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The power of proximity: strategic decisions in African Party Politics
Source of the information:
German Institute of Global and Area Studies - GIGA
There is increasing availability of survey data which has enabled researchers to rethink and challenge the notion that ethnicity is a main determinant of political party success. The observation that people are more likely to vote regionally than ethnically, has inspired a review of the idea that African voters act parochially rather than tribally. This paper discusses the hypothesis that the strategic exploitation of personal proximity between voters and politicians in rural Africa is of supreme importance. It does so within a framework of a micro-behavioral approach which pays attention to the strategic choices of party elites. It recognises the relevance of ethnicity in party competition and pinpoints the level at which it becomes important. It uses election data from Burkina Faso to show that strategies which rely on personal proximity between the voter and the candidates influence the parties’ success to a great extent.
The paper uses the following four-stage analytical framework: macro-structuralism, electoral clientelism, behavioralism and the micro-behavioral approach.
The paper concludes with the following implications for future research, based on its findings from Burkina Faso data:
The key mechanism of party politics in Africa might be rational decision making, which means the localised mobilisation of people with parochial interests, and not so much the structural mobilisation of exclusive ethno-regional identities.
Decision makers at the top of the parties have the power to balance their organisations’ human and financial resources against several national and local context variables such as local social demography, infrastructural accessibility, electoral institutions, advantages of incumbency, and the strongholds of other parties.
Disagreements and open conflicts between ethnic groups are independent from their genesis, and are reduced to incentives for party elites who decide whether they concentrate their mobilisation on exclusive ethno-regional identities or not.
All factors being constant, change becomes more likely from a micro-behavioral perspective than with socio-structural approaches which expect deeply rooted determinants of party politics. This means that the behavioral approach, which is a top-down approach, affects fewer people and decisions, while the structural approach, a bottom-up approach, leads to slow and difficult opportunities for change.
The more a party is centered around one individual “big man,” the more it becomes likely that the party is regionally concentrated in his home region in order to control the network and protect his self-interest.