Claiming Democracy: Are Voters Becoming Citizens in Africa?

By Carolyn Logan and Michael Bratton

The political transitions that allowed many Africans to experience a degree of citizenship have been major achievements of the past quarter-century. But power corrupts, no less than before, and new democratic governments can corrode from the inside out. Advances in political accountability depend on Africans claiming democracy, a powerful notion articulated by Carolyn Logan and Michael Bratton. Afrobarometer survey data enable them to evaluate the progress or regress of this vital dimension of African states.

Photo Credit: Anthony Allison

Photo Credit: Anthony Allison

In previous assessments of political accountability in Africa’s emerging democracies, we wrote that many Africans had become “voters, but not yet citizens.”[1] We argued that, while Africans expressed widespread commitments to selecting their own leaders through elections, relationships of accountability were largely undeveloped. This was so in part because many Africans had yet to fully appreciate their political rights, and to embrace their own responsibility for holding leaders accountable. They had adopted the attitudes of “voters” by showing strong support for electoral processes, but had yet to transform themselves into “citizens,” who take on the added responsibility of monitoring and, where possible, sanctioning their leaders in the long intervals between elections. We suggested that “accountability remains incomplete because of individuals’ limited conception of political rights, of reasonable expectations, and of their own public roles and responsibilities” and concluded:

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