Source: African Studies Review
African Studies Review / Volume 48 / Issue 01 / April 2005, pp 109-126
By Beth Elise Whitaker
In the ongoing context of political liberalization, many African leaders have adopted the rhetoric of democracy while at the same time devising ways to limit political competition. This article focuses on one such strategy: the effort to disqualify or discredit political opponents based on challenges to their citizenship. In recent years, several African leaders have initiated court cases and produced evidence to question the right of opposition candidates and other critics to participate in the political process. By examining specific examples in Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, and elsewhere, the article explores the implications of this strategy. While citizenship rights are clearly important in any democracy, their explicit manipulation for the ruling party’s political purposes is a risky approach that threatens to slow or even reverse the process of democratization. In the end, a tactic initially designed to exclude specific individuals from the political process has the potential of fueling broader xenophobic sentiments and legitimizing exclusionary nation-building strategies. At best, the resulting widening of social cleavages reduces the likelihood of democratic consolidation. At worst, it plants the seeds for future political conflict and possibly even war.
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