Ep. 101: A conversation with Anne Meng about authoritarianism and leadership succession

Why would a dictator create constraints to their own power? Anne Meng explains to us in this week’s episode! Meng shares her expertise, which can also be found in her newly published article, “Winning the Game of Thrones,” and book, “Constraining Dictatorship.”

In other news, Kim and Rachel cover Ivorian elections, term limits, and the insurgency in Northern Mozambique.

Listen to the episode below!

Our Guest

Books from the Episode

How Insurgency Begins: Rebel Group Formation in Uganda and Beyond by Janet Lewis

Southern Politics in State and Nation by V.O. Key

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Other Links and Articles

Winning the Game of Thrones: Leadership Succession in Modern Autocracies” by Anne Meng

Ivory Coast Reelected Its President. Opposition Candidates Boycotted the Voting.” by Tyson Roberts

Are Efforts to Limit Presidential Power in Africa Working?” by Rachel Beatty Riedl

So Many ‘Africanists,’ So Few Africans” by Zack Zimbalist

So Many ‘Africanists,’ So Few Africans: Reshaping Our Understanding of ‘African Politics’ through Greater Nuance and Amplification of African Voices” by Zack Zimbalist

Trajectory of Violence in Northern Mozambique Points to Long-term Security Challenge” by Emilia Columbo

The Genesis of Insurgency in Northern Mozambique” by David M. Matsinhe and Estacio Valoi

Why Ethiopia’s Conflict Could Spill beyond Its Borders” by David Kampf

Another First for Okonjo-Iweala, the 2020 African of the Year” by allAfrica

A Former Ambassador Says the U.S. Needs to Reimagine Its Engagement with a Modern Nigeria” by John Campbell

Previous Episodes We Mentioned

Ep. 40: A conversation with Abou Bamba on Francafrique, the Ivorian miracle, and more

Ep. 63: A conversation with Muna Ndulo on international financial transparency, investment vs. insurgency, and more


Kim: Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the continent. I’m Kim Yi Dionne, your host, and I’m joined by my co-host, Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel.

Rachel: Hi, Kim. So today, I think we have a great news wrap talking about Ivorian elections, talking about term limits, and talking about the insurgency in Northern Mozambique. And then we’re going to turn to this week’s episode, which features a conversation with Anne Meng, where we talk about her new book out with Cambridge University Press, titled Constraining Dictatorship. And talk with her more generally about strategies of autocrats, which is pretty topical in many parts of the world right now. And Kim, you’re going to love this Anne has a new article out entitled, Winning the Game of Thrones, which is about leadership succession in modern autocracies, so everyone can be on the lookout for that one.

Kim: That sounds awesome. I’m excited to read it. Now. Let’s get right into the Ivorian elections. As many of our listeners know incumbent president Alassane Ouattara won reelection with 94% of the vote in the October 31 elections. Of course, listeners should not take that high vote share as an indicator of Ouattara’s popularity. We have to keep in mind that the two primary opposition candidates Henri Konan Bédié and Pascal Affi N’Guessan had boycotted the election, complaining that Ouattara’s candidacy violated the presidential two term limit. I want to point our listeners to a thorough election report written by Tyson Roberts for The Monkey Cage of the Washington Post that was published earlier this week. He gives some great background on the election giving details for example, on the nuances of Ouattara’s claim that his run this year did not technically run afoul of the rules, since the term limit restriction in Cote d’Ivoire was only adopted in 2016. Now Tyson’s piece also gives us some historical context to Ivorian politics, a half century worth of rivalry and competition that goes beyond simply reminding readers of the Civil War following the 2010 elections. He also talks about Cote d’Ivoire’s economy, which reminded me of our episode in Season Two with Gettysburg College historian Abou Bamba on his book, African Miracle, African Mirage. But Rachel, I wanted to use this opportunity to kind of talking about Ouattara and term limits and Ivorian elections, to actually ask you some questions about term limits. Since I know this is something that you’ve studied for quite a while. And it’s part of your broader study of democratization and authoritarianism. So, you wrote an article, I don’t know if you remember, it was published in The Washington Post a little over five years ago now. And it was titled “Are efforts to limit presidential power in Africa working?” And so, in this piece, you wrote about multiple attempts that African presidents were making to try and extend their rule. And you argued that presidential term limits have played a key role in creating critical opportunities for alternation. And this was true across the continent, you looked at attempts to repeal term limits, since the third wave of democratization in Africa in the 1990s. And so, here, I’m going to quote you, you found, “Where term limits are repealed, the general result is continuing authoritarian stability. But where term limits are contested and even maintained, the outcome is much more uncertain. To establish or sustained democracy, it’s not sufficient for term limits simply to be upheld. For example, in Burkina Faso, upholding term limits led to the dissolution of the government in 2014 and enter a military civilian transition and the possibility of instability and conflict military rule, or democratic elections on the horizon”. And so of course, and now, of course, with a lot of hindsight, we kind of know what happened to Burkina. And so, this piece when you wrote it was like such it was I learned so much from it. And it was a really important piece. And I just wonder, you know, here we are, more than five years later. And I just wonder what you’re thinking about term limits today, especially given the crafty way that some politicians can maneuver and navigate around these limits.

Rachel: You know, Kim, it’s so interesting that you bring up that piece, because in that stretch of time since that article, we’ve just seen this increasing trend right for presidents to legally maintain term limits on the books and the Constitution, but subvert them on an individual basis, right, by claiming that they are not restricted themselves by such limits because of a change in the constitution that resets their own clock or that term limits don’t apply to them because they’ve been implemented only recently as in the case here of Cote d’Ivoire that you mentioned. So, this is really, you know, strategy. That is, I think, you know, it’s very sequential in terms of when term limits were first implemented in the early 90s with the transitions to multi-party elections to the degree. You know, the first two cycles, it wasn’t really an issue. And then there were these moments in which term limits became an issue for some presidents and some presidents had to abide by them. And now I think we’re seeing the next sequence, which is presidents learning how to maintain the term limits, but keep themselves in the running, regardless, right? So, I think that it’s really increasing as a strategy. And at that time of writing, actually, I was thinking about Goodluck Jonathan’s claim to run again in Nigeria. And the key there is thinking about, in general, term limits, really are focal points, they are focal points for political change, because they challenge the legitimacy of the incumbents, right to maintain power. But how that political change happens is not necessarily through the incumbents stepping down and allowing new candidates to run, right? When they don’t follow that expectation, then the question is of their legitimacy. And that’s exactly the case that we see right now in Cote d’Ivoire, many questions the legitimacy of Ouattara, the incumbents, right to maintain power. As you mentioned, the two leading opposition candidates urge their supporters to boycott. So what kind of bounded, institutional, legitimate means remain for the opposition, to contest something that they see as illegitimate? When the legitimacy has gone, then these focal points for political change are often taken up through non-electoral means, as Cote d’Ivoire’s own history of conflict demonstrates.

Kim: Yeah. And I mean, not that it always has to be conflict, right. I mean, there’s, as we learn from, for example, Adam Branch and Zachariah Mampilly’s work as well, as Lisa Mueller’s work, right, people take to the streets, and they protest. And so, there’s lots of different ways democracy can be practiced. And it’s really interesting. And I think this is a really interesting time for us to be following African politics and understanding, you know, all the ways in which people practice democracy, especially when there are these questions, you know, that you’re raising about legitimacy. And when it means when leaders, you know, kind of renege on the promises that they will, you know, in the case of Ouattara, he said he was going to step down, and he had anointed a successor. And, of course, you know, he couldn’t predict that person was going to die before the election. And, you know, everything turned out the way that it did. But I do think you’re right, it’s a really important time to be focusing on how democracy is being practiced, both at the elite level and also amongst citizens.

Rachel: Exactly Kim. In fact, you’re so right, because, I mean, even looking at the Burkina example, it was the protests, you know, that really led to the transition and the alternation. So, you know, thinking about these focal points around term limits, as setting in place of a realm of possibilities that could include protests that could include conflict that could include elites maneuvering to force incumbents out, right. So, there are many pathways, and they can lead to democratization and they can lead to increasing instability.

Kim: I love that. I love that you talk about these like focal points, because you know that the term limit is a focal point. You know, these massive street protests can be focal points. And but as you were talking about, I was even thinking about Jaimie Bleck and Nicolas van de Walle’s book, right, that elections themselves are focal points. So, it doesn’t even have to be a term limit election. But elections can be this moment where things can change. So, I don’t, you know, I know a lot of people who listen to me are probably like, gosh, she only cares about protests. She doesn’t think elections matter. It’s like, well, I read, I read Bleck and van de Walle. I do think that elections matter. You know, I think that they just don’t happen very often. And I think citizens think about, you know, their government and what they’re getting from their government much more frequently than every four or five years. So…

Rachel: Exactly. And when we look at the protest movements, like End SARS right now in Nigeria is coming to mind, and so many others across the globe, the protests themselves can set the framing that then become the most relevant issues in elections. Right? So, there’s this dialectic relationship to be sure.

Kim: Definitely, definitely. Now, for those of us who are at colleges and universities who are winding down our academic terms, I wanted to also share an important piece by Zack Zimbalist in the blog for the Review of African Political Economy. Now, this blog post that Zack wrote, is based on a longer research article. And the broad question that he asks in that article, and in this blog, post is “Who produces knowledge on African politics?” For his study, he looked at authorship data from 1260 reads and by readings, he includes academic and media articles, reports, book chapters, books, films, and Ted Talks, from 24 undergraduate course syllabi for courses on African politics or Africa and international relations between 2014 and 2019. In the US and Canada, and in this study, you know, looking at the authorship data, these 1260 readings, he found that only 15% of the readings were written by Africans, and only 9% of the readings were written by authors based in Africa. Now, the conclusion is that within political science, at least, our understanding of politics in Africa is overwhelmingly shaped by non-Africans who spend most of their time far removed from Africa. And I agree with him when he argues that this reality has serious consequences, whether it’s for the academic community, for policymakers, for the students we’re teaching, but also more broadly for citizens across the world. And I just want to take this time to ask you know, any faculty out there listening who teach not just African politics, but African Studies more broadly, you know, this is a good time to reflect on the syllabi that you construct. And for any students out there who take courses on Africa, take a look at who’s listed on your syllabus, and consider supplementing, if you see that you’ve been assigned, you know, readings that may be critically lacking in African voices. And I don’t even think that this necessarily has to be limited to Africa, if you’re taking a class in Latin American Studies, you know, be mindful of who’s on your syllabus and whose voices are being heard. And what exactly you’re learning about a place that may be reflected not by the people who are of that place.

Rachel: That’s such a great reminder Kim and ties into our recently launched call for any students who are out there who might want to put a few words together for Ufahamu Africa to tell us what they have learned or what reflections they might have from listening to a podcast episode or more than one. And we will be offering an opportunity for those top finalists to read some selections from their reflection piece on the podcast in the future. So, we would love to see, you know how that kind of reflection might be happening, hopefully, through some of the authors and scholars that you’re listening to here. So Kim, I also wanted to return to another news event, which is about what’s happening in Northern Mozambique in particular. So, we’ve had some important discussions in the past on Ufahamu Africa, including Episode 63 with Muna Nudlo in 2019, that discuss the rising insurgency in the north of the country, and recently, the Center for Strategic and International Studies put out an updated state of play and roadmap by Emilia Columbo. And we’ll include the link on our website, but it really documents how much the insurgency group in the north the Ahlu Sunna wa Jama group has increased its warfighting capacity, and how the government itself has continued to rely on the use of force as its own counterinsurgency strategy. So, what they argue that this means is that civilians are being driven out of the province, driven out of the northern region in general, Cabo Delgado province, and most likely this will result in more lethal insurgency as the group exploits Mozambican Security Service weaknesses, to expand its presence while the humanitarian situation continues to decline. And civilians find themselves caught between really two different types of armed actors, both of which shall little regard for human rights. There’s also a new article out by the Institute for Security Studies, which is authored by DM Matsinhe, a senior lecturer of Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg and Estacio Valoi, which is titled “The Genesis of Insurgency in Northern Mozambique”, which I think shares some pretty important insights both when we consider where the insurgency comes from and how it’s developing in this relationship with the government. And they point to the fact that the insurgents appear to consist of a group of local youth who really devised a deviant form of Islam, a kind of outlier form of Islam, which was very much to the distress of local imams of the kind of religious authorities who might be considered mainstream or community leaders and these local imams have denounced it and ejected the youth from local mosques. But the government which had really ignored signs of the growing radicalization of some youth in the villages has responded with this kind of overt use of force and has sent the military in to put down the uprising. The government has also suspended human rights in the area through an extra judicial state of emergency and has taken steps to ensure really that information is not getting out. So, this kind of total clamp down on communication. So, in response to that, then both the insurgents themselves and local villagers are fighting back. So, this is just escalating the level of violence quite rapidly. Now, as a final note, the province shares a border with Tanzania, right. And villagers claim that Tanzania and members of Al Shabaab have crossed the border and are working to radicalize the Mozambican youth. So, the local population and the national government both point to this kind of Tanzanian element to say that there’s this foreign intervention, which is to blame. And that’s really only exacerbating the situation both by kind of making it look to this kind of external actor. Now, I would love to point out that Janet Lewis has some important work on this. She has a new book out on insurgent origins, which is based on her excellent research in Uganda. So, I think it’d be great to hear a comparison from her about Ugandan insurgent origins and thinking about what that entails, for how this development in Mozambique might play out, based on the role of kind of historic elements of conflict and civil war in both countries, and which rebel groups seem to fail and succeed, what role ethnicity plays that could tell us a bit more about how this might play out as the violence continues to escalate in the moment.

Kim: Yeah, I’d also love to ask her about state repression, you know, in the ongoing lead up to the upcoming Ugandan elections, I think she probably has some really great insights on that, too.

Rachel: Great. Exactly. So, Janet, be ready. Yeah. Janet should be ready to hear from us.

Kim: Janet, here, we are telling you now that we’d love to have you on the show. So that’s all for this week’s news wrap. Stay tuned for our interview with Anne Mend. Everything that we mentioned here, we’ll post a link to on our website, ufahamuafrica.com.

Rachel: So, today, we’re so enthused and excited to have on Ufahamu Africa, our newest guest, Anne Meng, and Anne, I have to say congratulations on your new book out. I was so excited to see it. It’s just published by Cambridge University Press. And it’s titled Constraining Dictatorship: From Personalized Rule to Institutionalized Regimes. In this book, I think you do a really excellent job of examining how executive constraints become established and dictatorships. And I was wondering if you could talk to us a little bit and tell our listeners about how, when, where and why it happens. So, why would autocrats accept the implementation of new constraints from other players? And why even instigate them at times themselves?

Anne: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Rachel. It’s super exciting for me to be here on this podcast. This is my second time podcasting. So, I’ve really been looking forward to this. Yeah, so I’m super excited about my new book. I just got to hold it when it came out about one or two months ago. And so, that was super exciting. But yeah, so as you mentioned, the book is about basically how constrained forms of dictatorship emerge, right? Why on earth would a dictator create limits to their own power? Right? So, the kind of type of constraints that I look at in the book are executive constraints, so things that really kind of directly tie the hands of the leader. So, I look specifically at constitutional constraints. So, things like term limits, or things like formal succession procedures. I also look at kind of informal ways in which leaders kind of share power to limit their own kind of personal authority. So here, I look at appointments in presidential cabinets, especially to key positions like the vice presidency, or the defense minister. So, basically, the kind of main argument the book makes about why a leader would do this is I argue that when leaders come to power, initially weak. So, at the start of the regime, when leaders are pretty much kind of severely threatened by other elites, when other elites basically have a very credible threat to overthrow the leader, the leader essentially has no choice but to extend these power sharing measures to elites in order to kind of buy their support. Basically, in order to stay in power, the leader has to give up a lot of his own kind of personal authority. So, what’s interesting is that there’s kind of like a real path dependency flavor to this argument, right. So, the kind of circumstances surrounding the leader at the start of the regime, and the institutional decisions that they make, right as they come into power, really shaped the rest of the rule, right. And so, and empirically, what we do see is that a lot of these institutional decisions, so, the decision to make these key cabinet appointments and keep them stable, rather than kind of rotating elites, or the decision to introduce kind of leadership succession procedures in the constitution, we really do see that at the beginning of leader tenures. So, what I find is that most of these kinds of provisions are introduced within the first three to five years of a leader taking rule. But, you know, once they’re implemented, they’re there, you know, it’s not impossible to remove these kinds of measures. But once you kind of empower elites, it can be hard to kind of completely remove them, right. And so, these kinds of initial decisions, really end up deciding whether the regime is kind of a constrained form of dictatorship, where you have a lot of elites sharing power, or whether you have kind of a personalist mode of rule. What’s really interesting about personalist leaders is that so usually personalist leaders are those that kind of come into power, already strong, having already consolidated authority. We see this with a lot of the kind of founding fathers in a lot of post-independence regimes. So, think of like Houphouët in the Ivory Coast where he, you know, he was a real kind of regional leader during the kind of independence movement. And he really kind of mobilized his own movement. And so, he was pretty much kind of uncontested when he came into power. And he really didn’t need to extend an olive branch to elites, right. And so, you know, the Houphouët model was he was a pretty personalist leader while he was in power. And that worked for him. And he was able to stay in power for a long time. But what happens after personalist leaders die, is that it tends to be really bad for the regime, because they don’t have these mechanisms to regulate leadership transitions, they don’t have these mechanisms for elites to share power. So, we often see this model of a personalist regime seeming stable for decades. But then you immediately get a lot of instability when the founding leader dies. So, yeah, so, that’s kind of the general idea of why on earth, a dictator would ever constrain himself or herself, although it’s mostly men.

Rachel: You know, thinking about the the extensions of those arguments, right. And in the ways in which when do you see leaders able to shake off the shackles, right? So, when I think about Tanzania right now under Magufuli, for example, right, the ways in which prior constraints certainly had been put on in the party had institutionalized internal succession. And yet, you know, Magufuli seems to be kind of changing the rules of the game from within, or, on the contrary, and kind of the other pathway, right? When does someone like Houphouët come in as a personalist leader? And under what conditions might they need to increase constraints at a later date? Right? So, do you see that kind of not in the first year, two years, but later on as new types of threats or challenges might emerge?

Anne: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, we do see some kind of aging leaders begin to introduce constraints near the end of the rule, you know, as they kind of lose this initial excitement, right? And this kind of like legitimacy that they had as the founding father, a lot of times these things tend to kind of diminish over time. So, what I see is, usually, what we see with a lot of these kind of personalist founding leaders is they do kind of increase elite appointments. As time goes on, they kind of realize that they do need to introduce these kinds of informal power sharing mechanisms, via cabinet appointments, actually, Houphouët was pressured near the very end of his role to introduce succession rules, right. He was famously afraid of the Crown Prince problem, and purposely left the Vice President/Prime Minister position empty for most of his tenure, right, but near the end, you know, a couple years before his death, he was kind of pressured to finally lay out succession plans. But actually, interestingly, he did so kind of like very unwillingly. So, you know, he named the president of the National Assembly as the formal successor but didn’t actually kind of endorsed him. And he did it very tentatively. And we actually essentially got succession conflict after the death of Houphouët, right. There was a coup a few years later. So, yeah, sometimes we do see leaders kind of begin to have to introduce some measures near the end of their rule. The other really fascinating question you just asked was, when do leaders, when are they able to kind of undo or weaken these constraints that they put in earlier? So, that’s actually my new project that I’m kind of just starting on. So, basically, this new project is essentially the opposite of what this first book is thinking about. Right? So, the first book is thinking about when do leaders introduce constraints? And why do they do that? The second book is about how and when can they get rid of these constraints. So, some things that kind of came out of the first book that I think are really helping me think through the second book is a key thing that I stress. My first book is, it’s not about de jure rules, it’s about de facto power. So, for instance, not all constitutional rules are kind of equally effective at empowering elites and not constraining leaders. Also, you know, even though in the kind of comparative authoritarianism literature, we’ve put so much emphasis on the importance of nominally democratic institutions, like parties or legislators or elections at constraining leaders, one of my big arguments in the first book is that a lot of times these institutions are very organizationally weak, right. And so even though they exist on paper, they’re not moving de facto power. And so, this like emphasis that I put on measures that truly empower elites, that’s really key. So, where I think that helps me think through this question of kind of institutional removal now, is, I think that when these constraints are kind of less effective at empowering specific elites, they’re easier for incumbents to remove. So, for instance, in my book, I distinguish between constitutional term limits and constitutional leadership succession procedures. So, what’s really key about a leadership succession procedure is in the constitution, it’ll often lay out the kind of hierarchy, right? It’ll say, you know, if the president were to die, the Vice President will become the president. So, that’s essentially the designated successor. Right? That’s kind of a very common way in which these leadership rules are laid out. For instance, that’s what it looks like in the Kenyan constitution. So, what happens there is that rule really empowers the Vice President, right? The Vice President is clearly identified in this key document as the designated successor. And so, what I argue is that that’s really kind of empowering the Vice President and shifting the distribution of power in a really meaningful way. Okay, so, let’s contrast this with term limit rules. So, if you have term limits in the constitution, but you don’t have leadership succession procedures, term limits are basically just kind of like an open promise to leave office after a certain amount of time. But if you haven’t designated who the successor is, then then you basically have a real coordination problem with elites, where they’re like, who among us actually loses out the most, if the leader were to refuse to abide by term limits? Right? It’s not clear who everyone should kind of organize around, it’s not clear who’s losing out the most, if you just have term limits, but no succession procedures, right. So, you basically have this kind of unresolved elite coordination problem in a situation like that. So that goes to show how not all rules are kind of, you know, equally effective, right? Not all rules, kind of empower elites in the same way. And so, I think that is one potential reason why we’ve seen a lot of leaders been able to kind of successfully get rid of term limits, right. It’s just one of those things where it’s harder for elites to coordinate around. And so, I think that’s kind of one of the big themes that kind of cuts throughout a lot of my work is that, you know, it’s not just about rules on paper, it’s about whether we’re shifting power in a meaningful kind of way to kind of empower elites.

Rachel: The coordination of elites, I know, is a really key area for you and something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as we look at all of these changes to constitutions that allow third terms to become a kind of non-issue through juridical moves. So, if there’s a constitutional amendment, and the president is coming up on what would be the third term, as it’s happening in Cote d’Ivoire, for example, as happened in Senegal, right? Burundi as well, right? So many cases where the constitutional change allows the president to claim that they are now reentering, wiping the slate clean and restarting as a first term. So, I agree that with your point that there’s you know, it’s a coordination problem among incumbent elites, right dominant party elites? If the president is to go, how much will they lose? How much will they gain? However, it also the third term debate, I think creates a focal point for coordination among would be opposition and internal factions who expect to inherit the crown. So, I’m thinking here, for example, about Burkina Faso with Blaise Compaoré’s departure, right, the attempt to extend became too much not only for the opposition and huge union protests and street protests, opposition party protests, civil society, but also the pre departure of a faction of the ruling party months in advance of that debate, in preparation for what they expected it to be their opportunity to win power, right. To say this, this is our turn, it’s time for succession. And so, I’m wondering kind of, you know, the ways in which the possibilities of coordination among elites become enhanced by these precise moments of expecting alternation or expecting the rules to provide some guidelines for that moment.

Anne: Yeah, I definitely think so. I mean, I think it’s not surprising that there’s kind of like a lot of movement, both around elections and around moments of leadership transitions, right. I think realistically, most elites aren’t necessarily trying to be the next top guy. They’re thinking about their positions under a potential new regime order. They’re trying to think like, what is my potential cabinet seat look like? And so, I do think that both elections and moments of leadership transition ended up being these kinds of focal points, where elites are trying to figure out if they can usher in like a new regime order, basically. And I think what really matters, then is both the kind of levels of organization of opposition, as well as the kind of levels of organization within these kind of factions within the ruling party. I think what makes it really tricky is, and I have some kind of newer work on this. Actually, it’s a paper that you’ve seen, Rachel, you’ve discussed it before. But I have a co-authored paper where we basically look at how incumbents essentially use cooptation, to fragment opposition elites, right. So, you know, they make offers of cabinet appointments, in hopes of basically, you know, weakening these broad opposition coalitions, and we find that it can be really effective. You know, when we find that when incumbents appoint opposition members to their cabinets in the past, in kind of future elections, we see way more kind of fragmentation of opposition elites, and where these elites are kind of, you know, more likely to try to kind of run as independents in hopes of essentially, you know, getting a position as opposed to kind of coalescing under these kind of strong coalitions and I think that really that pattern really speaks to the type of regime that we’re seeing right now. Regimes that are kind of hovering between not doing anything wrong, technically, but really kind of like maintaining a lot of authoritarian, anti-democratic tendencies, right, where, you know, there’s kind of nothing wrong with offering opposition elites, cabinet positions on paper, but in practice, you’re really kind of chipping away at electoral competition. And that’s essentially the autocrat playbook in this day and age, right. So, you know, I also have some work on terminal motivation. And what we see is this kind of old method of ignoring the rule outright, or of, you know, delaying elections or cancelling elections, that’s largely kind of out of fashion at this point. Autocrats are really good at playing by the rules to introduce anti-democratic elements into their regimes and, you know, the kind of most popular way in which leaders are getting rid of term limits is by changing the constitution via a constitutional amendment. They take advantage of the fact that they have a majority in the legislature, and they change, and they get rid of term limits through this totally kind of legal method. You know, they also kind of have this, they also use the courts, right? They kind of rely on their courts to reinterpret the constitution, or they also use this method that you were alluding to where they basically, you know, write a new constitution and they say, Oh, you know, we’re starting new, right? So, these kinds of previous limits don’t apply to me. But all of these things are kind of technically legal. Right. And so, what we’re seeing is, is leaders have just gotten really good at staying in power. And I think that’s kind of the way in which both democratic and authoritarian backsliding is occurring now.

Rachel: Well, exactly. And so, this kind of comes full circle back to kind of your first book, right, and thinking about the ways in which thinking about constraints on dictatorship, also helps speak to this moment of democratic backsliding, and using nominally democratic institutions and rulemaking in order to embed democratic stability or authoritarian stability rather, right. So, in the book, for example, you look in some detail at Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire. And these countries are now facing really significant political instability around this very question of will elections be held? Who has the ability to be represented by representative institutions? And how do potential autocratic leaders maintain power by using the letter of the law, but their power over the letter of the law? Right? So how do you think this kind of relates to you know, the extension of your argument that that kind of current democratic erosion has these authoritarian roots?

Anne: Yeah. So, that’s, that’s really kind of another big theme of my work is the authoritarian roots of what we’re calling democratic erosion. One of the big substantive arguments that I make about how my first book can kind of help us think about African politics is, I would argue that the real story of Africa in the 1990s was not democratization, it was the institutionalization of authoritarian regimes. So, you know, at the end of the Cold War, what we see empirically is at the end of the Cold War, there was kind of a huge jump in the introduction of all of these different kinds of executive constraints that I’m looking at constitutional rules, to share power, as well as kind of stable elite appointments to share power. Basically, you know, the majority of these regimes on the continent became much more institutionalized in the 1990s. And so, you know, in addition to introducing multi-party elections, these elites just got really good at a durable form of authoritarianism, basically, you know, they really implemented a way for them to share power that can last beyond the tenure of any individual leader. And so, you know, what I argue is what we really saw in the 1990s, was durable authoritarianism, that maybe, you know, kind of appeared democratic to us at the time, right, because we kind of saw these elements of political liberalization. And, you know, we may be kind of thought that what we were seeing was democratization. But I’m actually arguing the opposite. What we were seeing really was the development of stable authoritarian rule. So, what that means now, when we’re kind of, you know, all of a sudden, we’re all really concerned about democratic backsliding? The kind of implication, or the kind of extension of my argument now is, you know, we’re seeing autocratic backsliding, right, we’re seeing instances where incumbents never really or you know, incumbents, and the ruling parties, I guess, never really, truly gave a power, right. And so, you know, and of course, it’s so much easier for autocratic elites to undo checks on their authority, because they don’t really have a truly empowered electorate that can vote them out of office in a completely free and fair election. Incumbent elites, if they want to get rid of checks on their power, you know, they need to strike bargains with other elites. And, you know, if that bargain holds, then we see Paul Biya get rid of term limits, in Cameroon. And so, I think that there’s this kind of moment of shock around democratic erosion where our old assumption was that once countries democratize, democracy should be very stable and how could a democracy possibly backslide? And you know, I think part of what’s going on is it’s because it was never a democracy, right. It was this very sophisticated version of autocracy. And so, you know, it’s much easier for these elites to not be checked as much by the general population and for them to get rid of a lot of these constraints.

Rachel: In some ways, it really suggests all the more attention to the difference between, you know, the implementation of competitive authoritarian regimes. Right, what you’re suggesting is kind of the institutionalization of stable autocrats, right? And the expectation that they’re not democratizing, right, so reminding us of that lesson. But also, you know, the real substantive difference in places where meaningful democratization did occur, right, and that there was a transition that was in some ways, participatory or a break with the past and allowed for alternation. And so, in those places, you know, the party broke up. And the question is, whether or not the party’s defeat, or breakup in some way, was replaced by a similar model of a new party that was able to use the same practices and structures and rules to kind of re initiate that kind of dominant autocratic rule, or whether it allowed elites to contest in a way that really made alternation and competition and representation of the people’s preferences possible. So, I think, you know, the possibility that competitive authoritarianism should be misread as democracy is high, you know, and I think that absolutely did happen. But I also think that there were, you know, some places where meaningful change occurred, and to be all the more kind of careful in that nuance.

Anne: No, you know, I think that’s a great point, right. So, you know, thinking about why, like, how did we get Ghana and Benin as kind of real examples of true democratic transition. And I think that like the key phrase you just mentioned right now was just, it was a real break from the past. Right? It was real turnover, where you really did have different parties come into power and alternate for power. So, basically, I think we should be very suspect when endogenous democratization happens, right? When an incumbent says, I’m going to liberalize we’re going to democratize I think that we should be really suspect of that, right? Because, I mean, I think that cases of real democratization are cases where you had a true break with the past. And you know, we also have other really great work. So, I’m thinking of Michael Albertus and all those books about the authoritarian backbone of a lot of democratic transitions. And their argument is also just that a lot of times endogenous democratization is, you know, essentially, cases where elites choose to “democratize”, they rewrite, they write the new constitution coming in. And of course, they write the constitution to include measures that entrench their political and economic power. So, when you don’t have a clear break with the past, you know, you essentially get authoritarianism that’s just like a little bit more hidden. And so, I think, that kind of thinking about how we got cases like Benin and Ghana, it always just the fact that we had a clean, like a clear break always just kind of sticks out to me.

Rachel: But to me, you know, and I think, you know, Joe Wong and Dan Slater, Dan Ziblatt and I have written, you know, kind of cross regional piece on that. And I think that you know, they’re right, at a certain point a break occurs, and then we can look at what that break entailed. Is it a return to prior modes in a reshuffling of people to reestablish prior patterns? Or is it that endogenous democratization allowed for unanticipated consequences? An opening that was further than the incumbent originally attended. I mean, that is actually the story of Ghana, right. But the NDC led the reservation that then they ended up losing. Right, and Senegal as well. And one could have said that Tanzania was on that pathway, but not right. So, there are cases where the incumbent loses control. But it’s in their interest to constrain their ruling party power in ways that you know, I think are well captured in your book. And then there are times when it kind of goes beyond what they were expecting to be able to control where real change can happen and a break is made.

Anne: Yeah, no, I totally agree with that as well. Yeah, sometimes incumbents just kind of miscalculate how much they can control an election, right? Yeah, no, I totally agree with that. Yeah. And it is really an Interesting to kind of think about when endogenous democratization actually succeeds, right? And when it leads to kind of the furthering of these hybrid regimes.

Rachel: Exactly, exactly. And that’s why I think, you know, you have so much to offer us in your work, because we’re able to see the ways in which constraints can be stabilizing, and really, you know, enduring in terms of these authoritarian regimes, and then we can think about the ways in which those constraints by calling them constraints actually do matter. Right, and what kinds of consequences that constraints have. So, I think it’s really an exciting contribution to the literature. Anne, I wanted to close by asking you our final question that we ask all of our guests, which is, what are you reading that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Anne: Yeah, so, I’m currently reading two books right now. The first one, well, they’re both kind of nerdy. But the first one is, I’m actually reading V.O. Key’s Southern Politics. I’ve always been so fascinated by the US south. And I was super excited to move to Central Virginia. But yeah, actually over the summer, I was in an American politics reading group with some of my colleagues at UVA. And it was super fun just to read about stuff that, you know, I don’t usually get to read about. And so, I decided to start reading about key Southern politics. And what’s super interesting is, you know, I love thinking about America comparatively, right? And thinking about the US south as, or, you know, the US south, you know, in the kind of 19th century 19th and 20th century as like a perfect case of competitive authoritarianism. And so, it’s super fun to kind of see a lot of parallels in that book with kind of, you know, what we know, and with kind of theories that have been developed based off of other regions. So, yeah, so that’s been super fun. And then the other book I’m currently reading is Game of Thrones, I’m on the second book. And at the start of quarantine, I decided to start rewatching Game of Thrones. And I started to also read the books for the first time, and actually at the start of quarantine, I also was working on an R&R, which has actually just been conditionally accepted. But it was a paper on leadership succession and authoritarian regimes. So, I felt like my whole life in like, March and April was just like all Game of Thrones, it’s been super fun. So yeah, those are the two things that I’m reading.

Rachel: And you actually, I think, you know, made a play on that in the title, “Winning the Game of Thrones: Leadership Succession in Modern Autocracies”

Anne: Yeah, exactly. I was like, I have to get this in there. Well, I have to shoehorn it in. Yeah.

Rachel: Exactly, exactly. Well, we’ll post a link to that article and to your book on our website when we have this episode out. So that, listeners can see all this exciting work that you’re doing and, in the work, as well on the law and politics of presidential term limit evasion. That’s just out. And so we really look forward to following your scholarship. Anne, thanks so much for talking with us.

Anne: Thank you so much, Rachel. This has been really awesome, and it was great to catch up with you.

Kim: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Ufahamu Africa to find any of the articles, books or links we talked about on today’s episode, head to ufahamuafrica.com. We are also available on Spotify, Apple podcast, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistant Fulya Felicity Turkmen. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin Mcleod. Until next week, safiri salama!

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