Political participation

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Political participation

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Which African democracies are vulnerable to political instability?

Most of us were taken by surprise when Mali – a budding democratic success story after three open elections and two peaceful transitions of power – imploded with a separatist insurgency, a military coup, and the breakdown of state control in 2012.

What did we miss? Were there signs of impending instability that political observers overlooked in the pre-crisis period? And if so, can such early-warning indicators help us predict political risks for other African governments and political regimes?

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AD40: Zimbabwe seen headed in the wrong direction, but president's leadership approval steady

Most Zimbabweans express discontent with the overall direction of their country, deteriorating economic conditions, rising corruption, and the performance of their elected leaders – except for President Robert Mugabe.

According to the latest Afrobarometer survey, popular assessments of the country’s direction and of how members of Parliament (MPs) and local government councillors are doing their jobs are considerably more negative than in 2012, but a majority of Zimbabweans continue to approve of the president’s performance.

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AD39: Political freedom and interest have yet to translate into Mandela's vision of participatory democracy in Africa

Nelson Mandela International Day (18 July) honours the ideals that underpinned Madiba’s actions – freedom, universal enfranchisement, and participatory democracy. As Mandela once said, “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” More than a quarter-century after grass-roots pro-democracy movements began replacing authoritarian regimes in many African countries, and despite marked progress toward democratic governance, many new democracies continue to suffer from a number of democratic deficits.

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Reigniting youth citizenship in South Africa

South Africa celebrates Youth Day every June 16 to commemorate the students who lost their lives during the Soweto Uprising in 1976. An estimated 3,000-10,000 students marched to protest the apartheid government’s directive to make Afrikaans a compulsory medium of instruction in public education, alongside English. The violent police response to this peaceful protest led to a widespread revolt against the government and exposed the brutality of the apartheid state to the international community.

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AD35: South African youth patriotic, optimistic about national cohesion, but low on civic engagement

South Africa celebrates Youth Day every June 16 to commemorate the students who lost their lives during the Soweto Uprising in 1976. An estimated 3,000-10,000 students marched to protest the apartheid government’s directive to make Afrikaans a compulsory medium of instruction in public education, alongside English. The violent police response to this peaceful protest led to a widespread revolt against the government and exposed the brutality of the apartheid state to the international community.

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African women lag behind men in activism, fear campaign violence

Africans’ support for women’s equality on the continent is widespread and growing, but the day-to-day reality for many women remains characterized by disadvantage and discrimination. And while most African governments get generally good marks for their performance in empowering women, the battle for equal rights and opportunities for women is far from won especially for women in North Africa.

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In Malawi, women lag in political participation; support for women’s leadership declines

Despite being led by a female president for almost two years, Malawian women are less likely to be involved in political discussions and show less interest in public affairs than their male counterparts, according to a 2014 Afrobarometer survey.

Women in Malawi are also less likely than men to attend a political rally or campaign meeting, to persuade others to vote for a candidate, and to work for a political candidate.

Survey results show a sharp decline in public support for women’s political leadership.

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Kenyans give mixed score on devolution and call for better participation

A majority of Kenyans are finding it difficult to participate in key county activities, the latest Afrobarometer survey indicates.

Public participation is at the core of devolution. However, the Afrobarometer survey shows that most Kenyans find it difficult to participate in the county budgeting and planning process, to influence county decision making, and to access information on county budgets, legislation, and project plans.

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WP156: Deliberate disengagement: How education decreases political participation in electoral authoritarian regimes

A large literature examining advanced and consolidating democracies suggests that education increases political participation. However, in electoral authoritarian regimes, educated voters may instead deliberately disengage. If education increases critical capacities, political awareness, and support for democracy, educated citizens may believe that participation is futile or legitimates autocrats. We test this argument in Zimbabwe – a paradigmatic electoral authoritarian regime – by exploiting cross-cohort variation in access to education following a major educational reform.

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WP153: Do men and women have different policy preferences, and if so, why?

Gender quotas to increase women’s representation are often motivated by the assumption that men and women have different policy preferences. In Africa – where gender quotas have been particularly widespread – we find that gender differences in preferences are quite small on average, but vary significantly across both policy domains and countries. We propose a theoretical framework for differentiating policy domains where preference divergence indicates increased gender parity from those where it signifies growing inequality.

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BP102: Protest and political participation in South Africa: Time trends and characteristics of protesters

On March 7, 2012 tens of thousands of demonstrators in 32 towns and cities across South Africa marched in protest over new tolls on roads. From the “rolling mass action” of the 1980s to the service delivery demonstrations of the 1990s and 2000s, South African citizens have regularly participated in mass protests to impact public opinion and influence policy makers on political, economic, or social matters.

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BP89: Local government in Kenya: Negative citizen perception and minimal engagement in local government affairs

Local governance has been glorified as a panacea for development, with a number of authors highlighting its positive attributes in development. It is embedded in the decentralization debates, policies and programmes which have been sweeping across the African continent. Conceptually, there is a belief that decentralization will improve not only the relationship between citizens and the state in Africa, but also the mobilization and distribution of wealth and ultimately, the quality of democracy (Mitullah 2004 ).

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BP80: Zambian citizens, democracy and political participation

Towards the end of the 1980s, Zambians’ desire to participate in governing their country was demonstrated by criticism of the one-party state and calls for a return to a multiparty political system. The holding of multiparty elections in 1991 and the proliferation of political parties underscored the Zambians’ preference for democratic government.

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BP32: Give us a chance! Uncovering latent political participation among Malawians

Under the auspices of the Afrobarometer, IfESOR conducted a nation-wide survey of political opinions and attitudes in Malawi between 15th June and 3rd July, 2005.  A nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents drawn from all the districts in the country was interviewed.  In this paper, we use Afrobarometer data to investigate the nature of political participation among Malawians.

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WP145: Another resource curse? The impact of remittances on political participation

International remittances have grown dramatically over the past few decades. Existing scholarship on the impact of remittances has focused on their socioeconomic effects. This article focuses instead on the political impact of remittances, and in particular, its effect on political participation. Recent work on Mexico suggests that remittances may be a resource curse. They insulate recipients from local economic conditions, weaken the link between government performance and individual well-being, and reduce incentives to participate in politics.

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WP144: Social desirability bias and reported vote preferences in African surveys

Much of what we know about voting behavior in Africa is based on data from public opinion surveys. However, there has been little investigation into whether reported voter preferences are reliable, or whether they are affected by bias, particularly that which may arise from the social undesirability of “tribalistic” voting. I use a voting simulation experiment in Uganda and analysis of existing surveys from a number of African countries to show that voters who are observed by others are less likely to report a preference for a coethnic candidate.

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