Date of Award

5-1-2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

McClurg, Scott

Abstract

In the years preceding the Third Wave of democracy, the prevailing belief was that democracy in Africa will not flourish unless it delivers the crucial economic goods its citizens live and die for. In an area of the world where poverty is highlighted, the individual pursuit of improved living conditions is more likely to drive citizen faith in democracy as opposed to the political process itself. By this popular belief, society will support democracy, or not, mainly for its perceived economic benefits. In this study, I revisit the assumptions of the theory of `politics and poverty' espoused over 20 years ago using recent data on individual attitudes and scores of democratic development in Africa. I find citizen support for democracy overwhelmingly a function of political performance factors, as opposed to the expectations of material returns as once believed. This finding runs contrary to conventional wisdom, even among citizens who reside in lesser developed democracies where one would suspect more ambivalence to regime type in the face of pressing economic concerns. If poverty is no more the root source in explaining democratic commitment in Africa, then, what is? I probe further into the specific instances of Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria and find commitment to democracy closely tied to government policy aimed at promoting democratization. The ambitious policies arranged in struggling democracies of today, such as Mali and Nigeria, attempted to emulate policy of the West but failed at cultivating democracy from the ground up, subsequently creating tentative democrats. Policies in successful democratic cases such as Ghana, however, reflected a keen attentiveness to context through the inclusion of citizens in deliberative practices between society and state, creating an empowered, committed populace. Politics and policy, not poverty, best explains democratic commitment, or lack thereof, in Africa. The implications, of course, fall on the significant responsibility of policy makers in crafting bottom-up strategies for further democratization and on politicians in delivering upon their promises when elected.

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