Pol30


Populism and democracy in Africa [CRG African Politics and International Relations] 
Convenorss:
Giulia Piccolino (Loughborough University)
Alexander Beresford (University of Leeds)
Send message to Convenors
Stream:
Politics and International Relations
Location:
Appleton Tower, Seminar Room 2.14
Sessions:
Wednesday 12 June, 10:45-12:15 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

The panels welcome papers exploring the dynamics, ideas, movements and political actors involved in populist politics and how these actors operate within African states and societies.

Long Abstract

Populism is currently much debated in North America and Europe, but there has been little discussion about its manifestation in Africa, or whether the concept itself is useful for understanding African contexts. Yet, the label has been used with reference to African political actors, such as Ugandan Yoweri Museveni (Carbone 2005), Ivorian Laurent Gbagbo (Piccolino 2014), Michael Sata of Zambia (Cheeseman and Larmer 2015) and also Julius Malema (Mbete 2015) and Jacob Zuma in South Africa (Beresford 2011). These actors share a populist political style: they portray themselves as true defenders of the 'people' against an 'elite' who has betrayed them. However, African populism sits uncomfortably with the categories used to analyse European populism, such as rights wing vs left wing populism. Moreover, while scholars of Europe and North America often lament populism as a threat to democracy, the potential impact of African populism on democracy is unclear. Some scholars have alleged that African populism has a progressive potential and that African populist politicians would be well placed to build multi-ethnic coalitions (Cheeseman, Casal BĂ©rtoa, Storm and Dodsworth 2018). In a context of rapid urbanization, populism would allow young, poor urban voters to have a voice. Others allege, on the other hand, that African populism could encourage exclusionary nationalism and offer vague, but ultimately vacuous promises of reconciliation, rekindled aspirations and realised dreams. The panels welcome papers exploring the dynamics, ideas, movements and political actors involved in populist politics and how these actors operate within African states and societies.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Daryl Glaser (University of the Witwatersrand)

Paper short abstract:

The contemporary South African scene is populated by a number of racial-majoritarian populist forces marked by left-right ideological eclecticism. This paper locates these movements in the global populist moment and the history of the global left.

Paper long abstract:

South Africa is currently roiled by a range of populist movements, including the Economic Freedom Fighters, Black First Land First, the Zuma wing of the ANC, Numsa and the 'fallist' student movement. These groups fight ostensibly dominant elites in the name of masses of people whom they claim are excluded from the post-1994 democratic dispensation. Like many populist movements globally, they tend to be majoritarian-democratic rather than liberal-democratic - they are polarizing, intolerant, hostile to liberal elites, militarist and engage in coercive mass mobilisation. However, a notable feature of the populisms examined here is that - like, say, Chavismo or Corbynism - they present themselves as leftist rather than rightist. They draw freely upon Marxist-Leninist, anticapitalist, anti-imperialist and even intersectional discourse. However, like conservative national populisms, they are also specialists in ethno-racial polarisation, mobilizing nativist sentiment against alleged alien interlopers. The result is ideological eclecticism, compounded often by political and ideological opportunism. This particular left-right eclecticism is not however unique to the contemporary South African scene: it joins the country's populisms less to any global populist moment than to a longer global history of left-right crossover movements and of movements allying the left to ethno-racial nationalism.

Author:

Dane Degenstein (University of Ottawa)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on recent debates on populism and fieldwork in 2018 to examine how the rule of John Magufuli exhibits populist characteristics. I will argue that Magufuli's Tanzanian populism, in a weak democracy with centralized tendencies, has resulted in a sharp turn towards authoritarianism.

Paper long abstract:

In 2015, John Magufuli came to power in Tanzania, running on a platform of ending corruption and improving governance. Magufuli was initially popular, with a reputation as an incorruptible outsider who could disrupt corrupt Tanzanian elites.

This popularity did not last long. Magufuli's rule began to exhibit many aspects common to populist rulers: blaming foreigners for exploiting the country to promote an exclusionary nationalism; emphasizing his humble origins to distract from a drive for centralized control; acting as a defender of the people against foreign and domestic elites to justify a crackdown on political enemies and journalists; and, adhering to a conservative moral code which, in Magufuli's case, is focused on misogyny and homophobia.

Through an exploration of the above aspects of John Magufuli's presidency, and using some interviews from fieldwork in 2018, I will argue that his rule follows patterns similar to populists such as Donald Trump or Hugo Chavez while also displaying characteristics unique to Tanzania. I will also argue that, while some scholars (Cheeseman, Casal Bertoa, Storm and Dodsworth 2018) see populism as an opportunity, in Tanzania, Magufuli's populism brings out centralizing, authoritarian and anti-human rights tendencies. In a country with one dominant party since independence, Magufuli uses populist appeals to exploit a history of centralized control and vest power in himself. The result for Tanzanians is a reversal in progress towards a free and fair society. As with other populist leaders, Magufuli identifies and speaks for the common man while doing little to improve their lot.

Author:

Innocent Batsani-Ncube (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

The paper traces the role and influence of the Economic Freedom Fighters' (EEF) populist politics in processes leading to radical policy shifts by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) on land reform and higher education funding in South Africa.

Paper long abstract:

In December 2017, South Africa's ruling party, the ANC, announced that they will adopt expropriation of land without compensation and free higher education for 90 percent of students. These policy positions had been associated with the radical left-wing EFF party. This paper traces the role and influence of EEF populist politics in processes leading to these two policy position shifts by the ANC. It asks whether the EFF influenced the ANC policy shifts, and if they did, how? The paper's conceptual framework draws on Williams (2006)'s theory of peripheral party impact. It used the qualitative process tracing method to review policy documents, manifestos, speeches by ANC and EFF political leaders, social movement leaders, government policy papers, parliamentary motions/order papers, academic papers and media reports and opinion pieces by prominent commentators and academics. The paper's findings show evidence of EFF direct causal contribution on ANC policy shift on land reform. It also found strong grounds for inferring indirect influence of the EFF on ANC policy shift on higher education funding. The paper makes three mutually reinforcing contributions. First, it contributes to peripheral party impact scholarship by studying a left-wing populist case- study since the extant literature on peripheral party impact largely focusses on radical right populist parties. Second, it complements emerging scholarship on populism in Africa and contributes to debates on impact of fringe opposition politics in the continent. Third, it provides insights into the policy making dynamics of arguably Africa's most advanced democracy.