Category Archives: Country Post

Senegal and the United States: a democratic alliance

Since independence, Senegal has maintained strong diplomatic relations with the United States. Senegal’s first president, Léopold Senghor, “cultivated close ties with the West” and especially with France, the country’s former colonizer (Arieff 2). His successors have continued to push a pro-Western policy, and as mentioned in the previous post, Senegal currently holds an 80 percent favorable opinion of the United States, only one point behind Israel (Pew Research Center).

The U.S. considers Senegal “a democratic leader in Africa, an anchor of regional stability, and a partner in addressing development challenges and combating transnational security threats” (Arieff 1). Current leader Macky Sall was invited to the White House in March 2013 to discuss U.S. democratization efforts and economic initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa. In June of that year, Senegal was one of the three African countries that President Obama visited in his first extended tour of the continent, along with Tanzania and South Africa (New York Times).

Le Soleil, a daily newspaper in Senegal, covered the presidential visit and reported that “le président Obama, visiblement satisfait de l’accueil populaire que les Sénégalais lui ont réservé devant les grilles du Palais…a souligné que son pays veut renforcer ses relations avec le pays de la Téranga [President Obama, visibly pleased by the reception that the Senegalese have reserved for him at the gates of the Palace…underlined that his country aims to strengthen its relations with the country of hospitality].” Senegalese media focused on the differing stances of the two presidents on the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality, the only instance where Sall openly opposed Obama. Senegal is a predominantly Muslim nation, and “face à la presse nationale et internationale, en présence du président des Etats-Unis, Macky Sall a réaffirmé la décision de son gouvernement de ne pas dépénaliser l’homosexualité au Sénégal [Faced with national and international press, in the presence of the president of the United States, Macky Sall reiterated his government’s decision not to decriminalize homosexuality in Senegal]” (Le Soleil).

Despite any cultural differences, the Obama administration has frequently promoted Senegal’s peacekeeping efforts in terms of both financial support and military training. In 2014, the U.S. included Senegal as one of the six member states in the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership (APRRP), which prepares partner countries for rapid military deployment as part of UN or AU emergency response missions (Fact Sheet: Peacekeeping in Africa). Senegal has also been designated as a “focus country” for President Obama’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and Feed the Future initiative (Arieff 10). Economically, Senegal enjoys trade preferences with the U.S. under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). While Senegal primarily exports to Mali, its exports to the U.S. reached $25.44 million in 2014, a 50 percent increase from the previous year (International Trade Administration). U.S. bilateral foreign aid to Senegal rose to $109.6 million in 2012, with “sizable allocations for agricultural development and health assistance” (Arieff 10).

Thus, the U.S. regards Senegal as a democratic ally in West Africa and a model of tolerance in a region marred by political instability and ethnic conflict. While Senegal does not have the economic capacity of Nigeria or the peacekeeper status of South Africa, the strength of its democratic institutions is a valuable asset to its international reputation, particularly in the West.


Arieff, Alexis. “Senegal: Background and U.S. Relations” (June 20, 2013)

International Trade Administration. “U.S. Trade with sub-Saharan Africa, January-December 2014”

Pew Research Center, Global Indicators Database

“Retombées de la visite du président Obama: Les Etats-Unis vont financer l’agriculture et les infrastructures,” Le Soleil (June 28, 2013)

Shear, Michael. “Obama Looks to History and Future in Senegal.” New York Times (June 27, 2013)

The White House. “Fact Sheet: U.S. Support for Peacekeeping in Africa” (Aug. 6, 2014)

U.S. Department of State. “Fact Sheet: U.S. Relations With Senegal”

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Madagascar: a democracy only in name; neopatrimonial politics

The effect of the colonial experience on present day politics:

Before coming under French colonization in 1896, Madagascar was, in large, ruled by the Merina monarchy. During colonization, the French utilized this pre-colonial structure of rule to secure its presence within the country. As a result, the Merina ethnic group received certain privileges that were not available to the other coastal ethnic groups (côtiers). While the ethnic divide between the côtiers and highland groups existed before French colonization, the colonial experience politicized ethnicities and ultimately created the sense of entitlement portrayed by political leaders and parties post-colonization. This rift has been a driving force in the country’s present political behavior, which is seen to promote neopatrimonialism under the guise of democracy.

The colonial experience was seen as “exacerbating the ethnic and regional cleavages in the country” (Marcus, Ratsimbaharison 2005; 498). As a result, political parties were structured around ethnic ties rather than common ideologies. After independence, the idea that the Merina elite was entitled to be the ruling group came from the reinforced hierarchical structure established through French rule. To counter this belief but also as a means to further reject any lingering French influence, the côtiers formed political parties based on ethnic ties. This further demonstrates how the colonial experience complicated the creation of a nationalist ideology. The lack of nationalism then acts as an existing platform for political leaders to advance personal interests over what would be considered the “common good.”

How political structure facilitates neo-patrimonilialism:

In the Malagasy political structure, the government is divided into an executive, legislative, and judicial branch. The public elects the president and the president appoints the prime minister (this amendment was made under Zafy Albert, previously the PM needed legislative approval). In addition, the president has the right to dissolve the national assembly. In the legislature, the parliament is composed of the National Assembly and the senate. The Constitutional court approves the new laws.

The structure of the government is vulnerable to neo-partiomonialism. Because the president has such large and sweeping administrative powers, they can ultimately act the single governing force under the protection of a Constitution that has created a quasi-democratic state.

Since coming into independence in 1960, Madagascar has gone through four Republics. The first republic was under President Philbert Tsiranana whose foreign policy continued to support French influence within the country. This allegiance caused the public to overturn his administration in 1972. The second republic was under the rule of Didier Ratsiraka who created a socialist-Marxist government whose biggest ally was the Soviet Union. However, the economic policies under his rule coupled with the decline of the communist block led to the eventual bankruptcy of the country. Ratsiraka’s policies were no longer easily welcomed, which contested his legitimacy. As a means to maintain power, “Ratsiraka relied heavily on core military, business, and family networks, throughout the provinces for political survival,” (Marcus, Ratsimbaharison 2005; 501). The neo-partimonial behavior demonstrated by this administration coupled with the failing economy led to the collapse of Ratsiraka’s regime which concluded with the beginning of a transitional government under Zafy Albert. Zafy Albert ran under the guise of democratic liberalism to counter the unfavorable socialist policies under Ratsiraka. However, while in office, Albert recreated the constitution to give more administrative power to the executive branch. As part of this new order, the president was able to appoint the prime minister without legislative approval. This move to centralize governance away from the peripheral regions led to claims of corruption and toppled the Albert’s rule. The fourth republic was under the rule of Marc Ravalomanana who won popular vote despite being of the Merina ethnic group.

Marus, Richard. Ratsimbaharison, Adrien. 2005. “Political Parties in Madagascar: Neopatrimonial tools or Democratic Instruments?” Party Politics. July (11) 495-512.


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Islam and the Algeria’s Modern State

Although neo-patrimonialism has played a negligible role in modern Algeria, in the same way that neo-patrimonialism exists as a strong, pre-colonial influence in modern, particularly sub-Saharan African politics, Islam in Algeria has retained great influence in the shape of the modern Algerian state and its policies therein.  Further, it was this strong, Islamic influence and the specific character of French colonization in Africa that have shaped the modern Algerian state and its foreign policy.

The first component of the shape of modern Algeria, its ties to Islam, first developed during the 7th century, when Arabs conquered Algeria with little resistance from the local population.  Control of the region shifted between various entities several times over the course of the next eight centuries, but, in 1516, the Ottoman Empire brought the region, particularly Algiers, firmly, though not completely, under its control for the next three centuries.  Nonetheless, over the from the 7th century until French colonial rule, much of the administrative style, institutions, and political culture of the state remained unchanged.  First, Islam acted as a uniquely unifying force on the continent of Africa, eventually helping to establish in Algeria what Carolyn Warner calls “a community willing and able to define itself against a ‘non-self.'”  While Islam in Africa often times was not crucial in forming the crucial aspects of a modern state from a Western perspective (i.e., strong, centralized state with definite territory and ability to exercise legitimate use of force), it created a community of the faithful, the umma, whose fidelity lied with their caliph, the individual successors of Muhammad as head of the umma, common throughout the Muslim world.  The same since, for these religious reasons, continued under Ottoman rule; caliphs and sultans, the actual administrators in Islamic polities, were essentially autonomous, deferring to the Ottomans almost exclusively in matters of foreign policy, while remaining free to establish domestic policy for their umma as they desired.  Crucially, in this pre-colonial understanding of the Islamic polity, those who were not among the faithful were not subject to the will of the caliph or sultan, a testament to what Warner sees as the difficulty of divorcing Islam from the state.

Because French colonial rule began in 1830 and, therefore, before the “Scramble for Africa,” the character of the colony was not only different from other French African acquisitions, but also much different from the acquisitions of their counterparts, Great Britain, Germany, and Belgium.  Unlike the Belgian Congo, whose governance functioned almost exclusively to facilitate the extraction of raw materials from the region, French Algeria was closely held not just for its resources, but for the grander design of an expansion of French civilization.  To use the parlance of the time, the French sought to “civilize” Algeria, and, by 1848, had made it a départment of the French state.

Unlike much of sub-Saharan Africa, Algeria’s status as a closely held territory gave the apparatus of a modern European state, and strong Arab-Islamic influence laid the basis for nationhood in creating a polity united by Islam and anti-colonialism.  The country’s Islamic inheritance has had a two major effects.  In domestic politics, it resulted in an massive policy of “Arabisation,” directly linked to the dictator nationalist-socialist economic initiatives at the time, including the nationalization of oil production and agriculture.  Similarly, its ties to Islam have affected its foreign relations.  Its ties are to similar repressive Islamic regimes, like Saudi Arabia, but not to newer strands of Islamic fundamentalism like the ISIL.  Because of these factors, Algeria is a member of OPEC, and a crucial trading partner with Europe as a part of the EU’s European Neighborhood policy, which aims to increase and incentivize greater trade and cooperation.  However, Algeria’s ties with Islam have led it to conflict with Europe, such as in 2009, when Algeria ended an arms deal with France, claiming the arms had Israeli parts.

The Rise of the State System in Africa, Carolyn M. Warner

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Politics in Cape Verde

The islands Cape Verde were originally founded by the Portuguese and remained under their control as a colony for over 500 years until finally in 1975 when they achieved their independence. This was accomplished by teaming up with Guinea-Bissau and forming the African Party for the Independence of Guinea [Bissau] and Cape Verde (PAIGC); together they fought for their freedom and intended to become a strong political union together. This union lasted until November of 1980 when a coup d’état in Guinea-Bissau put an end to this vision, leading to the PAIGC being tossed away all together. Cape Verde then created PAICV to take its place and it became the sole political party in the country throughout the 1980’s making Cape Verde one of the many one-party states in Africa at that time. The first multi-party election took place in 1991 and the new comers, the MpD (Movement for Democracy), clinched a victory. The MpD immediately got to work changing cultural symbols and also heavily adopted neo-liberal economic policies. The PAICV regained their power in 2001 and have held on to it since then by winning the last three elections, which by the definition of Giovanni Sartori makes Cape Verde’s democracy a dominant party system.

Unlike most of Africa, Cape Verde within the global spectrum has managed to steer clear from being labeled as a country dominated by neo-patrimonialism. This is evident in the fact that they were ranked by Transparency International to be within the top 4 least corrupt countries in all of Africa; they are joined by Botswana,  Seychelles and Mauritius who all scored a 50 or above on their chart. The index goes from 0 all the way up to 100 and places rankings on countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. Cape Verde scored an impressive 57. To put this in perspective one of the least corrupt countries such as Denmark scored upwards to 92, meanwhile another African country such as Eritrea scored a dismal 18. The poor showing from Eritrea gives us a good indication of where Cape Verde could be if they made a few more mistakes in their development. 

Despite Cape Verde’s seemingly great success in removing neo-patrimonialism from the way they run their country, many say that it is mostly a facade put up to impress the global community and to inspire them to provide them with foreign aid. In Cape Verde if you win an election you have ‘almost unconstrained power to do whatever without referring to citizens’ as stated by a political scientist who is a Native of Cape Verde. A supporting fact to this is that only a handful of times when politicians get sent to the courts on matters of corruption have they ever actually gotten proven guilty and penalized for their actions. The politicians of Cape Verde belong to a protected class in which they are referred to as “super Cabo Verdeans” because they are in a very real sense above the law. 

I believe this neo-patrimonialism free facade has helped Cape Verde in their foreign relations and helped them maintain strong trading relationships with countries such as Portugal and Spain to bring in necessary imports such as fuel, food and machinery.

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Political Culture of Ethiopia

The political culture of Ethiopia can be described as being dominated by the ruling political coalition, and plagued by corruption that almost always takes the form of bribery.

Ethiopia is a federal parliamentary republic. The Prime Minister, currently Hailemariam Desalegn, is the head of government, and represents the executive power. The legislative takes the form of parliament, which is broken up into two chambers: the Council of People’s Representatives and the Council of the Federation. There is also a judiciary branch, but it does not do much to seek justice, and is heavily influenced by the executive. These three branches, though officially separated, are all dominated by one political coalition: the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The Front consists of four separate political parties. It was formed out of a rebel group that fought, and eventually took down, the Derg, the military that ruled Ethiopia in the 70s and 80s. After the collapse of Mengistu’s government, and with the support of the US, in the 2000 elections, the EPRDF won a majority of the seats in parliament, 472 out of the then 527. It is after these elections that the political culture becomes dominated by the growing power of the EPRDF. In subsequent elections, the number of seats won by the coalition has only grown. Political participation can only be described as extremely controlled. The opposition has been almost completely silenced, and any resistance or criticism is met with arrest and even death. Cries of voting irregularities fall deaf on the ears of the EPRDF, and not surprisingly, in this year’s elections in May, every seat in parliament went to the coalition. Not one single opposition seat was won. The EPRDF will tell you it is because of Ethiopia’s desire for the coalition to continue, but others will say it is because it harassed voters and repressed independent media, not really giving the opposition a fighting chance. In addition to the power it has in the legislative, the coalition also controls the executive, as Prime Minister Desalegn is the leader of the EPRDF. And since the executive has significant influence on what happens in the judiciary, the coalition’s power reaches even further.

The evidence of corruption under the coalition is overwhelming. Anti-corruption law exists, but since the judiciary is so dependent on the influence of the executive, these laws are rarely, if ever, enforced. Bribery is rampant and visible in every day life. In my most recent visit to Ethiopia, I distinctly remember seeing the corruption before me. There are laws as to how many people can be on a bus or in a van at one time, for safety reasons. The police set up checkpoints, and can come aboard to ensure you’re not over capacity, but since there is a great need for transportation in the country, these busses and vans are almost always over capacity. My bus was, but when it came time for a checkpoint ahead, I remember seeing the driver slow down, and hand the officer money outside the window and keep driving, indicating that this was a regular occurrence.

Because Ethiopia is still very dependent on foreign aid, the EPRDF’s relationship with international agencies should focus on being positive, and might therefore want to change its oppressive regime. However, the US has continued to be an ally to Ethiopia, despite its human rights violations. This doesn’t give Ethiopia much incentive to change its domestic politics, as it doesn’t really see it affecting its foreign relations.

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Implications of neo-patrimonialism in Namibia

Namibia is defined as a democratic republic, with presidents serving 5-year terms. SWAPO, the current ruling party, has been in power since independence in 1990, and is not facing any powerful opposition – in the 2014 presidential elections, it won 87% of the vote, an increase from 75% in 2009. The elections were generally regarded as free and fair. This essentially makes Namibia a one-party dominant system, a trend which is often seen in Africa (and some countries in Asia).

Neo-patrimonialism can be demonstrated by the involvement of government figures in private enterprise.The Namibian government also plays a large official role in private business – all diamond exploration and mining operations in the country are 50% owned by the government. The idea behind this is that some of the wealth remains in Namibian hands instead of foreign ones, even though this deal leaves room for abuse. The Namibian government also holds other powerful economic responsibilities, such as giving out fishing quotas and oil exploration licenses. A form of clientelism stems out of this system, where Namibian government officials often accept bribes in exchange for awarding licenses/fishing rights.

Several stories have come out of Namibia in recent years about this issue, with one of the most notable stories being that the former president’s daughter received a large housing tender without ever operating a construction company. This corruption appears to be deeply systemic, especially due to the small size of the country, which means that power is concentrated in the hands of very few people, and is all concentrated in one city – Windhoek. General corruption in Namibia is still a major concern. In Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, Namibia ranked 55 out of 175 countries (with #1 being the least corrupt), and ranked 6 out of 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

This affects Namibia’s foreign policy and international relations mainly in regards to economic policies. Namibia is a large exporter of many natural resources, most notably uranium and diamonds. When large deals are negotiated with foreign countries in these sectors, private government individuals often have the goal of being financially rewarded personally for it. This can make the negotiating conditions difficult, since foreign entities that want to enter Namibia must deal with these demands. However, in this regard, the situation seems to be improving. An example of this is president Hage Geingob’s new law which forbids ministers from owning any private businesses.

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Ghana: non-clientelistic democracy

Overview of Political Institutions

The current political system of Ghana is described as the presidential and constitutional democracy with multi-party parliament. After experiencing multiple transitions from military government and civilian government and vice versa, the current system was established in 1993. Since then, there has been no major politics-induced conflicts in Ghana. Based on the constitution, state powers are divided into five: armed force, parliament, cabinet, council of state, and independent judiciary. In 2014, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), the annual statistical assessment of the quality of governance, ranked Ghana 4th in ‘Rule of Law’ and 7th overall in Africa. Therefore, we can argue that Ghana currently maintains the stable political system and institutions compared to other African states.


Political Culture and Neo-patrimonialism (Clientelism)

In modern day Ghana, neo-patrimonialism certainly exists, but it is notably less influential than other African states. Through their survey of Ghanaian voter’s behaviors and rationales, Lindberg and Morrison conclude that “only about one in ten voters is decisively influenced by either clientelism or ethnic and family ties in choosing political representatives, while 85 to 90 percent behave as “mature” democratic citizens (Lindberg and Morrison p96).” At the same time, they also note that Ghanaian clientelism becomes slightly more apparent when there are a lot of swing voters and the political competition among candidates is intense (Lindberg and Morrison p120). This is a clear contrast against Nigeria, where neo-patrimonialism is the “pandemic and seemingly insoluble problem of political corruption (Ogundiya p291).” However, another scholar, Lauren MacLean, points out “how their boundaries [between citizenship and clientelism] are actually blurred by Ghanaians on the ground (MacLean p114).” Therefore, I conclude that neo-patrimonialism can, as a pre-colonial legacy, be a part of the current Ghanaian political culture, but the influence is usually very small.

In Ghana, ethnicity also affects the political culture to some extent. The current two main parties in Ghana have different ethnical backgrounds: Ashanti for NPP (New Patriotic Party) and Ewe for NDC (National Democratic Congress). Although these two ethnicities have long had the cleavage and thus in politics, the ethnic identities of those parties are declining and “it cannot explain voting behavior and the outcome of the elections in general (Lindberg and Morrison p112).”


How do they affect Ghanaian foreign policies and IR?

The stable democracy without clientelism in Ghana—at least compared to other African states—has two major effects in the Ghanaian international relations. First, most Ghanaian politicians have more time and energy to deal with international goals and issues than clientelistic politicians, since their positions are well-legitimized by broader range of citizens. They have less need of secure their positions by favoring patrons and thus are able to use the state resources for investment, not redistribution.

Secondly, a robust non-clientelistic democracy is likely to have more foreign investments than a fragile, clientelistic and short-lived government since future predictability is very important in investment.

In addition, it is also noteworthy that Ghana has traditionally had a strong interest in regional unification and international cooperation. This is mainly due to the personal ideology of Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, who had a strong interest in unifying African states under Pan-Africanism and supported many other African colonies to be independent.


The Ibrahim Index:

Lindberg, Staffan I., and Minion K.c. Morrison. “Are African Voters Really Ethnic or Clientelistic? Survey Evidence from Ghana.” Political Science Quarterly 123.1 (2008): 95-122. Web.

Ogundiya, Ilufoye Sarafa. “Political Corruption in Nigeria: Theoretical Perspectives and Some Explanations.” Anthropologist 11.4 (2009): 281-92. Web.

MacLean, Lauren. “Citizen or Client? An Analysis of Everyday Politics in Ghana.” African Studies Quarterly 15.1 (2014): 93-124. Web.

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The longevity of patrimonialism in Rwanda

Rwanda has a deep and troubled legacy of patrimonialism. Before colonization, feudal client-patron relations existed between different ethnic groups, the Tutsis (the minority, patron clan) and Hutus (the majority, client clan). German and subsequently Belgian colonizers adapted to this system clientelism, entrusting ruling privileges to the Tutsi chiefs and king. The colonizers treated these two groups as different races and institutionalized these racial distinctions, eventually requiring all Rwandans to attain and carry ID cards. These deeply entrenched racial divisions persisted throughout the colonial period and after independence in 1962, and were the cause for the civil strife the country would endure over the next four decades. As Lemerchand observes in his article on political clientelism and ethnicity in Africa, “the greater the cultural differences between patrons and clients, and the more conspicuous the social distance between them, the greater the likelihood of violent ethnic strife” (84). Rwanda is a prime example of the disastrous consequences patrimonial systems can have, particularly when this ethnic-based clientelism is institutionalized. Plagued with rebellions and civil war, Rwanda saw power shifts several times from the Hutus to the Tutsis and vice versa at the end of the 20th century, culminating in 1994 genocide in which Hutu forces carried out the execution of approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population (CIA World Factbook).

Today, Rwanda is a presidential republic, although it maintains several characteristics of neopatrimonialism. The most recent constitution was ratified in 2003 and grants the president up to two seven-year terms, as well as the power to appoint the prime minister and to dissolve the parliament (Freedom House). The current president is Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who is serving his second term and threatening to run for a third in 2017. Although a multi-party system, the constitution places significant restrictions on political parties: “Political organizations are prohibited from basing themselves on race, ethnic group, tribe, clan, region, sex, religion or any other division which may give rise to discrimination” (Article 54). As a result, the RPF is met with very little opposition (it holds 72.6% of seats in parliament and Kagame received 93.1% of votes in the 2010 election [CIA World Factbook]), and when opposition does arise, the government is often able to dismantle or weaken it by such means. Ironically, restrictions that were originally intended to prevent future violence based on the legacy of ethnic clientelism and racial hatred have fueled these neopatrimonial tendencies in Rwanda’s government today.

Freedom House classifies Rwanda as “Not Free” and recently demoted Rwanda’s civil liberties score from 5 to 6, “due to the narrowing space for expression and discussion of views that are critical of the government, particularly on the internet, amid increased suspicions of government surveillance of private communications.“ Additionally, Kagame’s government has been criticized for the disappearance and unlawful detention of individuals and groups who criticize the government (Human Rights Watch). Interestingly, Rwanda has very low corruption rates, ranking as one of the highest of African states at 55 out of 175 worldwide, and all public officials are constitutionally required to publically declare their wealth (Freedom House).

Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has reestablished many of its international diplomatic ties, including the US, Belgium, China, France, India and South Korea (many of whom, as well as UN peace-keepers, withdrew all support during the genocide). Rwanda’s foreign relations and policies today are focused primarily on economic growth and trade as the country tries to increase its foreign investment and exports. Rwanda’s regional relations are also significant and include Uganda, Burundi and the DRC; Rwanda and Uganda backed Congolese rebels in 1998, but Rwanda and the DRC restored diplomatic relations in 2009. Although many Rwandan refugees have returned, many still reside abroad in more than 21 African states (CIA World Factbook). It does not appear that Rwanda’s neopatrimonialistic tendencies have affected its international relations significantly, although it will be interesting to see how the international community (particularly the US) reacts if Kagame does in fact side-step term limits and runs for reelection in 2017.

Freedom House:

CIA World Factbook:

Rwanda’s constitution:

Human Rights Watch:

Rene Lemarchand, “Political Clientelism and Ethnicity in Tropical Africa: Competing Solidarities in Nation-Building,” The American Political Science Review 66:1 (March 1972), 68-90.


Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MINAFFET) website:

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How Neo-Patrimonialism Has Helped Fuel Obiang’s Regime

The current political culture of Equatorial Guinea is marred by the oppressive regime of long serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979.  As a multiparty presidential republic, Equatorial Guinea features an executive, and judicial, and bicameral legislative branch which is made up of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This classification is misleading however, as since their independence from Spain in 1968, Equatorial Guinea has only had two presidents: current President Obiang and his uncle Francisco Machias Nguema, who was overthrown by Obiang in 1979. Despite democratic elections since 1982, Obiang has managed to almost unanimously win 5 seven-year presidential terms. In fact, in the 2009 presidential election, Obiang obtained a near unanimous victory, garnering 95.4% of the vote, a slight decrease from his 2002 victory of 97.1%. The legislative branch features more of the same, as Obiang’s party controls 99 of the 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 54 of the 55 seats voted upon in the Senate. Lastly, the judicial branch has a very small role in the political culture of Equatorial Guinea as their finding are frequently overruled and or dismissed by Obiang.

Equatorial Guinea has operated under a mutliparty system since 1992, at urgence of donor nations who pushed for democratic reforms.  The country currently has 13 official political parties, six of which are closely aligned with with the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), Obiang’s party, which holds a vast majority in all of the country’s political institutions. Elections in Equatorial Guinea have been labeled by Freedom House as severely flawed as they have routinely been marred by voter and official intimidation.  In fact, the only other party that plays any role in the government is the Convergence Party for Social Democracy (CPDS), who hold one seat in both houses of parliament.

Equatorial Guinea’s foreign policy and international relations are heavily influenced by their vast oil wealth.  As Saharan Africa’s third largest oil producer, Equatorial Guinea finds itself as Africa’s second richest nation according the the CIA world fact book, in terms of GDP per Capita (Purchasing Power Parity).  Given this wealth, Equatorial Guinea finds itself mostly interacting with strong oil consuming nations like: China, Japan and the United States, who provide significant wealth and supplies to Obiang’s regime. Most recently, China signed a new oil production agreement with Equatorial Guinea in February 2006 with which they agreed to provide military training to local forces in addition, while the United States as of 2007 had a direct investment of over $10 billion into Equatorial Guinea.  In addition to its oil clients, Equatorial Guinea keeps close relations with its colonial power, Spain, with which it has had significant diplomatic relations since Obiang took office in 1979.  The Spanish remain the greatest exporter into Equatorial Guinea and have maintained there bilateral assistance program with Equatorial Guinea since the 1970s.

Neo-patrimonialism is one of President Obiang’s greatest tools in maintaing power throughout Equatorial Guinea.  First, Obiang’s clan, the majority Fang clan, operates under a monopoly within Equatorial Guinean politics and with this Obiang looks the other way at Fang vigilante groups abuse of the minority Bubi clan.  Furthermore, Equatorial Guinea’s vast oil wealth allows President Obiang the opportunity to reward those within his “clique” and his political party thorough promotions within the government and small pieces of the vast oil fortune.  This is possible because Obiang appoints all members of the judicial branch, his cabinet and 15 members of Senate, while he essentially fixes the parliamentary elections to favor those in his inner circle and his PDGE party.  Lastly, Obiang plans to move the capital from the city of Malabo, the epicenter of the country’s oil production on the island of Bioko, to a new planned city called Oyala deep into the Rio Muni mainland region.  This move is most definitely an attempt to better control the periphery of his nation.

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Senegal: the case for “spiritual” clientelism

Senegal is one of the few African countries to have successfully transitioned to democracy after independence, and “the only West African state to have escaped a successful coup” (Taylor and Williams 140). Its political system is classified as a democratic republic, helmed by both a president and a prime minister. The president is elected by absolute majority popular vote, and serves a five-year term with the possibility for reelection; the prime minister is selected by presidential appointment (CIA Factbook). Key political institutions include the unicameral National Assembly and the Constitutional Council.

In the 2015 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Senegal’s quality of governance was ranked ninth out of the 52 African countries listed. Freedom House currently designates Senegal as “Free” in terms of both civil liberties and political rights. The 2012 presidential election produced some controversy, as the incumbent Abdoulaye Wade had amended the constitution the previous year in order to run for a third term, despite the two-term limit; however, after Macky Sall of the Alliance for the Republic won the election with 66 percent of the vote, Wade conceded the presidency (CIA Factbook). It should be noted that the National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA), which monitors the elections, is “financially dependent on the government” and that its “members are appointed by the president on the advice of other public figures” (Freedom House). The dependency of CENA on external actors, although not overtly patrimonial, could give Senegalese elites the ability to manipulate election results and thereby gain “effected control” (Taylor and Williams 140).

Despite the robust democratic institutions in place, Sufi clerics (marabouts) exercise considerable influence in Senegalese politics. Due in part to their role in the resistance to French colonial rule, the marabouts have become powerful political brokers in post-independence Senegal. The maraboutic system, based on the connection of local leader and follower (taalibe), has encouraged a form of “spiritual” clientelism that extends to the state level. Murid marabouts, in particular, are “characterized as the grands électeurs who historically have utilized their religious authority and the hierarchical structure of their brotherhoods to mobilize their disciples into large voting blocs” (Beck 611-12). From 2000 to 2012, Senegalese political affairs were “increasingly dominated by Murid interests, a perception enhanced by” Wade’s publicized visits to his marabout, “his claim to be le Président Mouride and his promises with respect to ‘Murid’ development” (Diaf and Leichtmen 247). This religious-based clientelism has caused analysts to question whether patrimonial ties underlie the country’s democratic progress, as “contemporary political culture in Senegal combines both neoliberal values with the traditional desire for the accretion of power” (Baxter 67).

Senegal has established strong diplomatic ties with the West, especially France and the United States, on the basis of shared democratic values. Pew’s Global Indicators Database reports that Senegal holds an 80 percent favorable view of the United States, only four points behind South Korea and one point behind Israel. As a result, Western political scientists tend to overlook the patrimonial undertones in Senegalese politics, and uphold the country as a model of democratic success in an otherwise turbulent region.


Baxter, Julia. “An analysis of regional perception of the impact of political clientelism on the process of democratisation in Senegal: A mixed methods approach,” International Public Policy Review Vol. 6, No. 1 (July 2010)

Beck, Linda. “Reining in the marabouts? Democratization and local governance in Senegal,” African Affairs Vol. 100 (2001): 601-621

CIA Factbook (

Diouf, Mamadou and Leichtman, Mara. New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal: Conversion, Migration, Wealth, Power, and Femininity (2009)

Ibrahim Index of African Governance (

Freedom House, Freedom in the World Report 2015 (

Taylor and Williams, Political culture, state elites and regional security in West Africa

Pew Research Center, Global Indicators Database (

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