in the hands of one individual, who resists delegating all but the most trivial decision-making tasks” (1994, p.63). Bratton and van de Walle explain a generalized history, as “dictators emerged from either the army or a dominant political party,” (1997, p.63) and a causal relationship, as “the personalization of power was both cause and consequence of the political longevity of neopatrimonial rulers” (1997, pp.63-64). Finally, a cult of personality, image of personal beneficence and exclusionary style are also associated with presidentialism (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, pp.64-65).

These characteristics ring true in both Cameroon and Ghana today. In Cameroon, Biya maintains a cult of personality (Mehler 1998, p.51), with his picture common in office places across the country and a large image of “the good example” welcoming visitors at the international airport. He also emerged from the same party as Ahidjo and quickly consolidated his rule. While Ahidjo’s repressive rule had inspired hope for change among Cameroonians, and Biya visited the provinces following his ascension promising honesty, political reform and freedom of expression (Bayart 1989, p.38), within two years he had disappointed hopeful Cameroonians by only changing the name of the ruling party and maintaining control of the candidate selection process (Takougang 2004, p.79).

The first years of Jerry Rawlings’ presidency in Ghana also fit well within the characteristics of presidentialism. Rawlings came to power through a military intervention in 1981 and developed a dramatic and principled style. Rawlings tried to differentiate his grasp for power by presenting it as “a revolutionary government which transcended the old civilian-military dichotomy” (Nugent 1995, p. 123). With democratic elections, there were hopes for change, as both Kufour and Atta Mills were “mild-mannered lawyer[s] lacking Rawlings’s flamboyance” (Gyimah-Boadi 2001, p.107). Yet, Kufour’s eight years in office were also marked by presidential exceptionalism as his entourage spent excessively, held tight control over political appointments and forgave close associates found guilty of corruption (Gyimah-Boadi 2009, pp.140-147).

The second neopatrimonial institution is systematic clientelism: the distribution of patrimonial favors. Following this institution, the patron promises economic well-being (through public sector employment or preference in the private sector) in exchange for political support and in return “clients mobilized political support and referred all decisions upward in a mark of loyalty to patrons” (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, pp.65-66). This dynamic would lead to a large, interventionist state in which many levels of patrons participated in rent-seeking behavior in order to ensure they had the necessary funds to maintain the support of clients below them (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.66). The president is accordingly the most influential patron.

Clientelism also continues to exist in Cameroon and Ghana. The Cameroonian public sector remains bloated and the large number of political and judicial appointments ensures loyalty to Biya (Gabriel 1999, p.180-181). The private sector is also not immune. For example, in the recent 2011 election, a supposedly independent member of the electoral commission was accused of advertising for Biya after her firm won a contract to produce Biya billboard posters (Felix 2011).

Similarly in Ghana, with democratic reform looming at the end of the 1980s, Rawlings added an additional political layer by dividing Ghana into 110 districts. Rawlings’ supporters defended it as an opportunity to practice a form of local politics rooted in the historical political structures of the country (Owusu 1992, p.391). Yet it was also a tactical coup, as “by giving these small politicians [approximately 6,500] access to political office, regular income and political patronage, the government could count on their support in the impending political contest” (Ninsin 1998a, p.8). Since the democratic transition, clientelism remains widespread. During the 2000 election, Ghanaian MPs would not return to their constituencies unless they had money to spend on patronage to constituents and incumbents were expected to spend more because of their access to state funds (Lindberg 2003, pp.129-130).

The third institution is the use of state resources. Bratton and van de Walle argue that “neopatrimonial leaders made little distinction between the public and private coffers, routinely and extensively dipping into the state treasury for their own political needs” (1997, p.66). As a result, “neopatrimonial regimes demonstrated very little developmental capacity” and “created an economic climate of uncertainty and risk that scared away investors or directed them toward short-term speculation” (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, pp.67-68).

While Ghana and Cameroon have had some success attracting foreign investment (Mehler 1989, pp.53) (Booth, et al. 2005, p.4), the misuse of state resources has continued in both countries. Cameroon has gained a reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with recent improvements still placing Cameroon near the bottom of international indices (Transparency International 2011, p.4). The corruption is pervasive, as “members of the ‘présidence’ and ministers and directors of public enterprises make off with large amounts of money; lowly officials have to make do with small amounts” (Gabriel 1999, p.186). Similarly, Rawlings came to power under the cloud of ‘kalabule,’ in which profiteering was considered so rampant that nearly all accumulation was assumed to be a result of corruption. By the 1990s, legitimate capitalism was possible; Rawlings had “rehabilitated the sociability of wealth” (Nugent 1995, pp.27-204). Yet, despite promises of even further improvements, the continued buying of votes (Lindberg 2003, p.124) and irresponsible presidential expenditures (Gyimah-Boadi 2009, p.140) suggest that corruption has not been entirely overcome during Kufour’s years in office.

Within Bratton and van de Walle’s explanation, the continued presence of these three neopatrimonial institutions over the past thirty years is supposed to explain for the political stability of Cameroon and Ghana. Yet the stability of Cameroon and Ghana have been different, as one country has had multiple democratic elections and the other has not. Important contextual factors in the two regions must be considered to account for these different types of stability.

The first of these to be considered is the dynamics of party politics in both countries. Cameroon’s bilingual division has been highly influential. Ahidjo and Biya were both born in French regions and they have isolated the English-speaking minority regions to their benefit. Biya has always ensured that he has maintained support in the French-speaking South (his own area) and the French-speaking Muslim North (Ahidjo’s home region). As a result, the most committed opponents of Biya’s rule are often rooted in a discourse of anglophone dissent that does not appeal to the rest of the country (Jua 2003, p105). This strategy, along with tactical political appointments and a smaller number of anglophone clients, has been effective in discouraging opposition (Mbuagbo 2002, p.432).

In contrast, Ghana has settled upon a highly competitive two-party system. The first-past-the-post system introduced in the 1992 election encouraged consolidation and parties in opposition to Rawlings aligned after recognizing themselves “fighting a two way contest between the democratic forces and the rest” (Jonah 1998, p.97). Since then, clearer ideological differences and track records have further distinguished the parties (Gyimah-Boadi 2009, p.142). Political competition has secured the nascent democracy.

The second factor is the use of violence. Biya has often resorted to “heavy handed repression” to manage dissent (van de Walle 1994, p.148). The military receives preferential budgets and appointments; violence against anglophones and threats toward the press remain common (Takougang 2004, pp.80-81). In 2008, dozens of protesters across the country were injured or killed after objecting to Biya’s proposal to remove presidential term limits from the constitution (Musa 2008). While violence has often been associated with neopatrimonial leaders, and violence appears to have reinforced presidentialism in Cameroon, its role is downplayed in Bratton and van de Walle’s analysis.

In comparison, Rawlings’ restraint (after violent beginnings) allowed room for civil society to develop in Ghana. While many politically aligned associations challenged the notion of an independent civil society, a small group committed to democratic ideals did eventually emerge and played an influential role in pushing for democracy (Ninsin 1998b, p.79). The use or restraint of violence was thus associated with very different outcomes.

A Narrative of Transition
Bratton and van de Walle also describe a narrative of transition in order to account for regime transitions from neopatrimonialism to democracy. Their explanation hinges upon flaws assumed to be inherent in the three neopatrimonial institutions. This is despite writing in the wake of structural adjustment, in which the imposition of World Bank and IMF policies put intense pressure on states to contract and reduce expenditures. The initial cause of transition is thus a “volatile recipe for social unrest” caused by both the “chronic fiscal crises” associated with the misuse of state resources to maintain patron-client relationships, as well as the mobilization of previously latent opponents that were excluded from the “particularistic networks of personal loyalty” (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.83).

Four additional moments are also associated with transition. Firstly, the power of the president is so concentrated that transition will be considered incomplete until he is removed from office; the opposition fears that “real political change is unlikely to occur as long as the big man remains, since he has set all the rules and could manipulate any new ones to limit their impact” (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, pp.84-85). Secondly, pragmatic elites will split over their commitment to patronage because, in circumstances of increasing economic and political instability, some will fear losing their rents more than the consequences of being disloyal to the president (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.86). Thirdly, “because personalistic leaders enjoyed sweeping discretion to make public decisions, transitions from neopatrimonial regimes are concerned fundamentally with whether rules even matter,” inspiring discussions about constitutions, electoral law and other laws that will make state resources more broadly available” (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.88). Finally, the middle class joins the opposition because they are “frustrated by state ownership, overregulation, and official corruption,” all of which cripple their capitalistic pursuit (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p.89).

This narrative of transition does not apply well to the important transitory opportunities of recent Cameroonian and Ghanaian politics. The most likely moment of Cameroonian transition over the past thirty years was the 1992 presidential election. It was the first presidential election after protests in Bamenda had led to Biya allowing other political parties (Gwellem 1996, pp. 13-37). Among a number of candidates, John Fru Ndi emerged as the most legitimate rival to Biya. Fru Ndi was a political outsider, a former bookshop owner from the anglophone city of Bamenda. He formed a new party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), and drew broad support that peaked in the anglophone provinces (Gabriel 1999, p.179). Yet amidst allegations of intimidation and irregularities, Biya won the election with 39.9% of the vote compared to nearly 35.9% for Fru Ndi (van de Walle 1994, 146).

Bratton and van de Walle’s approach fails to explain many of the factors that were key to Biya’s resiliency during and after the 1992 election. While the economic hardship of structural adjustment could have threatened Cameroon’s ability to pay public sector salaries, France helped secure Cameroon’s economy by lobbying heavily for increased IMF funding and debt rescheduling (van de Walle 1994, p.147). This international intervention stymied growing dissent. In that moment, Fru Ndi also had more support than Biya but lost instead because of “massive manipulation of the vote” (Gabriel 1999, p.179). Neither of these influential factors are explicitly neopatrimonial.

Unlike Cameroon, Ghana has undergone legitimate political transition toward democracy. Rawlings had come to office promising democratic and economic reform and pressure from civil society had incrementally pushed Ghana toward the introduction of political parties by 1992 (Jonah 1998, p.90). Rawlings won the first two presidential elections. Yet, in the 2000 election, there was substantial fear that Rawlings would attempt to circumvent the two-term limit or retake control in the event of his successor’s loss. As a result, the opposition’s victory “was manifestly liberating … celebrated locally as Ghana’s ‘second independence’ and as a powerful demonstration of the power of the thumb” (Gyimah-Boadi 2001, p.112).

While the emphasis upon Rawlings’ removal is reflected in Bratton and van de Walle’s narrative of transition, the key international and economic factors are not adequately explained. Rawlings’ commitment to structural adjustment provided Ghana with substantial economic support during the late 1980s, but also yielded power to critical international donors and inspired growth that gave confidence to a critical private sector (Jebuni and Oduro 1998, pp.22-23). This international influence fueled transition. It continued in the critical 2000 election, as Ghana received both electoral support from abroad and an abundance of praise from diplomats and world leaders for Rawlings that was considered decisive in securing his commitment to a peaceful transition (Gyimah-Boadi 2001, p.111).

Conclusion
This paper critically evaluates the neopatrimonial narratives of continuity and transition established by Bratton and van de Walle (1997) in Democratic Experiments in Africa. These narratives are set within the context of Cameroon and Ghana over the past thirty years (1981-2011). It is argued that neopatrimonialism as defined by Bratton and van de Walle continues to be practiced in both Cameroon and Ghana. However, their emphasis upon institutions over contextual factors has inadequately explained important continuities and changes that have occurred over the past thirty years.

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