HomeDemocratic Aspirations and “Authoritarian Democracies” in Central Africa

HomeDemocratic Aspirations and “Authoritarian Democracies” in Central Africa

Democratic Aspirations and “Authoritarian Democracies” in Central Africa

Aspirations démocratiques et « démocraties autoritaires » en Afrique centrale

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Published on Tuesday, November 17, 2015


This issue will endeavor to illustrate the strategies of the different players and forces that support or oppose these democratic aspirations, by combining various fieldwork approaches across countries. It is obvious that these democratic aspirations are not only related to politics or to regional and international geopolitics; they correspond to ethical standards and refer to a value system that appears to go beyond pre-existing factions and divides.



In 1986, the journal published a special issue on the Great Lakes region of Africa. Through its choice of topics and authors, it gave an account of generally improving relations between authoritarian regimes with a turbulent past[1], several of which had negotiated agreements on the free circulation of goods and people.

In the general context of a surge for democracy on the African continent, civil society organizations began structuring themselves at the time at the national and regional levels, particularly with regards to human rights. Political groups which opposed the monopoly of the ruling single-party were also being formed anew. In the late 1980s, the regimes in place were shaken by these calls for democracy, thanks to the support of broad popular mobilization. But the transition to democracy failed due to the radicalization of those defending their privileges on the one hand, and to the lack of preparedness and the political immaturity of opposition parties on the other hand. The Burundian and Rwandan tragedies (1993 and 1994, respectively) and the collapse of Mobutu’s regime in Zaire (1996) drew the whole region into what was to become Africa’s first continental war. For five years, from 1998 to 2003, the armed forces of half a dozen countries fought on the territory of the new Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over the resources and land belonging to this vast country. The conflict, which has been the deadliest in the world since the Second World War, is ongoing, even if it is now limited to the country’s eastern provinces. There remains areas controlled by various armed groups, thus perpetuating instability. Through their partners in neighboring states, these groups largely control the exploitation and export of minerals and other resources.

The rebel organizations which currently hold power in most Central Africa countries (Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC) derive their legitimacy from having been on the winning side of long and painful civil wars. Burundi is the only country among them where successful negotiations took place. These negotiations led to an “integrated” army, equally split between the different opposing forces, and to free and transparent multi-party elections in 2005.


In this context, local populations have broadly felt disenchanted towards elites in power, whether old or new. Their yearning for democracy was betrayed or manipulated everywhere. They also paid the heavy price of civil war. Overall, the “authoritarian democracy” regimes that have taken power rely on politico-military forces rooted in partisan solidarity among fighters; also often following regional and/or ethnic affinities. Since these regimes lack a democratic tradition, they are not that different from the previous single-party systems that monopolized power.

But the stake today is that the regimes are outdated, if not worn out. Three of the revolutionary or progressive “new leaders” are over 70; they have reigned for 30 years or more, and are running for reelection (Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, and Uganda). The three latecomers, so to speak, (Rwanda, the DRC, and Burundi), who have ruled respectively for 21 years (6 as “vice-president” and 15 as president), 14 years, and 10 years, have decided to transgress or modify their constitutions in order to be able to run for a third term in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively.

As a result, part of the population has expressed its exasperation, either openly, when possible, or more covertly. This corresponds to the rise of younger generations, who did not experience the civil wars, or were too young to be involved in them, and have learned through the media that democracy and freedom exist, yet realize that they cannot enjoy them. These young people readily accept their country’s legacy, but wish to break away from the future forecasted for them. Indeed, the exasperation and contestation are fueled by economic and social frustration within broad sections of the population whose only prospects are an uncertain future, extreme poverty, unemployment, and exploitation. These feelings are also tied to a more complex competition for the control of power among elites, who consider that the principle of political alternation is healthy in that it allows other people, interest groups, “regions”, or categories of individuals to partake in the distribution of positions and rents. More generally, the exasperation and contestation expressed mobilize all those who have been excluded, stigmatized or vanquished and who, while they may have no illusions on improving their lot, still yearn for democratic constitutional states where their situation would be known, and even acknowledged, and where the institutions meant to fight against impunity would be able to speak truth to power. Finally, the exasperation and contestation concern all the citizens who cannot bear the constant attacks and restraints on freedom of speech, organization, and movement – in short, all those who consider that the ruling elites must be accountable to citizens and that it is legitimate for the latter to exert social control over their elected representatives, in exchange for the delegation of power.

It is obvious that these democratic aspirations are not only related to politics or to regional and international geopolitics; they correspond to ethical standards and refer to a value system that appears to go beyond pre-existing factions and divides. Paradoxically, such aspirations could be said to be all the more urgent since the breakdown of social ties, social arbitrariness, and authoritarianism have reached new lows and call for a radical reform of democracy, a democracy shared by all in their everyday lives.

Finally, to expand the debate, the democratic aspirations in Central Africa have been bolstered by the examples of other contested or openly flouted electoral processes on the African continent, in Burkina Faso for instance. With this in mind, this issue aims more generally at understanding failed, semi-successful, or even successful political mobilizations. Such questions are highly topical at a time when those who promote authoritarian abuses, like those of the 1990s, are once more associating formal democracy with a risk of anomy, or with the nepotistic and clientelistic specificities.

Main Themes and Topics

This issue will endeavor to illustrate the strategies of the different players and forces that support or oppose these democratic aspirations, by combining various fieldwork approaches across countries. It will be organized around three main themes. Among the topics which may be covered, the following may be included:

Oversight, control and legitimation Instruments

  • The structures in charge of maintaining political order and in charge of security policies (armed forces, police, intelligence services, (de facto) single parties, youth, “citizen” surveillance, and so on;
  • The renewal of the ruling elite, especially among the former rebel movements: from fighters or militant combatants to political operatives in the (de facto) single parties. The following groups are of particular interest: fighters, militant combatants, political operatives subject to rotation, and professional politicians;
  • The post-conflict restructuring of the armed forces, their professionalization, demobilization, and retraining for civilian jobs (police and political party youth);
  • Combat-based legitimacy versus ballot-based legitimacy;
  • The two-faced (de facto) single party youth: neighborhood surveillance of the population and predation, and cronyism and self-promotion;
  • Modes of self-legitimization and governing methods: forced consensus/hierarchical clientelistic redistribution/orchestrated impunity;
  • Impunity, justice, local processes of transitional justice;
  • Electoral violence.

Circumventing the law and creating space for expression: from individuals to territories

  • Opposition forces and/or spaces for expression;
  • The constitutional state: lawfulness versus legitimacy;
  • New forms of micro and macro collective mobilization;
  • So-called “civil society” organizations (defending human rights, women’s rights, and young people’s rights, churches, and so on);
  • The place and the role of the media and of social networks faced with the monitoring of communications by the state;
  • The aspirations of young generations born in the 1990s;
  • Security and prevention strategies in conflict zones (experiments with conflict resolution at the scale of territories, the mobilization of women, and so on).

Interdependence and regional tensions

  • From the Great Lakes region of Africa to Central Africa: synergies and tensions resulting from a necessary interdependence (isolation, issues pertaining to supplies, and so on) and opportunistic alliances (the double east/west tropism, the northern, central, and southern corridors, and competing regional integration organizations);
  • National crises and their regional impact (refugees, displaced populations, exiles, and movements of troops);
  • The ambivalence of the international community (the African Union, the United Nations, the ICGLR, the SADC, the EAC, and so on) in the face of these conflicts, political crises, violations of freedom (peacekeeping operations, mediation, fight against impunity, support for civil society and the media, and so on).

Framework for the Papers

Disciplinary framework: history, political science, sociology, geography, law, anthropology, and socio-economics.

Methodological framework: particular attention will be paid to: strong contextualization, combining a solid theoretical approach and fieldwork, empirical studies, original corpuses, and the interplay between local and regional issues. The aim is to offer an alternative to a geostrategic approach and to humanitarian testimonies. The focus will be on individuals and communities caught in these power struggles.

Publication of the Special Issue

To prepare this issue, the Editorial Committee will also rely on specific events and original approaches (workshops, round-table talks, and interviews[2]). The special issue will attempt to give an overview of the wealth of current doctoral research on the region, emphasizing how valuable it is.

With this in mind, an additional publication by the Iwacu press group in Burundi will allow a greater number of quality scientific papers to be published, further exploring some of the themes mentioned above. Interviews and original documents may also be included in this additional publication. This second publication will be edited by a collective of academics and researchers led by André Guichaoua, professor at IEDES.

The article submissions, in French or English (4,500 characters, spaces included), must feature:

  • A title
  • A research question
  • A theoretical framework
  • Empirical material
  • Main results
  • Bibliographical references (they are not included in the character count).


by December 9, 2015 

  • Authors will be notified by the editors and the Editorial Committee of their preselection by January 6, 2016;
  • First drafts must be sent by March 14, 2016 to: tiermond@univ-paris1.fr.


  •  Brother Emmanuel Ntakarutimana, Dominican brother, former President of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights in Burundi (CNIDH).
  •  Scott Straus, Professor of Political Science and International Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States.


  •  Bekoe D. (ed.), 2012, Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, Washington, United States Institute of Peace.
  •  Deibert M., 2013, The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair, Londres, Zed Books.
  •  Gerold G., 2013, RD Congo, analyse comparative des violences électorales (2006-2011). Note n° 28/13, Paris, Fondation pour la recherche stratégique.
  •  Guichaoua A. (dir.), 2004, Exilés, réfugiés, déplacés en Afrique centrale et orientale, Paris, Karthala.
  •  Hafner-Burton E., Hyde S., Jablonski R., 2014, “When Do Governments Resort to Election Violence?”, British Journal of Political Science, vol. 44, n° 1pp. 149-179.
  •  Ingelaere B., 2010, “Peasants, Power and Ethnicity. A Bottom-Up Perspective on Rwanda’s Political Transition”, African Affairs, vol. 109, n° 435, pp. 273-292, http://afraf.oxfordjournals.org/content/109/435/273.full.
  •  L'Afrique des Grands Lacs, collection dirigée par Filip Reyntjens, (particulièrement les Annuaires), Paris, L'Harmattan.
  •  Lemarchand R., 2009, The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa, Philadelphie, University of Pennsylvania Press.
  •  Levitsky S., Way L., 2010, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War, New York, Cambridge University Press.
  •  Lynch G., Crawford G., 2011, “Democratization in Africa: An Assessment”, Democratization, vol. 18, n° 2, pp. 175-210.
  •  Messiant C., 2008, L’Angola postcolonial. Guerre et paix sans démocratisation, Paris, Karthala.
  •  Stearns J., 2012, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, New York, PublicAffairs.
  •  Patry J.-J., 2014, Les armées ougandaises : un instrument de contrôle intérieur et de positionnement régional. Note n° 9-2014, Paris, Fondation pour la recherche stratégique.
  •  Straus S., Waldorf L., 2011, Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights After Mass Violence, Madison, The University of Wisconsin Press.
  •  Straus S., 2015, Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
  •  Thibon C., 2014, Les élections de 2015 au Burundi, enjeux, inquiétudes, espoirs et inconnu(e)s. Note n° 5-2014, Paris, Fondation pour la recherche stratégique, http://www.lam.sciencespobordeaux.fr/sites/lam/files/conference_burundi.pdf.
  •  Tsiyembe M., 1970, Géopolitique de paix en Afrique médiane : Angola, Burundi, République Démocratique du Congo, République du Congo, Ouganda, Rwanda, Paris, L’Harmattan.
  •  Uvin P., 2008, Life After Violence: A People's Story of Burundi, Londres, Zed Books.
  • Vandenginste S., 2014, “Governing Ethnicity after Genocide: Ethnic Amnesia in Rwanda Versus Ethnic Power-Sharing in Burundi”, Journal of Eastern African Studies, vol. 8 ; n° 2, pp. 263-277.

[1] There is an extensive, more or less recent literature covering this painful and deadly past, which is common to almost all the countries in the area (except Tanzania). As a result, since contemporary political violence is rooted in the divisions and confrontations that accompanied the independence process and the rise to power of new civilian or military governments, this issue will focus on analyzing and understanding the national political and social contexts, as well as their evolution since the 1990s.

[2] Such as the workshops on Burundi and the Great Lakes region of Africa, organized by the IEDES and the Développement et sociétés UMR, or the Contemporary Burundian Studies Symposium in Gent (October 15 and 16, 2015), among others.


  • 45 bis av. de la Belle-Gabrielle
    Nogent-sur-Marne, France (94136)


  • Wednesday, December 09, 2015


  • démocratie, Afrique, Afrique centrale, élections, jeunes, mouvements sociaux, contestation, autoritarisme, révoltes, democracy, Africa, Central Africa, elections, young people, social movements, protests, autoritarism, riots


  • Emmanuel Jouai
    courriel : e [dot] jouai [at] my [dot] westminster [dot] ac [dot] uk

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Emmanuel Jouai
    courriel : e [dot] jouai [at] my [dot] westminster [dot] ac [dot] uk


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Democratic Aspirations and “Authoritarian Democracies” in Central Africa », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, https://calenda.org/346768

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