Mobilizing for Democracy? Collective Action and Political Power in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Wolfgang StuppertEmail author
Part of the Advances in African Economic, Social and Political Development book series (AAESPD)


This chapter analyses political power in electoral authoritarian regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa from a collective action perspective. It argues that from the perspective of collective action theory, political power can be understood as the ability to project a credible mobilization threat into the political arena. The analysis shows that authoritarian ruling elites in Sub-Saharan Africa have strong advantages over oppositional elites in both building up and maintaining such a threat. Societal groups therefore represent the most important alternative source of political power in these regimes. Data on social conflicts is used to trace trajectories of political mobilizations of ruling elites, oppositional political elites, and societal groups in Sub-Saharan Africa across countries and over time.


  1. Amenta E, Caren N, Chiarello E, Su Y (2010) The political consequences of social movements. Ann Rev Soc 36:287–307. Scholar
  2. Axelrod RM (2006) The evolution of cooperation. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Bayart JF (1986) Civil society in Africa. In: Chabal P (ed) Political domination in Africa: reflections on the limits of power (pp. 109–125, Annual meeting of the African Studies Association, Vol. 26), Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Berazneva J, Lee DR (2013) Explaining the African food riots of 2007–2008: an empirical analysis. Food Policy 39:28–39. Scholar
  5. Bergen G (2007) Labor, democracy, and development in Senegal. In: Kraus J (ed) Trade unions and the coming of democracy in Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 35–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bermeo N (1997) Myths of moderation: confrontation and conflict during democratic transitions. Comp Polit 29(3):305–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bleck J, van de Walle N (2011) Parties and issues in Francophone West Africa: towards a theory of non-mobilization. Democratization 18:1125–1145. Scholar
  8. Branch A, Mampilly ZC (2015) Africa uprising: Popular protest and political change (African arguments). Zed Books, in association with International African Institute, Royal African Society, World Peace Foundation, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Bratton M, van de Walle N (1992) Popular protest and political reform in Africa. Comp Polit 24(4):419–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bratton M, van de Walle N (1997) Democratic experiments in Africa: regime transitions in comparative perspective (Cambridge studies in comparative politics). Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bunce VJ, Wolchik SL (2006) Youth and electoral revolutions in Slovakia, Serbia, and Georgia. SAIS Rev 16(2):55–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bunce VJ, Wolchik SL (2011) Defeating authoritarian leaders in postcommunist countries. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bush R (2010) Food riots: poverty, power and protest. J Agrarian Change 10:119–129. Scholar
  14. Chabal P, Daloz JP (1999) Africa works: Disorder as political instrument. International African Institute in association with James Currey, Oxford; Indiana University Press, [London], BloomingtonGoogle Scholar
  15. Coleman JS (2000) Foundations of social theory, 3rd edn. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  16. Collin M (2001) This is Serbia calling: Rock’n’roll radio and Belgrade’s underground resistance. Serpent’s Tail, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. della Porta D, Diani M (2006) Social movements: An introduction (2nd ed). Malden, Blackwell, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  18. Diamond LJ (1999) developing democracy: toward consolidation. Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  19. Dicklitch S, Lwanga D (2003) The Politics of being non-political: human rights organizations and the creation of a positive human rights culture in Uganda. Human Rights Q 25:482–509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Donno, D (2011) Elections and democratization in authoritarian regimes. Paper prepared for presentation at Duke University’s Seminar on Global Governance and Democracy. University of Pittsburgh, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  21. Dulani B (2011) Democracy movements as bulwarks against presidential usurpation of power: lessons from the third-term bids in Malawi, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia. Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 11(20):115–139Google Scholar
  22. Eisenstadt T (2000) Eddies in the third wave: protracted transitions and theories of democratization. Democratization 7(3):3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Erdmann G (1999) Parteien in Afrika Versuch eines Neuanfangs in der Parteienforschung [Political parties in Africa. towards a new beginning in political party research]. Afr Spectr 34:375–393. Scholar
  24. Erdmann G, Engel U (2007) Neopatrimonialism reconsidered: critical review and elaboration of an elusive concept. Commonwealth Comp Polit 45:95–119. Scholar
  25. Etzioni A (1975) A comparative analysis of complex organizations: On power, involvement, and their correlates. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Finkel, SE, Pérez-Linán A, Seligson, MA (2006) Effects of U.S. foreign assistance on democracy building: results of a cross-national quantitative study. United States Agency for International Development, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  27. Francisco RA (2010) Collective Action Theory and Empirical Evidence. Springer Science+Business Media LLC, New York, NYCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Freeman J (1979) Resource mobilization and strategy: a model for analyzing social movement organization actions. In: Zald MN, McCarthy JD (eds) The dynamics of social movements: resource mobilization, social control, and tactics. Winthrop Publishers, Cambridge, Mass., pp 167–189Google Scholar
  29. Geddes B (1999) What do we know about democratization after 20 years?: annual review of political science. Annu Rev Polit Sci 2(1):115–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gerschewski J (2013) The three pillars of stability: LEgitimation, repression, and co-optation in autocratic regimes. Democratization 20:13–38. Scholar
  31. Goldstone JA, Tilly C (2001) Threat (and Opportunity): popular action and state response in the dynamics of contentious action. In: Aminzade RR, Goldstone JA, McAdam D, Perry EJ, Sewell WH, Tarrow SG, et al. (eds) Silence and voice in the study of contentious politics (pp. 179–194, Cambridge studies in contentious politics). Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  32. Gould J (2006) Strong Bar, Weak State? Lawyers, Liberalism and State Formation in Zambia. Dev Change 37:921–941. Scholar
  33. Gross N (2009) A pragmatist theory of social mechanisms. Am Soc Rev 74(3):358–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gueye M (2013) Urban guerrilla poetry: the movement Y’en a Marre and the socio-political influences of hip hop in Senegal. J Pan Afr Stud 6(3):22–42Google Scholar
  35. Gurr TR (1974) Why men rebel (4th edn., Princeton paperbacks). Princeton, Princeton University Press, NJGoogle Scholar
  36. Gyimah-Boadi E (2004) Civil Society and Democratic Development. In: Gyimah-Boadi E (ed) Democratic reform in Africa: the quality of progress. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, Colo, pp 99–119Google Scholar
  37. Harsch E (2009) Urban protest in burkina faso. Afr Aff 108:263–288. Scholar
  38. Hearn, J (1999) Foreign Political Aid, Democratization and Civil Society in Uganda in the 1990s. CBR Working Papers, 53. Center for Basic Research, KampalaGoogle Scholar
  39. Hechter M (1988) Principles of group solidarity (California Series on Social Choice & Political Economy, 11). University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  40. Heilbrunn JR (1993) Social origins of national conferences in benin and togo. J Mod Afr Stud 31:277–299. Scholar
  41. Hyden G (1997) Civil society, social capital, and development: dissection of a complex discourse. Stud Comp Int Dev 32(1):3–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Izama A, Echwalu E (2011) Season of Dissent. Transition, pp 58–71.
  43. Jalali R (2005) Foreign aid and civil society: how external aid is detrimental to southern NGOs and social movements. Democracy Soc. 2(2)Google Scholar
  44. Japp KP (1984) Selbsterzeugung oder Fremdverschulden: Thesen zum Rationalismus in den Theorien sozialer Bewegungen. Soziale Welt 35(3):313–329Google Scholar
  45. Kailitz S, Tanneberg D (2015) Legitimation, Kooptation, Repression und das Überleben von Autokratien „im Umfeld autokratischer Wahlen“. Eine Replik auf den Beitrag von Hans Lueders und Aurel Croissant. Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft 9:73–82. Scholar
  46. Kandelaki, G (2006) Georgia’s Rose Revolution: a participant’s perspective. United States Institute of Peace, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  47. Kasfir N (1998) Civil society, the state and democracy in Africa. In: Kasfir N (ed) Civil society and democracy in Africa: critical perspectives. Cass, London, pp 123–149Google Scholar
  48. Klandermans B (1993) A theoretical framework for comparisons of social movement participation. Sociol Forum 8(3):383–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kuran T (1991) Now out of never: the element of surprise in the East European revolution of 1989. World Polit 44(1):7–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lichbach MI (1994) Rethinking rationality and rebellion: theories of collective action and problems of collective dissent. Rationality Soc 6:8–39. Scholar
  51. Lichbach MI (1995) The rebel’s dilemma (Economics, cognition, and society). University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  52. Linz JJ, Stepan A (1996) Problems of democratic transition and consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and post-communist Europe. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MdGoogle Scholar
  53. Rakner Lise, van de Walle Nicolas (2009) Opposition weakness in Africa. J Democracy 20:108–121. Scholar
  54. Marwell G, Oliver P (1984) Collective action theory and social movements research. Social Movements, Conflicts and Change 7:1–27Google Scholar
  55. Marwell G, Oliver P (1993) The critical mass in collective action: A micro-social theory (Studies in rationality and social change). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [England], New York, NY, USAGoogle Scholar
  56. Marwell G, Oliver P, Prahl R (1988) Social networks and collective action: a theory of the critical mass. III. Am J Sociol 94(3):502–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. McAdam D, Tarrow SG, Tilly C (2001) Dynamics of contention (Cambridge studies in contentious politics). Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McCarthy JD, Zald MN (1977) Resource mobilization and social movements: a partial theory. Am J Sociol 82(6):1212–1241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Merkel W (2004) Embedded and defective democracies. Democratization 11:33–58. Scholar
  60. Merkel W (2010) Systemtransformation: Eine Einführung in die Theorie und Empirie der Transformationsforschung (2nd ed., Lehrbuch). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  61. O‘Donnell GA, Schmitter PC (1986) Transitions from authoritarian rule: Tentative conclusions about uncertain democracies, The Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  62. OECD-DAC Secretariat (2013) Flows of official development assistance to and through civil society organizations in 2011. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ParisGoogle Scholar
  63. Oliver P, Marwell G (1988) The paradox of group size in collective action: a theory of the critical mass. II. Am Sociol Rev 53:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Oliver P, Marwell G (2001) Whatever happened to critical mass theory? A Retrospective Assess. Sociol Theory 19(3):292–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Oliver P, Marwell G, Teixeira R (1985) A theory of the critical mass. I. interdependence, group heterogeneity, and the production of collective action. Am J Sociol 91(3): 522–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Olson M (1990) The logic of collective action in soviet-type societies. J Sov Nationalities 1(1):8–27Google Scholar
  67. Olson M (2003) The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups (21st edn., Harvard economic studies, Vol. 124). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  68. Osaghae E (1999) Democratization in sub-saharan Africa: faltering prospects, new hopes. J Contemp Afr Stud 17:5–28. Scholar
  69. Petersen RD (2001) Resistance and rebellion: lessons from Eastern Europe (Studies in rationality and social change). Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Przeworski A (1986) Some problems in the study of the transition to democracy. In: O’Donnell GA, Schmitter PC, Whitehead L (eds) Transitions from authoritarian rule: comparative perspectives. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp 47–63Google Scholar
  71. Przeworski A (1991) Democracy and the market: political and economic reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Studies in rationality and social change). Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Przeworski A (1992) The games of transition. In: Mainwaring SP, O’Donnell GA, Valenzuela JS (eds) Issues in democratic consolidation: the new South American democracies in comparative perspective. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Ind, pp 105–152Google Scholar
  73. Rapoport A, Chammah AM (1970) Prisoner’s dilemma: A study in conflict and cooperation (1st edn., Ann Arbor paperbacks, AA 165). University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  74. Remi Aiyede E (2003) The dynamics of civil society and the democratization process in Nigeria. Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines 37(1):1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rucht D (1990) The strategies and action repertoires of new movements. In: Dalton RJ, Kuechler M (eds) Challenging the political order: new social and political movements in Western Democracies. Polity Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 156–175Google Scholar
  76. Rucht D (2008) Protest als Kommunikation. In: Gosewinkel D, Schuppert GF (eds) Politische Kultur im Wandel von Staatlichkeit (pp. 337–356, WZB-Jahrbuch, Vol. 2007). edition sigma, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  77. Rucht D (2009) Von Zivilgesellschaft zu Zivilität: Konzeptuelle Überlegungen und Möglichkeiten der empirischen Analyse. In: Frantz C, Kolb H (eds) Transnationale Zivilgesellschaft in Europa. Waxmann, Münster, New York, München, Berlin, pp 75–102Google Scholar
  78. Rucht D, Neidhardt F (2007) Soziale Bewegungen und kollektive Aktionen. In: Joas H (ed) Lehrbuch der Soziologie, 3rd edn. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, pp 627–651Google Scholar
  79. Salehyan I, Hendrix CS, Hamner J, Case C, Linebarger C, Stull E et al (2012) Social conflict in Africa: a new database. Int Interact 38:503–511. Scholar
  80. Saunders R (2007) Trade union struggles for autonomy and democracy in Zimbabwe. In: Kraus J (ed) Trade unions and the coming of democracy in africa. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp 157–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Schelling TC (1980) The strategy of conflict. Harvard University, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  82. Schmitter PC (1997) Civil society East and West. In: Diamond LJ, Plattner MF, Chu YH, Tien HM (eds) Consolidating the third wave democracies (pp. 239–262, A Journal of democracy book). Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  83. Schock K (2005) Unarmed insurrections: People power movements in nondemocracies (Social movements, protest, and contention, Vol. 22). University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MinnesotaGoogle Scholar
  84. Sharp G (2003) From dictatorship to democracy: a conceptual framework for liberation. Albert Einstein Institution, Boston, MassGoogle Scholar
  85. Slater D (2009) Revolutions, crackdowns, and quiescence: communal elites and democratic mobilization in Southeast Asia. Am J Sociol 115:203–254. Scholar
  86. Snow DA, Rochford EB, Worden SK, Benford RD (1986) Frame alignment processes, micromobilization, and movement participation. Am Sociol Rev 51(4):464–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Thompson MR, Kuntz P (2004) Stolen elections: the case of the Serbian October. J Democracy 15:159–172. Scholar
  88. Uddhammar E, Green E, Söderström J (2011) Political opposition and democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Democratization 18:1057–1066. Scholar
  89. Ulfelder J (2005) Contentious collective action and the breakdown of authoritarian regimes. Int Polit Sci Rev/Revue int de Sci politique 26(3):311–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. United States Agency for International Development (2015) The 2014 CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa. United States Agency for International Development, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  91. von Lieres B (2014) Citizenship from below: the politics of citizen action & resistance in South Africa & Angola. In: Obadare E, Willems W (eds) Civic agency in Africa: Arts of resistance in the 21st century. James Currey; Boydell & Brewer Inc, Woodbridge, Suffolk, Rochester, NY, pp 49–62Google Scholar
  92. Weipert-Fenner I, Wolff J (2015) Socioeconomic contention and post-revolutionary political change in Egypt and Tunisia: a research agenda. Working Papers, 24. Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
  93. Zelimir K, Djuric S, Cvetkovic V (2015) Sports fan violence in Serbia: shadow of turbulent sociopolitical circumstances. In: Albrecht JF, Dow MC, Plecas D, Das DK (eds) Policing major events: Perspectives from around the world (pp. 75–88, International Police Executive Symposium co-publications). CRC Press, Boca Raton, FLCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berlin Graduate School of Social SciencesHumboldt University of BerlinBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations