Progress and Retreat in Africa: The Rule of Law versus the Big Man

Issue Date April 2008
Volume 19
Issue 2
Page Numbers 138-149
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Governance in Africa is in a state of transition, or some would say, suspension. Two powerful trends vie for dominance. One is the longstanding organization of African politics and states around autocratic personal rulers; highly centralized and overpowering presidencies; and hierarchical, informal networks of patron-client relations that draw their symbolic and emotional glue from ethnic bonds. The other is the surge since 1990 of democratic impulses, principles, and institutions. From the experience of a small but growing number of better-functioning African democracies, we know that the continent is not condemned to perpetual misrule. The challenge now is for international donors to join with Africans in demanding that their governments be truly accountable.