Political Parties

To access the full programme & access details please click here.

The Political Parties in Africa Project (PPA), supported by the Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa (IDCPPA), held the second virtual conference on 10 & 11 February and 10 & 11 March 2022. We hosted 11 session (26 presentations) on a diverse range topics such as the relationship between political parties and the party system, the strength of opposition parties, candidate selection and female representation, party funding, and party-citizen linkages. The conference program is available here. If you are interested in finding out more about the presentations, please feel free to send me an email (mkroenke@afrobarometer.org).

2021 Political Parties in Africa Virtual Conference

The Political Parties in Africa Project (PPA), supported by the Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa (IDCPPA), held a virtual conference on 21 & 22 January and 18 & 19 February 2021. We focused on aspects of intra-party democracy, candidate selection, and campaign mobilization efforts. The conference program is available here. If you are interested in finding out more about the presentations, please feel free to send me an email (mkroenke@afrobarometer.org).


As part of the PPA activities, Sarah J. Lockwood, Robert Mattes and myself recently edited a Symposium on Party Structures and Organization Building in Africa in Party Politics. The Symposium, which comes out of a conference on political parties held at the University of Cape Town, takes a closer look at the development of party structures and organization across the continent. It seeks to answer a number of critical questions including: What affects the organizational structure of parties? How do party primaries affect party-building and electoral success? And what effect does the shrinking of open political space have on the ways in which parties organize? Taken as a whole, this issue brings together established and emerging scholars, to systematically explore, for the first time, what party organization looks like on the African continent, and how it affects critical issues of governance, mobilization, and accountability.

The Symposium includes articles by Aikande Kwayu (“Determinants of a Political Party’s Social Media Strategy: A Comparative Analysis of Tanzania’s Opposition Political Parties’ Twitter Practices“), Dan Paget (“Lone Organizers: Opposition Party Building in Hostile Places in Tanzania“), Consolata Sully (“Democracy within Parties: Electoral Consequences of Candidate Selection Methods in Tanzania“), Shana Warren, “Democratizing Candidate Selection: Controlled Turnover in Botswana’s Bulela Ditswe Primaries”, and our paper on “Party Footprints in Africa: Measuring Local Party Presence Across the Continent“.


Peer Reviewed | Working Papers | Reports | Work in Progress

Party structures and organization building in Africa

with Sarah J. Lockwood and Robert Mattes | Party Politics

Political parties are a vital element in the quality of representative democracy, playing a crucial role in mobilization, competition, governance, and accountability. Despite their importance, however, we currently know relatively little about how political parties in Africa are organized, with most evidence restricted to journalistic accounts or country-specific scholarly accounts. In this introduction to the symposium, we highlight how African parties are anything but inconsequential. Like their counterparts elsewhere, they contest elections, engage with citizens, recruit, train, and socialize political actors, hold incumbents accountable (albeit to varying degrees), organize creatively in response to changing and challenging circumstances, and affect citizens’ views of the democratic system. Therefore, parties in Africa are an important part of political activity on the continent, and a better understanding of their activities, behavior, and organization is essential.

Party footprints in Africa: Measuring local party presence across the continent

with Sarah J. Lockwood and Robert Mattes | Party Politics | Pre-Print (Afrobarometer Working Paper No. 186).

The conventional view holds that most of Africa’s political parties are organizationally The conventional view of Africas political parties holds that they are organizationally weak, with little presence at the grass roots. Yet, few studies are based on systematically collected data about more than a handful of parties or countries at any given point. In this paper, we attempt to remedy this situation, by focusing on one crucial aspect of party organization – the local presence that enables political parties to engage with and mobilize voters during and between elections – and developing the first systematic, survey-based measure of the extent of this presence across 35 countries. We draw on a wide variety of data to demonstrate the validity and reliability of this new index, and in the process showcase its ability to be calculated at a number of different levels. Finally, we illustrate its utility by applying it to a key substantive question in the literature.


with Sarah J. Lockwood | Working Paper (Under Review) | Political Party Database Conference 2020.

Levels of intra-party democracy have long been seen as important for candidate recruitment, policy development, and party membership. But what impact do they have on the ability of parties to interact with citizens at the local level? In this paper, we leverage new data on the formal rules governing political parties in Africa, along with an innovative measure of local party presence, to investigate the role intra-party democracy plays in the outward facing activities of parties, highlighting the importance of bringing together research in these two areas.


with Sarah J. Lockwood | Working Paper | APSA 2020, MPSA 2018, Italian Political Science Association 2018

In Africa, party members are often seen as clients in search of material benefits, rather than activists that contribute to large political organizations. However, few studies have attempted to actually measure the extent and effectiveness of party activism in the African context. In this paper, we use survey data from more than 30 countries to assess the ability of parties in Africa to organize local-level engagement. Contrary to received wisdom, we find that political parties on the continent can rely more on active partisans than expected, and have similar numbers of party activists compared to parties in other parts of the world. We also test the relative importance of socio-economic and institutional factors in explaining the variance in party activism across our sample, and close by exploring the consequences of this variation on a key metric of democracy – voter mobilization.

The consequences of partisanship in Africa: Cognitive lens or tribal straight-jacket?

with Robert Mattes | Book chapter: Research Handbook on Political Partisanship | Pre-print IDCPPA Workingng Paper No. 449 PDF

We provide evidence that partisan identification exists in African polities, though its extent varies considerably across countries. Moreover, we find that partisanship helps people organize their political world. It shapes the way they vote, and also exercises important influences on citizens’ propensity to become involved in a wide range of democratic politics, whether during or between elections. Finally, we produce several nuggets of evidence which suggest that partisanship in Africa constitutes, at least for many voters, a ‘standing choice’ rather than a fixed identity. That is, while voter support for ruling parties is shaped by ethnicity (and other demographic background factors), it is not determined by them. Voter evaluations of the overall direction of the economy, national economic trends, and government responsibility for those trends, matter.


Formal Rules | Expert Surveys | Behavioural Data

Image: Jonathan Beech

Party Constitutions

In collaboration with the Political Party Database Project, we collect data on the formal rules governing political parties in Africa. This includes information on party structures, institutions, resources, events, and the broader legislative and electoral environment. Data collection has now been completed for the first 20 parties in 9 African countries, and was made publicly available in early 2022. Additional countries are also being added on a regular basis.

Party elites

In 2021, we start a pilot study of party elites in Malawi (e.g. district level party officials). The survey examines the extent to which the day-to-day working of parties is guided by their official rules focusing on aspects of intra-party democracy and party-citizen engagement.

Party-Citizen Linkages

Together with the Democratic Accountability and Linkages Project (DALP) we are currently rolling out the second wave of expert surveys across Africa. The survey focuses on, for example, parties organizational structures and policy positions, as well as campaign strategies. So far, we completed fieldwork in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. We aim to conduct surveys in an additional 10 African countries, and more than 95 electoral democracies around the world.

party activists

This module gathers systematic data about the physical reach of political parties, their behavior at the local level, and their interaction patterns with citizens. It does this by collecting and geo-coding information on branch infrastructure, as well as surveying the preferences and behaviors of branch leaders. A first pilot was conducted in South Africa, and second pilot study is scheduled for Malawi in 2021.

Steering Committee

The project is hosted at the Institute for Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa at the University of Cape Town, and is being developed as a cross-institutional collaboration between:

Jeremy Seekings,University of Cape Town
Robert B. Mattes, University of Strathclyde
Sarah J. Lockwood, Columbia University
Matthias Krönke, University of Cape Town