APCG Best Book Award: Adrienne LeBas

APCG Best Book Award
Adrienne LeBas, From Protest to Parties. Party-Building and Democratization in Africa. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Citation: From Protest to Parties explains in a lucid manner why strong opposition parties emerge in some “democratizing” or hybrid regimes, while other parties remain weak and fragmented. Drawing on social movement theory, LeBas argues against the well-established view that incumbent strength is the decisive variable for authoritarian persistence. Instead, she points to weakness of opposition mobilization, which in turn is dependent on choices made by the opposition and the historical resources it holds. This excellent book highlights why opposition mobilization does not happen at every – or even most – instances of a weak incumbent. LeBas reminds us that opposition parties can indeed be built through conflict and that democratization often happens through contention and mass mobilization, not by negotiation. Nevertheless, as LeBas shows, mobilization is a double-edged sword and this form of opposition mobilization may in fact also harm democratization efforts. Applying a historical path-dependency analysis of three cases, Zambia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, LeBas convincingly demonstrates that conflict and polarization forge stronger parties, but also increase the likelihood of authoritarian retrenchment and violence. Her conclusions are bold, but it may be argued that recent political events in sub-Sahara Africa have proved LeBas correct. Referring to central issues in comparative democratization linked to regime legacy, path dependency, political mobilization, and the role of parties in democracy, LeBas book holds great value outside African politics as well.

APCG Best Book Honorable Mentions
Krijn Peters, War and the Crisis of Youth in Sierra Leone. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Citation: Peters seeks to explain how and why so many members of Sierra Leone’s young, rural underclass came to swell the ranks of the rebel forces, the motives of the many young people who made up the guerrilla army’s rank and file, why the RUF was able to remain intact for over a decade, and patterns in the RUF mistreatment of civilians in the rural areas. Peters’ main source of new evidence is interviews with RUF cadres themselves. His interpretations lead him to a penetrating analysis of socio-economic conflicts and tensions in rural Sierra Leone. Land shortage, exploitative relations of production in agriculture, and the abuse of neocustomary authority by rural landholding elites at the village level severely penalized youth, most notably those not linked to well-established landholding families. Peters’ main argument is that the war must be understood in large part as a revolt of these young, marginalized, rural Sierra Leoneans. The ideologies, organizational practices, and activities of the RUF begin to make sense when understood as a challenge to the rural world of exploitative clientelism that existed beyond the guerrilla fighter’s bush camps. Peters’ arguments about the depth of the rural crisis rings true, and implications for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration are clearly presented. This is an engrossing read and a vital contribution to conflict studies and our understanding of African politics.

Elke Zuern, The Politics of Necessity: Community Organizing and Democracy in South Africa. University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.

Citation: Based on extensive fieldwork and hundreds of interviews of residents and activists in the impoverished townships, Zuern draws a picture of the process and consequences of South Africa’s democratization. She argues that formal democracies have a wider range of tools than authoritarian regimes to “discipline dissent” by demobilizing and delegitimizing such movements. The story of the South African “miracle” and the difficult struggle for justice since the transition from apartheid makes this book essential to understanding one of Africa’s most powerful states. At the level of theory, this book raises profound questions about the need to incorporate socioeconomic rights and substantive democracy in any consideration of regime type and reminds us that contention and conflict are fundamental to democratic processes. Successful and sustainable democracy, Zuern argues, requires working toward greater socio-economic equality. The South African transition illustrates how narrow, impoverished definitions of democracy may generate new ways to be indifferent to the poor and sustain economic polarization rather than serve as a force for social justice. The Politics of Necessity illustrates how theoretically informed empirical research on Africa can engage in the major debates in comparative politics and social justice. This book is exemplary in how it both brings wider scholarly debates to help us understand African cases and how research on African political processes can contribute to theory development.

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