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Political Parties in Africa: Ethnicity and Party Formation, Sebastian Elischer

Reviewed by Michael Bratton

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If you ask any lay person—or most scholars of comparative politics—about the motivation for party formation in Africa, they are likely to offer the same answer: ethnicity. In a welcome antidote to this orthodoxy, Sebastian Elischer argues that African political parties and party systems are much more diverse than that. He relies upon seminal analysis by Larry Diamond and Richard Gunther to propose a typology of five ideal varieties: the mono-ethnic party, the multi-ethnic alliance, the catch-all party, the programmatic party, and the personalistic party. While the first two types arise from ethnic foundations, the last three are distinctly non-ethnic. If nothing else, this book will discourage future analysts from lazily conflating all forms of party organization in Africa under an ethnic label.

Elischer’s detailed empirical analysis covers all effective parties across all election periods in three African countries between 1990 and 2009. He dis­covers that non-ethnic parties prevail in Ghana, as does a mixed-party system in Namibia; in Kenya, by contrast, he finds that ethnic parties persist. Across 28 observations of election periods, 16 parties are ethnic and 11 are non-ethnic (though non-ethnic parties enjoy grea

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