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Do Legislatures Enhance Democracy in Africa?

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - DLEDA (Do Legislatures Enhance Democracy in Africa?)

Reporting period: 2021-08-01 to 2022-10-31

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.

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 continuous challenge of its own. A template for the analysis of Hansards has been produced. The analyses show that there is more controversial debate about issues that concern the distribution of power in the country. We also find that the opposition is more active in Botswana, which is the most democratic country in our sample. This confirms our main expectations. Contrary to the literature on rubberstamp parliaments, however, we find that many laws go through a process of amendment. In this regard, there is an element of professionalization especially in anglophone countries, and most notably in Uganda. These aspects deserves further analyses.

Biographies and Social Networks
Data for Question 2 and 3 is collected in full population surveys. We have so far completed five surveys (Gabon, Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, Botswana). The results on the biographical data of MPs show that African parliaments are very representative in terms of ethnic groups and religious groups. Women, youth, and the poor are underrepresented. Social networks among MPs differ across countries, but not as much as we would have expected. Most MPs have known other MPs before being elected to parliament. This suggests a small power elite circulating in position of power. In each country, we find a densely connected core elite composed of people who share social similarities, have long careers, and are closely knit together in professional and social networks. These relations span across different sectors and integrate elites from different sectors, such as politics, economy, administrationa, and security. Again, this suggest an African power elite. Interestingly, the differences in network centralization do not systematically co-vary with the level of democratization. A final result on the determinants of elite network variation will be one of the most important project goals for the final phase of the project.

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. Our findings confirm this. 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 almost no differences between the countries under comparison. This suggests that local processes in Africa are very similar across countries that are very different in regime type or colonial history. 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 are comparing elite configurations and institutional variation across countries. Institutions vary much more than expected. The literature on African parliaments has largely glossed over the very fine-grained differences in terms of specific institutional provisions. These play a huge role in explaining the country-level differences. The final phase of the project will bring these perspectives together to theorize about path dependent developments that lead to stronger or weaker legislatures.
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.
The project extension will allows us to conduct the remaining two field surveys and come up with clear results on the contribution of parliaments to democracy in Africa.