Prof Nic Cheeseman and The Africa Report: required reading

Professor Cheeseman’s article on ideas and ideologies stands out as guide to the deeper currents of democracy and opposition in Africa. A professor at the University of Birmingham, he founded To examine the role of ideas in Africa, a new research group has started.

Here’s a telling Cheeseman passage that suggests the role of opposition parties in Africa’s democracies will gain in legitimacy and influence.

“Ethnicity and clientelism are powerful forces, but their importance varies dramatically, and they are easier to mobilise for leaders who are seen to be credible and have a viable plan.

A well-known Ethiopian proverb runs: “When the great lord passes, the peasants bow and silently fart”. Voters in countries like Kenya, Malawi and Zambia have always critiqued those in power – and that critique is becoming more sophisticated with every passing election.

Failing to recognise the power of ideas and ideologies can therefore be fatal, both for political leaders trying to hold onto power and for researchers and journalists seeking to explain how politics works.”

Cheeseman is joined by other scholars in emphasizing that despite the challenges, the future of Africa is more not less democracy.

“The “supply” of democracy in Africa is under threat not only from the covid-19 pandemic, but also from rising insurgencies in parts of the continent, the growing influence of China with its indifference to democratic governance, and the internal challenges facing some Western democracies. Much of Africa remains caught up in a struggle between leaders who would circumscribe democracy and retreat from democratic openings and individuals who lay themselves on the line to defend and extend them. Data from recent Afrobarometer surveys confirm that most ordinary Africans remain unflinching in their preference for democracy and core democratic norms and institutions.”

Gyimah-Boadi, E., C. . Logan, and J. Sanny. “Africans’ Durable Demand for Democracy”. Journal of Democracy, vol. 32, no. 3, July 2021, pp. 136-51.