Image: Sumaya Hisham Reuters
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Peer Reviewed | Working Papers | Reports | Work in Progress
Party footprints in Africa: Measuring local party presence across the continent
The conventional view holds that most of Africa’s political parties are organizationally weak, with little grassroots presence. 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 focus on one crucial aspect of party organization – the local presence that enables political parties to engage with and mobilize voters – and use Afrobarometer data to develop the Party Presence Index, the first systematic, cross-national measure of local party presence in Africa. We then subject the index to a series of validity tests, confirming its value and demonstrating its potential to add significantly to our understanding of grassroots party organization.
ORGANIZING FOR SUCCESS: THE EFFECT OF INTRA-PARTY DEMOCRACY ON LOCAL LEVEL PARTY PRESENCE
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.
CLIENTS OR PARTY ACTIVISTS? PARTY MEMBERSHIP AND MOBILIZATION IN AFRICA
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?
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 | Behavioural Data
Image: Kim Ludbrook
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 will be made publicly available in 2021. Additional countries are also being added on a regular basis.
In 2021, we start a pilot study of party elites in Malawi (e.g. MPs and 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.
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.
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: