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Five things you probably didn’t know about African politics today

- March 11, 2014

“Contrary to common assumption, major forms of large-scale organized political violence in sub-Saharan Africa are declining in frequency and intensity, and the region is not uniquely prone to the onset of warfare.”

  • Looking at the most recent elections, voter turnout is similar in the average African country (66 percent) to turnout in the United States (67 percent). There is quite a range, however. Looking at only African countries classified as electoral democracies by Freedom House, the lowest turnout in the most recent presidential election was in Liberia (37 percent) and the highest was in its neighbor, Sierra Leone (91 percent). Analysis of voter turnout in Africa’s multiparty regimes suggests some of the same political institutions that influence turnout in developed democracies also influence turnout in new democracies in Africa.
(Data: International Democracy and Electoral Assistance; Figure: Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)
  • Parliaments in Africa have greater representation of women than the U.S. Congress. As Aili Tripp (also at University of Wisconsin) wrote late last year:

“… today Rwandan women hold 64% of the country’s legislative seats. In Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa, more than 40% of parliamentary seats are held by women, while in Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda over 35% of seats are occupied by women. By contrast, women in the US hold 18% of the seats in the House and 20% in the Senate.”

The number of women cabinet ministers and the importance of their portfolios are also increasing in Africa, in some cases rivaling cabinets in mature democracies.

  • The standard narrative of voting in African countries focuses on candidates buying support from voters, but campaigns in Africa also mirror some American practices. For example, some African democracies have begun holding and televising presidential debates. Kenya’s first presidential debate happened in 2013, and is fully available online, including Twitter hashtags and an in-set of a sign language interpreter. Malawi has slated three presidential debates this year in advance of the May elections.


  • Remittances from abroad are projected to surpass foreign aid as the major source of external funds in African countries – so governments might adjust accordingly when forced to choose between the demands of donors and those of their expatriates.
(Data: AidData Dashboard; Figure: Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

(Data: AidData Dashboard; Figure: Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)