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Do Legislatures Enhance Democracy in Africa?

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DLEDA (Do Legislatures Enhance Democracy in Africa?)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-07-31

In the course of the Third Wave of democratization many former dictatorships reintroduced multi-party systems. While some countries democratized successfully, others have remained electoral autocracies. Research has begun to pay increasing attention to the role of institutions in these countries. Some authors argue that parties, elections, and legislatures actually stabilize autocracy, but others find positive effects on democracy at least in the long run. The role of legislatures in authoritarian Africa is still poorly understood, partly due to a lack of empirical evidence. The DLEDA project therefore seeks to explore what parliaments may contribute to democratization.

There is a dearth of data and empirical studies in this field. Authoritarian politics is often difficult to investigate because of intransparency and poor data quality. As a result, research on authoritarian institutions is only recently beginning to make significant progress in data collection and case-based evidence. Related to this, legislatures in Africa have remained on of the most understudied subjects, because the role of institutions on the continent has long been neglected due to an over-emphasis on informality and personal relations. Our project seeks to close these research gaps by collecting unique empirical data from African legislatures. We focus on personal relations and on the behaviour and attitudes of Members of Parliament (MPs). Moreover, we bridge the gap between anglophone and francophone research communities by including countries with different colonial backgrounds and systematically working in English and French. Our project therefore helps to fill in research gaps in three areas: the role of institutions in electoral autocracies, electoral authoritarianism in Africa, and legislatures in Africa. What is new and unique about the project is the endeavour to do field work in a number of electoral autocracies and to collect exclusive data that can shed light in one of the most difficult and most under-researched areas of contemporary political science.

We are working with a comparative multi-case and mixed-methods design. The case studies are Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda. We structure our research interest into three main research questions:
1. Which policy decisions are taken in the national assembly, and in which areas does the opposition have a say in decision-making?
2. What interactions take place between the ruling party and the opposition in the national assembly?
3. Are legislatures in authoritarian demographically representative and to what extent do legislators act in the interest of their constituents?

The first question deals with law-making and political debates and seeks to understand whether legislatures are only rubberstamps or whether they can provide an arena for a possible contestation of government policies, at least in selected policy areas. The second question is interested in the way in which different parties interact and to what extent cooperation between government and opposition takes place. The third question looks at representation both in descriptive and substantive terms.

We use quantitative text analysis of parliamentary debates (Hansards) to answer question 1, and survey data for question 2 and 3 collected in full population surveys in the national assembly of each country.
Quantitative Text Analysis
For question 1 we are at the moment analysing the parliamentary debates. Most African parliaments provide little or no publicly available records of their work. Getting access to relevant data sources is therefore a challenge of its own. For all francophone countries, data is not publicly available, and we are continuously working out solutions to get access to the needed data. Meanwhile, a template for the analysis of Hansards is being worked out. This is very much work in progress since the employment of the PhD students responsible for this part of the project was delayed due to the pandemic situation. Given the fact that we have full access to the Hansards from Benin, Botswana, and Uganda, this part will make fast progress within the coming months. We are at the moment working with various text analysis packages for the statistical environment R. First analyses reveal that – contrary to our expectations – the opposition is not less active in parliamentary debates than the ruling party. Moreover, we are using a sentiment dictionary to measure how confrontational the debate between the ruling party and the opposition is. Preliminary findings demonstrate that in fact, as hypothesized, confrontation is larger when it comes to crucial issues like constitutional amendments or appointments. Existing theory is often arguing that parliaments in authoritarian countries are only rubberstamps that to not influence policy-making. In contrast to this view, we find that in Uganda laws proposed by ministers are often substantially amended in parliament. This is an aspect that deserves further analyses.

Data collection in Gabon and Benin
Data for Question 2 and 3 is collected in full population surveys. We have so far completed two surveys, one in Gabon 2019 and one in Benin 2020. Due to the pandemic situation, many parliaments are not in session and travel restrictions pose another problem. Field research in Benin was conducted without the physical presence of the PI. In each case, 10 Interviewers (Master students with prior experience in other survey projects) were extensively trained and deployed in the field. The survey was programmed on tablet computers and the interviews took place face-to-face. Our experience was very positive. MPs were generally very receptive, and we faced no major difficulties. The first case study in Gabon demonstrated that the survey design was appropriate and we made only very small changes to it in the next case, Benin. We now have a fully standardized questionnaire that will be usable in all of the next case studies. The only adaptations we make concerns certain country-related variables, or questions that are country-specific.
The surveys in Gabon and Benin were successful with of over 80%. This gives us reliable data to analyse. The survey is composed of different parts. The first part collects personal data on the biographies of MPs. The second part collects data on social contacts and networks.

Biographies: findings
Benin has seen a substantial restructuring of the party system due to changes in the electoral system. The country now has a two-party system, while Gabon has a dominant party system.
While women are significantly underrepresented, the parliaments of both countries are relatively representative in ethnic and religious terms. Members of Parliament are thus predominantly male, of relatively high age, and very well educated.We also find a high turnover; the majority of MPs serves on their first term in parliament (66% and 55% respectively). Many MPs have long been in the political system, holding positions as ministers or as leading figures in political parties. A high number of MPs comes from elite families and have family members that have also held high positions in politics and other sectors. In both countries, the political elite is relatively narrow.

We used a series of name generator questions to extract ego networks:
- Political discussion
- Friendship
- Previous contacts
- Intra-party networks
- Constituency networks
- Collaboration with non-parliamentary actors

From these ego networks, full networks were constructed. Descriptive and statistical social network analysis reveals patterns of tie formation.
To give a short overview over the findings, it turns out that the political discussion network is denser in Gabon than in Benin, and less centralized. This corroborates the findings from the biographical data that the political elite in Gabon is narrow and closely interlinked. In both cases, party loyalties play a dominant role: MPs talk more often to fellow MPs from their own party than to MPs from other parties. This is unsurprising, but we also see a substantial amount of relations that cut across the political divide. These aspects will deserve closer analysis in the future. In fact, there is a lot of interaction and friendship between members of different parties. Looking at Gabon, one could say that the ruling party and the opposition do not form separate networks but communicate closely with each other. The interpretation will need to put into context after all data has been collected. In principle there are two different explanations for this: on the one hand, it could indicate that the opposition is actually co-opted and fulfilling its role of counteracting the dominance of the ruling party. This would be rather negative for democratization. The alternative interpretation is more positive: if government and opposition are able to communicate with each other, they enhance democracy by building a consensus and bridging political divides. A definite answer cannot be given before more data from other countries is collected.
What is extremely interesting is the fact that a majority of MPs has known at least one other MP before being elected. This reveals another important aspect of African elites: socially, they originate pretty much from the same backgrounds. Some have been to the same schools, churches, or other social associations. The density of previous contacts does not fully explain political discussion networks, however. We are therefore able to distinguish between friendships, previous relations, and purely political discussion networks.
Sociologically however, political discussions are also influenced by other patterns of homophily. Homophily describes the tendency of people to socialize with similar others. We find that region and ethnicity are significant, but not religion and gender. The latter finding will also deserve more attention as it speaks to a growing literature on the role of women in parliaments and their patterns of cooperation to enhance women’s rights and other gender-related issues. Interestingly, socio-cultural patterns have an unexpected and strong influence: in matrilineal Gabon, the origin of the mother has a significant impact on the social contacts of MPs, while the same is true for the origin of the father in patrilineal Benin.
The constituency networks of MPs throw important light on electoral politics in Africa. It is often argued that politics is mediated by political clientelism in which “big men” like chiefs and other opinion leaders are important in linking the population to the political system (see Koter 2013). The role of political parties, by contrast, is not well explored. In our data, however, we find that MPs build very broad networks in their constituencies, which include chiefs, opinion leaders, religious leaders, local administration like mayors etc., but also many local party functionaries. A working paper, which is currently under preparation, argues that party contacts are much more important than initially expected. MPs have two different dominant strategies: they either invest into informal relations, like building a network of contact to opinion leaders, or they build the local party. The likelihood to invest in one or the other strategy is not correlated with variables like gender, level of education or government/opposition, but with political experience. There is a significant positive effect between the length of tenure of an MP (number of legislative periods he or she spent in the parliament) and the importance of local party building. This indicates that party building is a strategy for long term electoral success. Relations to chiefs can definitely help to get elected, but they do not guarantee re-election, in other words, if MPs continue to invest exclusively into informal relations, they tend be less successful than the “party-builders”.

Accountability: findings
Modern parliamentary democracy is a system of delegation: citizens delegate popular sovereignty to individual politicians and collective actors like political parties; ideally, these actors will then be held accountable by the electorate. Parliaments as intermediary institutions have an especially important role in this. Especially for African countries, the existence of clientelistic exchange is a dominant topic in the literature on parties and elections. Voters usually expect that representatives care for the material well-being of their communities. They also expect MPs to deliver individual goods like scholarships, jobs, or chop money, but also collective goods like hospitals, schools, or roads (ibid., p.55). Our findings confirm this. In the survey, we asked two questions: “In your opinion, what do the voters in your constituency expect from you?” and “In your opinion, what are the most important duties of an MP?”. In their majority, MPs believe that they are expected to deliver development and public goods. In addition, voters expect individual benefits. Among the most frequently named items in the category public goods were roads, hospitals, schools, and clean water. Regarding private goods, MPs argued that citizens would expect them to pay school fees, funeral bills, or just dish out cash. Although there are some differences between the countries, MPs also believe that voters expect development and private goods such as jobs or contracts. Only a minority of all MPs believe that voters want to be represented in parliament and visited regularly. Very few MPs think that voters want them to hold the executive accountable. We find only little systematic difference between Gabon and Benin.
Usually, MPs move to the capital cities to attend parliamentary sessions. Interactions with their constituencies therefore requires them to travel home. The frequency of these visits is determined by factors like remoteness of the constituency, quality of roads, or the season of the year. Why do MPs not invest into more formalized feedback mechanisms to inform their voters about the agenda of parliament? In their constituencies, most MPs do not have offices, and so the contact between them and their constituents takes place in their private homes. Only a minority of MPs have personal website. The most frequently used social medium is Whatsapp, and only a few MPs actually do organize meetings, radio shows, or other more institutionalized forms of contact.
To summarize, there is an evident communication problem between MPs and voters that almost by default leads to disappointment. Aspiring MPs join the contest for the best development agent, because they believe that their constituents want to hear exactly this and that they will vote for the person with the biggest assumed capacity to deliver those benefits. Once elected, it soon turns out that individual MPs are restricted in their capability to “bring development” to their people. The role conflict takes full effect: overwhelmed by the expectations that they partly rose themselves, many political representatives restrict their interactions with their constituents to a minimums level. Thus, MPs are trapped between two different ideas of what it means to be a “good” representative. Staying in the capital city, doing parliamentary business, speaking on the floor, scrutinizing laws – the classical activities that are expected from them – are hardly visible to the voters in the countryside. Bridges, schools, hospitals, funeral costs, school fees – the clientelistic goods that MPs believe their constituents want – are more visible, but providing them is formally not the task of the MP but a matter of national development policies. As long as poverty levels remain high, voters will legitimately demand tangible benefits from politics so that electoral politics needs to be adapted to social realities. Interestingly, these dynamics exist in both Gabon and Benin, although the countries have different regime types. It needs to be seen whether this holds for other countries as well, or whether there will be systematic differences between different cases.

Theoretical findings
On a more theoretical level, we find that different types of authoritarian regimes behave differently with regard to the respect for constitutional rules. The paper "Presidential term limits and regime types: When do leaders respect constitutional norms? (Anja Osei; Hervé Akinocho; Stephen Mwombela)", published 2020 in the Journal Africa Spectrum (55, 3, pp. 215–227) is interested in the question of presidential term limits. For all regimes, constitutions are important reference texts that provide some basic rules of the game. Within this framework, term limits and electoral laws are crucial because they are directly concerned with the exercise of power. Using Geddes’ regime typology this paper is proposing a regime oriented approach to explain the variation on the African continent. Democracies, party-based and military regimes are surely different from each other, but they have a degree of depersonalization in common that is not found in personalist regimes. For the latter type, term limits are a question of regime survival. Personalist rulers will therefore seek to amend or ignore constitutions, but their success will depend on the cohesion of their ruling coalition. The argument will be illustrated with two case studies: Togo and Tanzania.
Unfortunately the Covid 19 pandemic situation has led to delays and difficulties with regard to data collection and fieldwork. Travel restrictions and shutdowns have delayed the consolidation of the project team and put most field work activities to a halt. Due to the nature of the project, digital solutions are not really an alternative to field work. We are now putting every effort into making up for these delays.
What we have achieved so far is however paving the way into a second project phase with more rapid progress. The text analysis tools that are currently developed will generate substantial findings in the next time. We are expecting cutting-edge papers on government-opposition difference in parliamentary debates. Quantitative text analysis presents a relatively new avenue of research for both fields, the research on authoritarain legislatures and the research on parliaments in Africa. Our findings will thus open up a new debate in the field.
With regard to survey research we now have a fully standardized questionnaire that can be used in all case studies. Thanks to an excellent team of African partners we are optimistic to achieve the project goal of conducting this survey in all seven countries. The findings from the first two case studies have pointed to interesting avenues of analysis and exploration. A real breakthrough will be achieved with regard to the questions of government-opposition interaction networks, poltical accountability, and demographic representation as soon as more data become available.