Book project

Beyond the Big Man: Executive-Legislative Politics in African Democracies

All leaders need to build support coalitions in order to gain power and achieve their office and policy objectives. While there is a large literature investigating different aspects of coalition formation in Europe and Latin America, studies in Africa, to the extent that they exist, tend to focus exclusively on the formation and stability of ethnic coalitions. In general, very little is known about the partisan composition of the government – the president or prime minister and the cabinet – in African democracies. This lack of research on partisan coalition formation in Africa can be explained by the regular portrayal, both in the media and academic scholarship, of African presidents as all-powerful “big men.” It is reinforced by the widespread perception that parties and legislatures are inconsequential, and the common assumption that coalition governments are rare or somehow less meaningful than elsewhere in the world. I challenge this conventional wisdom, both theoretically and empirically, and in doing so I contribute to an emerging literature on political institutions in Africa.

I provide the first cross-national analysis of executive-legislative relations and partisan government coalition formation in African democracies. My theory builds on general institutional arguments that have thus far been developed and tested more frequently in other regions of the world. Drawing on an original dataset of government composition in African democracies from 1990 through 2015, I am able to demonstrate that these general institutional arguments, once tailored to take account of the particularities of the African context, apply equally well in Africa. Among other things, I investigate (i) the determinants of coalition formation, (ii) the partisan composition of coalition governments, (iii) the partisan allocation of ministerial positions, and (iv) the economic consequences of coalition governments. To place Africa in context, I make direct comparisons between the patterns of coalition formation observed in Africa and those found in Europe and Latin America. My quantitative analyses are complemented by qualitative evidence collected during my fieldwork in Senegal and Burkina Faso.

Overall, I find that coalition governments and executive-legislative relations play an important role in African politics. Scholars in other regions of the world have built a large repository of theoretical and empirical knowledge linking aspects of the partisan coalition formation process to a wide variety of outcomes, such as the economic size of governments, government stability, and voter representation and accountability. By demonstrating how theories of government formation operate in the political context of African democracies, I am able to highlight both the generalizability of these theoretical arguments as well as the extent to which institutional rules and levels of institutionalization – features which tend to vary across regions – matter for our understanding of executive-legislative relations more broadly.