Fellowship: Rocca Dissertation Research
Fellowship Year(s): 2015
Project/Theme Title: Strongmen or Strawmen: Incumbent Survival in Emerging African Democracies
Abstracts: What accounts for the electoral vulnerability of incumbent legislators in Sub-Saharan Africa? Two decades of competitive multiparty elections have seemingly transformed African legislatures into more credible and powerful organs of the state. Beneath this veneer of institutionalization, however, lies a striking trend in which much more than a strict majority of incumbent African legislators are voted out of office in any given election cycle. The weakness of African incumbents is even more puzzling since existing theories of African politics would predict the opposite: that incumbents in Africa should possess an inherent advantage over their challengers. This dissertation project attempts to shed light on the sources of incumbent weakness in African democracies. Combining rich qualitative evidence from interviews of political elites and voters in Kenya and Ghana, extensive analysis of original quantitative data, and experimental evidence from a conjoint analysis of Kenyan voters, this project scrutinizes the dynamics that shape the fate of incumbent parliamentarians during party nominations and legislative elections. The project will have implications for fundamental debates in African politics and society, furthering our understanding of the process of legislative institution-building in nascent democracies, and the ways in which voters impose political accountability on their elected representatives in contexts where democratic norms and procedures have only recently begun to be institutionalized.