Understanding the Backlash against Democracy in Africa
[Bergen Exchanges/EADI Panel]

Many African countries are leading the global charge in clamping down on democracy, adopting legal restrictions on key civil and political rights that form the basis of democratic rule, including freedoms of association, speech, and information; the ability to choose political leaders; rule of law with recourse to independent courts; and rights and freedoms related to reproduction and family life, gender equality, sexual orientation and gender identity. Domestically, the restrictions privilege some social groups at the expense of other groups and contribute to a rise in political inequality. This trend has coincided with increasing social and economic inequalities as well as an increase in social unrest and outward migration. Internationally, the African democratic backlash challenges global actors who have pressured developing countries to politically liberalize in the post-Cold War period. Yet, we have insufficient understanding of why this democratic backlash is happening, what the implications are, and which responses are effective under different conditions.

In this panel, we invite panelist to reflect on the timing and causes of the backlash against democracy in Africa. Did it start recently, or is it simply a result of a correction of the overoptimistic assessments of the 1990s? What contributed to the withdrawal of the third wave of democratization on the continent? What role has domestic elites played in this development, and which rights have been targeted? And what has been the role of the international community in the backlash? The panel invites both papers that are looking at concrete country cases across time and papers that look regional and continental trends.

Moderator: Lise Rakner

Presenters: Kendra Dupy (CMI), Svein-Erik Helle (UiB and CMI), Fiona Feiang Shen-bayh (UC Berkeley, USA), Jonas Ewald (Linnæus University, Sweden)
Commentator: Nicholas van de Walle (Cornell University, USA)