The dialectics of agency and structure in transitional democracy

An actor-network analysis of Nigeria’s political transition

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2015

249 Pages, Grade: 1,8



1 Introduction
1.1 Working Hypothesis
1.2 Obligatory Passage Point (OPP): The “Old Guard Autocrats”
1.3 Chapters Organization
1.4 References

2 Literature Review
2.1 The Classical Democracy Terminology
2.2 Contemporary Democracy Conceptualization
2.3 Approaches to Democracy
2.3.1 Structural Approach
2.3.2 Contingent Approach
2.3.3 International Approach
2.4 The Paradox of Post-Cold War Democratization in Africa
2.5 Conclusion
2.6 References

3 Theoretical Consideration
3.1 Actor Network Theory (ANT)
3.2 References

4 Methodology
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The Epistemological and Ontological Aspects
4.3 Paradigm of Inquiry: The Rationale for Actor-Network Analysis and Qualitative Inquiry
4.4 The Process of Conducting the Study
4.4.1 Research Question and Assumption
4.4.2 The “Old-Guard Autocrats” in Politics
4.5 Plan and Instrumentation
4.5.1 Commencement and Initial Problems
4.5.2 Theoretical Classifications
4.5.3 Cognitive
4.5.4 Political and Cultural Circumstances
4.5.5 Assessing Data
4.6 Conclusion
4.7 References

5 The Interpretation of Actors in the “spaces of negotiation”: Interessement, Enrollment and Inscription
5.1 The Human Element: Interessement and Enrollment
5.1.2 The Politics of Affect and the Influx of Retired Military Officers in Politics Affective Reaction as Enrollment: the Acceptance of Interest as Focal Actor
5.2 Enrolling the Non-Human Element: Institutions as Actor
5.2.1 Institutional Arrangements: the Subject, Object and Informal Institutions
5.3 Conclusion
5.4 References

6 Performing Political Transition: A Socio-Technical Account
6.1 The Socio-Technical Account of Political Transition
6.1.2 The Landscape: Macro Level Political Culture and Social Values
6.1.3 The Meso-Level Regime of Power-Sharing
6.1.4 The Micro Level─Actors and Local Practices
6.1.5 Conclusion
6.2 References

7 Conclusion
7.1 Summary
7.2 Is Democracy Possible in Post-Colonial States?
7.3 References


List of illustrations

Table 1: A Framework for the Analysis of Data: Conceptualization, Measurement, and Aggregation

Table 2: Conceptions of democracy.

Diagram 1: Network characteristic.

Diagram 2: Block Model: A positional analysis of the “old-guard autocrats” in politics.

Diagram 3: Accounting for the relationship between spaces of negotiation and socio-political transformation.


For more than three decades, political change has been largely studied through the lenses of emergent and transformative social change theories, thus sequencing it in a particular teleological action course. For instance, scholars have explored the causes of political change (Wiseman 1995; Lipset 1959; Almond and Verba 1963; Dahl 1971; Moore 1966), modes of transition to democracy (Guillermo O’Donnell 1979; Huntington 1991; Linz 1990, 1993; Higley and Burton 1989; Edvarsen 1987, DiPalma 1990) and the characteristics of new political systems (Linde 2009, Koonings and Kruijt, 2002), conceptualizing political change as a short sequence of action on the part of agents or structures.

Although these theories have supplied us with complex theoretical models to diagnose the role of the state and how it adapts to shifting global realities, the elite and how it responds to the crisis of change through self-transformation and the requisites of democracy, they are tentative in their appreciation of the interaction between interpersonal rules and personal values. The assumption is that: Personal values have implications on the functioning of institutions to the same extent that institutions constrain individual actions. Therefore, this thesis addresses itself to the complex interdependency between agency and structure by examining elite’s enrolment of institutions in rendering what they do intelligible as political outcomes that is how elites work with and through institution in shaping political reality in Nigeria.

The aim is to account for the dialectical relationships[1] of agency (elites) and structure (institutions) that inform the character of social change as alternating patterns of intermittent social reorganization (Blau 1986, p. 336). This approach finds its theoretical orientation in actor-network theory (ANT) that puts structure and agency into an intimate relationship in defining how the state of affairs is fabricated, that is how political activities is actually performed (in a particular context). The inscription and enrollment of institutions by focal political actors in making practices and actions meaningful in their own context underpinned the process of translation. The translation process consists of four phases[2]: problematisation, intressement, enrollment and mobilization (Callon 1986).

It is therefore not possible to fully understand transformation and its outcome unless one sees the human─ in terms of the values of some individual—and non-human or impersonal─ in terms of the institutions (Riker 1980, p. 432) in interactional way in terms of an actor-network, with its content shaping the topography of democratization. The limit of dominant approaches to African politics stems from their insistence on treating “institution” and “actor” as separate exhaustive explanatory entities. In order to overcome this limit to understanding African politics, it is imperative to draw on Sociology of Translation (or the Actor-Network Theory) to render the interface of elite and institution available for research.

Although the actor/strategy perspective (Linz 1990, O’Donnell and Schmitter 1986, Linz and Stepan 1996, DiPalma 1990, Edvardsen 1997), and the politico-institutional approach (Almond and Verba 1965, Lipset 1959, Bratton and van de Walle 1997), follow in their core arguments that political variables such as leadership and institutional structures are prime determinants in shaping the process of political transition and reify the importance of agency or structures in the socio-political change process, they have only been able to provide us with analyses that suggest actors or structures impact the transition process without an explanation of the complex interdependency between the humans and the institutional structures that define the character of socio-political change.

In postulating an interactional perspective, the content of the outcome of a particular transition process is defined through the interaction process of the “elites” and “institutions”. In this viewpoint, the focal actor mobilizes, mediates and enrolls institutions in the processes of achieving a desired political change, and hence political change, in terms of values and social and political formations, is constantly produced at every point of the resolution of controversies. Clemens and Cook have noted that scholars have recognized the interrelationship of political actors and institutions and have attempted to conceptualize it through the structuration theory (1999, p. 442).

To the extent that democracy functions, it has to be viewed through the ways actions and words produce it as reality and on the basis of how political activities that made it up are performed rather than as a theory of government applicable in practice. Accordingly, the human and the non-human forces that influence social decisions are submitted as necessary conditions that define the character of socio-political transformation[3], since neither force is sufficient.

In order to analyze socio-political transformation as a social outcome, which is shaped by heterogeneous societal forces, this thesis sets out to reconstruct political relations as “spaces of negotiation” – a configuration of the relations between values of some individuals and institutions – and how it defines the latent and manifest nature of socio-political transformation. In this attempt, I draw on the actor-network theory (ANT) to outline the human element (i.e. old-guard autocrats)[4] and the non-human elements (institutions)[5] – although both seems to operate in their respective spaces, they are inevitably interwoven in their functioning – as a gathering of collectives that have some degree of influence on and input into the content of social output (democracy).

In analyzing democratization process as complex interaction of human and non-human agencies, the aim of this thesis is threefold: My first analytical focus accounts for the human and non-human dimensions of the actor networks[6]. The human elements, who are the focal actors, manipulate the other elements by translating their will into its own ways. In other words, I address how “old-guard autocrats” try to dress up in new democratic clothes – a new style of political participation – by capturing active political positions and creating their own clientelistic networks. This begs two questions: (a) how do they build those networks; and (b) what are their impacts on democracy?

The analytical focus on the non-human elements springs from the latter question and hence addresses the inscription of institutions in actor-network. The symmetrical relationship of the “old-guard autocrats” (agency) and the institutions (structures) leads us to the second goal of this study, which is how the focal actor is manipulating the institutions, that is the non-human elements, in the protection of its interest. Bruno Latour describes this process as inscription (1988, 1992). This part explains how the “conservative orders” preserve themselves in a system (democracy) that is in the first instance expected to be “populist” in nature. How do the “old-guard autocrats” work with and through institutions in a “democracy”?

As an outcome of the content of the human and institutional forces, democracy in post-colonial African states is understood as a site for production and resolution of political tensions. This dissertation, using the actor-network theory (ANT), approaches democratization from this perspective─ a perspective that sees neither force as sufficient for illustrating the nature of a democracy. It is an approach that draws almost equally on methodological traditions in the social sciences that emphasize institutions, on the one hand, and on the other, those that emphasize individual values as determinants of social outcomes. Riker states that, “the emphasis on institution is our classical heritage”[7], while the emphasis on individual values finds it root in our Christian heritage (1980, p. 432).

In the sense of aligning these two traditions, the argument establishes how the contents of institutions, as well as that of the elite, determine the transitory nature of transformation. At its core therefore, this thesis provides an exclusive account of democracy by paying attention to the network dynamics of the human and non-human elements in the social system.

Therefore, emphasis is laid on what I described as a residue of authoritarianism, i.e. the “old-guard autocrats” (being the human force), in Nigeria’s elite-driven transition to democracy as simply a part of the network elements (the others being the non-human elements) that informs and shapes the democratization in the country. The motive is to make a full statement of social causation that includes them both. In achieving this objective, the ANT offers the necessary theoretical and methodological tools to carry out the symmetry.

In this regard, the ANT, as a theory, provides us with a lens to illuminate our understanding of the relationships between the ‘actants’ (i.e., both human and non-human) in Nigeria’s democratization. The idea is to follow the ways in which actors[8], both human and non-human, define the nexus between the social and the political in the transformation from the old to the new regime. As such, the ANT serves a dual purpose; first, it will enable us to rethink the very idea of democratic transition as a domain of the political distinct from the social constitution of the society. Second, it will make clearer the importance of the two societal forces as necessary condition for social outcome, since neither force is a sufficient condition (Riker 1980, p. 432).

As a shift from the agency/structure dualism, the third aim of this thesis is to analyze how political transition is actually performed in Nigeria. Looking particularly at the dialectical relationship of agency and structure, this section addresses itself to how they define the nature of democratization. The structures are explored at the macro and the meso analytical levels while the agency is explored at the micro-analytical level. It thus adopts the socio-technical perspective in accounting for these levels of the transitioning process. By analyzing political transition as a complex adaptive process of change, this section embraces the fluidity of ANT and explores the process of democratization as performed phenomena.

This study therefore sheds clearer light on the actors, actions and social relations as they define socio-political transformation as an ongoing process in Nigeria. To use Carrigan’s and Mills’ term, the tenet is that the endgame is transitory (2012, p. 255). Therefore, interpersonal rules, that is, institutions, must affect social outcomes just as much as personal values, that is, the influence of a few elites. Interpersonal rules and personal values are societal forces[9] that affect one another, and their contents define the latent and manifest nature of any social outcome.

By exploring how phenomenon such as democratization is produced and reproduced through networks of elites and institutions, and how this phenomenon also shapes its human and non-human components in return, this study goes beyond explanations that limit democratic transitions to a sort of linear “teleological” analysis.[10] Therefore, the ANT, as it is used here, provides a valuable framework for the empirical analysis of the social phenomenon of democratic transitioning insofar as it involves networks of heterogeneous actors which condition social decisions.

1.1 Working Hypotheses

1) The “spaces of negotiation” condition the nature of socio-political transformation.

The “spaces of negotiation” comprises the social forces that have an impact on social outcomes. A “space of negotiation” is a configuration of the relations between the two main societal forces – values of a few individuals and institutions. Neither of these forces is sufficient for defining the latent and manifest nature of a social outcome, such as socio-political transformation. Rather, they are both necessary conditions for a social outcome. See diagram 3 for an account of the relationship between the spaces of negotiation and socio-political transformation.

2) Socio-political transformation is as infinite as the “spaces of negotiation”.

The “spaces of negotiation” is perpetually defined by the actors’ interests ─ a variable that cannot be held constant. The content of a social outcome continuously gets redefined as long as the actors in the political space keep seeking a better deal, which is a common phenomenon in multi-ethnic transitioning countries, creating unstable political interests among groups. The relationships between agency and institution become dialectics as they keep reproducing themselves at every point of resolving any controvercies.

In the next section, I offered a brief account of the background that creates a condition for the focal actor, which is the “old-guard autocrat”, as a collective human element that can influence the outcome of a social decision in Nigeria. It is submitted as an important human element that affects the content of socio-political transformation – socio-political transformation is viewed here as the outcome of the content of the two main forces, i.e. the values of some individuals and institutions that shape people’s behavior in Nigeria. In ANT terms, this is the obligatory passage point (OPP)[11] - a situation that has to occur for the actors to satisfy the interest that has been attributed to them by the focal actor. The ability of the “old-guard autocrats” to manipulate other elements of the network to ensure they are in line with its interest is further explained in this section.

1.2 Obligatory Passage Point (OPP): The “old guard autocrats”

With the end of the Cold War in 1989, Africa marked the beginning of new, but still uncertain, and only gradually emerging prospects for an African political and economic renaissance (Harbeson 2009, p. 4). The global decline in the number of autocratic regimes coincided with the rise of a new world order after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Cold War. This world order – which has often been referred to as globalization – privileges democracy over any other forms of governance.

The idea that democracy spreads[12] alongside economic liberalization has been widely adopted by many countries in Africa. Although, most of these countries have not measured up completely in practicing democratic principles and liberal ideals (Linde 2009, Carothers 2002, Diamond 2002, 2005), the establishment of democratic political systems in these nations symbolized the post-Cold War social and political renaissance in Africa. Therefore, the post-Cold War opening of the political space through the reintroduction of competitive elections has served as the catalyst for social, political and elite transformation in many African states.

In Nigeria, as in most of the transitioning African countries, the combinations of external and internal conditions led to the process of democratic transitioning in the 1990s. The external environment as a result of the global spread of democracy led to the intensification of local campaigns[13] for democratic government. The combined pressure on the then military government culminated in the transition to democracy which climaxed with the aborted third republic, aptly described in literature as the ‘transition without end’ (Diamond et al, 1997) or ‘permanent transition’ (Lewis, 1999).

With the widespread disenchantment with military rule, and national unity fractured by ethnic, regional and religious divisions, the nation was at the brink of collapse during the Abacha years[14]. It was therefore a necessity to transition from military rule to democracy. The transition was initiated during the Abacha years, but was completed by Abdul Salam Abubakar following the death of the former. The sudden death of General Abacha in 1998 and “the emergence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar as the new head of state served as the catalyst for the country’s return to democratization” (Badmus 2005, p. 60-61).

This necessity for democratization enabled the military’s pact to transition to democracy. Accordingly, eight months prior to the dawn of the twenty-first century, the military led transition to democracy had been completed and power was handed over to the newly elected democratic government. The pacted nature of the transition in 1999 makes the “old-guard autocrats” an important feature of the transition. By means of their role and stake in the transition, they have become an “obligatory passage point (OPP)” in any analysis of socio-political transformation in Nigeria. They were indispensable in the process of democratic transition in that they defined the process of action (or rather the other actors) in democratic transformation.

In light of this, the post-Cold War social, economic and political formation in Nigeria was deeply entrenched in the country’s history of military rule[15]. As a result, the dynamics of post-authoritarian social and political transformation in the country were largely influence by the “old-guard autocrats” who had held political office during military rule and most of whom are now in active politics. Therefore, the existence of “old-guard autocrats” in positions of political power is a significant feature of the contemporary Nigerian political system.

Arising from the need to protect their vested political and economic interests and to remain dominant and influential in the polity, ex-generals, most of whom had held political offices during military rule, frequently entered politics[16] (Badmus 2005, p. 56, Obi 2004, 2008, p. 326). This condition portrays a seeming fusion of politically and economically dominant classes. “Amza Alavi discuses a ‘bureaucratic-military oligragy’ which has an independence supported by an autonomous material base and which performs a mediating role between the rival demands of three propertied social classes” (See, Rothchild and Olorunsola 1983, p. 3).

With representation in key positions in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government and in political parties, the “old-guard autocrats” in politics have become part of the imperative agent of social and political transformation, particularly through clientelism.[17] As part of the wider patron-client relations networks (god-father/god-son phenomenon) in the polity, the networks of the “old-autocrats” is part of the heterogeneous network that influences the outcome of social decisions. The concern here is directed toward the need for socio-political transformation in the polity.

Being the human element, I ascribed to the “old-guard autocrat” a status as the focal actor. The other actants, i.e. institutions, in the actor-network include the subject (democracy), and the object (patron-client politics and power-sharing institution). The respective networks of these actors are described from the perspective of the structural explanation of actor-network analysis. Network research embraces a distinctive perspective that focuses on relations among actors, whether they are individuals, work units or organizations. According to the network perspective, actors[18] are embedded within networks of interconnected relationships that provide opportunities for and constrain behavior (Brass, Galaskiewicz, Greve, and Tsai 2004, p. 795).

In light of this perspective, the political and social influence being pursued and practiced by the old-guard politicians through various alternative strategies and actions not only forms part of the structures that support the national unity but also impacts the important process of transitioning from the ancien régime[19] to the prevailing order (democracy).

This is neither to overblow the importance of this set of elites nor to view this as a cohesive force with defined objectives, but rather to see their existential role as part of the national management of diversity. In Nigeria, elite status depends primarily on the position and wealth its possessor. These ex-generals came into their power positions and their accumulated wealth during military rule, in the social structure. “Pareto stressed the ‘order’ or ‘system’ of elites and how it often overrides the ‘conscious will’ of individual elite members in shaping their actions” (Higley and Bratton 2006, p.8). As argued by Wright Mills (1956), a small group of very powerful individuals represent the “power elite”.[20]

Therefore, the indirect consequence of political and social influence of the “old-guard autocrats” on the system is the relatively stable democratic process. The “old-guard autocrats” are a part of the agencies of political and social transformation toward grounding liberal political and social systems in the polity. For the time being, this will remain so.

The structure of ego-centered networks of retired military officers in politics supported a pattern of patrimonialism which informed the dynamics of political and social relationships between elites. This is explained in chapter five of this thesis in terms of the politics of affect. The “old-guard autocrats” in politics therefore do not only present a case for the transformation of former military elites who are part of the ancien régime to democrats, but as actors, they play crucial roles in the creation of an actor-network that defines the sociopolitical transformation process in the country.

Therefore, in contrast to most submissions that the influx of retired military officers in politics is more or less the imposition of new dictatorship in the form of de-democratization (Mormoh, A. 2006), the civilianization of the retired military elite (Obi, 2004) or the simplified normative assessment of retired military officers as prominent in the contemporary Nigerian socio-political scene (Adekanye, B. 1999, Walker, J. 1999; Fayemi K.J. 2003, Ajayi, A. 2007, Agbese, D. 2000), this dissertation divulges from these by highlighting the strong relationship between this group of elites (as the human actants), institutions (non human actants) and the socio-political transformation in the polity. This analysis of the embedding of human and non-human actors in the transitioning process, the ANT’s concept of irreversibility, (Walsham, 1997) is performed in the sixth chapter.

In this chapter, I also draw on the analytical framework of patronage politics to explain the linkages between the elites and the socio-political transformation process. The former military officers who are now politicians offer an avenue to explain the linkages between the elites and the social structure. In other words, the movement from military rule (non-democratic society) to a consolidated democratic regime opened up the national political space and exposed the electorate to the politics of patronage democracies.

While, as it is argued in chapter five, their networks that cut across various ethnic groups in the polity is an attempt to balance competing interests and maintain the status quo, this argument is reinforced by the analysis of the ways it nurtures a form of solidarity (analyzed as affective solidarity) among these group that allows political clients to build personalized linkages to powerful superiors while at the same time developing generic attachments through ethnic affiliations to supportive inferiors.

Therefore, by embracing the actor-network approach in the macro analysis of socio-political transformation in Nigeria, this study moves beyond “empathy as a privileged way of connecting with others”[21], to affective transformation. From this perspective, affective politics becomes a necessary mechanism for the politics of change to influence others to bring about the desired socio-political transformation.

Brass et al. (2004) argue that from a network perspective on power and influence, actors in central network positions have greater access to, and potential control over, relevant resources. Arts and Verschuren (1999) argue that one reason to assess the political influence of actors concerns the division of influence among stakeholders in decision-making. According to them, such knowledge makes it possible to test the premise of democracy: whether the making of decisions in all kinds of organizations is truly democratic in nature or is dominated by one or a few elites (Dahl, 1961; Hunter, 1953; Mills, 1956 in Arts and Verschuren 1999, p. 411-412).

By analysing the “old-guard autocrats” as a collective which constitutes a focal actor in the heterogeneous actor-network of human and non-human elements – the non-human elements involve democracy as an institution, its objects such as power-sharing and clientelistics politics, coalition formation and interest groups, and the relational factors like cleavages and geopolitical division – the task of identifying all of the heterogeneous elements, which is known as the problem of selection in actor-network theory, has been overcome. The focal actor provides us with a crucial clarifying factor for explaining the actor-networks in a socio-political transitional setting.

1.3 Organization of Chapters

This dissertation is organized into seven chapters. The first part, which is this introduction, establishes the research territory by discussing the background and establishing the areas of focus. The research hypothesis is also stated there.

The second part reviews what is already known about democracy and approaches to democratization. The aim of the chapter is to review, critique, and synthesize representative literature on democracy and democratization in a formerly authoritarian state. It thus addresses the question of how and why post-colonial society installed and consolidated a “not fully democratic” and “not fully authoritarian” method of government. The chapter is organized into five sections. The first part introduces the chapter. The second section offers the theoretical perspectives on classical democracy terminology. This is followed by the contemporary conceptualization of democracy. The fourth part is an analysis of the major approaches to democratization. The last part discourses the paradox of democracy as it relates to this society.

The third chapter includes the theoretical considerations. In this section, I present an account of work on actor-network theory or the sociology of translation and its applicability to this study. I examine the actor-network theory (ANT) as a framework for analysing the established relationships of equivalence between human agency and the established structural patterns of behavior toward political transition. This enables an analysis of a socio-technical process of transformation, in chapter six, in which institutions forge the political culture and values through which actors seek to translate themselves in the process of democratization.

In the fourth chapter, the methods of research are clearly presented. As a result of its importance to this study, it is divided into segments for the purpose of structured analysis. There are six sections in all. I introduce the chapter in the first section, the next segment is about epistemological and ontological aspects and then this is followed by an explanation of the rationale behind the actor network analysis. I further provide a clear analysis of the process of conducting the study that includes an outline of the research hypothesis and an actor-network approach that depicts the “old-guard autocrats” in politics. I proceed to explain the research plan and instrumentation, and this also includes the process of data collection. The last section of the chapter is the conclusion.

The fifth section is a systematic analysis of the actants, i.e. both human and non-human elements of the network, so as to unambiguously illustrate its use in the context of transformation. I analyse, in the first part of the chapter, the importance of “political affect” in understanding the influx of retired military officers in politics. I argue that the participation of “old-guard autocrats” is mainly driven by affect, thus affective solidarity. The “affective solidarity” further enables the conceptualization of the “old-guard autocrats” as actors in the actor-network.

In the second part, I perform an analysis of the inscription of the non-human actor (institutions) in the network. Here, the institutional arrangements are explored as the structural and cultural substances which have an impact on socio-political transformation. The focal actor inscribes and enrolls institutions in the actor-network by manipulating them to do its will, which highlights the importance of the agency of non-human actors in a socio-political transition.

In the sixth section, I extend the analysis in chapter five to wholly describe the democratization neither as evolutionary progress in a straight line nor as recurring cycles but rather as alternating patterns of intermittent social reorganization along different lines (Blau, 1986, p. 336). In doing this, I illustrate that very political transition in Nigeria, by way of positioning it for analysis as a complex adaptive process of structural change. It is an ingenious approach of applying the theoretical analysis of the complex adaptive system to a socio-technical account of transition. The section provides an in-depth analysis of the actor-networks to make clearer the impact of these two social forces on social outcomes.

In the conclusion, I restate the thesis that personal values have implications for the functioning of institutions as much as the institution constrains individual actions so as to drive home the main point one last time. This is followed by a summary section, where I present a synopsis of the argument that in every social interaction, there is the humanistic and non-humanistic aspect that shapes such interaction. The chapter is rounded up with a brief discussion of the implication of this research for democracy promotion. In this regard, I introduce a brief argument on the possibility of democracy in post-colonial societies.

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This literature review addresses the following question: why do states, such as Nigeria, remain a hybrid somewhere between democracy and dictatorship? That is, operating a “not fully democratic” and “not fully authoritarian” method of government. The aim is to review, critique, and synthesize representative literature on democracy and democratization approaches. It therefore extends a little beyond what is already known about the subject matter in order to examine why many states in Africa are comfortable being “not fully democratic” and “not fully authoritarian”.

The process of democratization, and its consolidation, in post-colonial societies as argued by several students of society and democracy building practitioners, is a progress towards a very good outcome. This implies that democratic government predetermined the delivery of the necessary “public goods” by leaders in transitioning societies─ the more economic progress and the higher the level of satisfaction of the basic human need, the more the people seek political participation. Basically, the argument of the Westphalia institutions is that democracy fosters development.

The notion that democracy fosters development, and consequently social stability, in post-colonial societies is therefore rooted in the Western imaginaries of the liberal-democratic model to which these societies must aspire. This is the idea behind the post-Cold War democracy promotion agenda. Following from the history of democratization, democracy spreads in Western Europe and the Americas with the idea being that development leads to democracy. The end of colonization ushered a period of transition and democratization in the 50s and 60s on the African continent and elsewhere.

The third phase has been widely studied through the Third Wave democratization as conceptualized by Huntington. This phase heralded a period whereby the word democracy was combined with several adjectives depending on the scholar and the choice of word (see Collier and Levisky’s Democracy with Adjectives). This is particularly the case because of the variations in democracy in many contemporary states. This, albeit, is not unconnected to relationship between the state and society. As I shall argue in the conclusion of this thesis, the trajectory of democratic political development is subject to the relationship between state and society. In this argument, the method used for the creation of a state has significant implications for the profound character of the state-society relationship which in turn defines the trajectory and nature of its democracy.

In other words, I buttress the thesis’ hypotheses in the submission that the “spaces of negotiation”, which is a configuration of the relations between the two main societal forces, values some few individuals and institutions and has a profound impact on the nature of democracy in a polity. As a product of “groups associational style”, the character of the state-society relationship has a strong bearing on, and basically “gives a face” to, a style of democracy. The liberal democratic model, in any event, requires national unity in multi-ethnic post-colonial states.

The purpose of an analysis of the state-society relationship is to explain why countries such as Nigeria fall in the “gray zone” (Freedom House Annual Index) or are classified as being a “defective democracy” (Bathelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index). It has the potential to contribute to the potential reconceptualization of democracy in this category of states as studies continue to expand in this direction. This section therefore offers an account of the political transformation that occurs at the intersection of two broad scholarly conversations: theories on state formation (state-building process) and democratization studies.

In the following literature review, I organized the chapter into two sections. The first is an examination of the concept of democracy and approaches to democratization. I explored the classical democracy terminology and the contemporary conceptualization of the concepts. In the second part of the chapter, I dealt with the structural, contingent and international[22] approaches to democratization. The segment provides an analysis of each of the approaches in order to contextualize democratization in post-colonial societies in terms of the dominant orthodoxy.

By exploring the perspectives on democracy from the classical period to the contemporary time, approaches to democratization and democratic consolidation in a post-colonial society, this section shall provide a rich analysis of co-founding problematic elements in political development in post-colonial African societies. Hence, it appraises that it is the historical legacies that condition transformative political development within such societies.

2.1 Perspectives on Democracy: The Classical Democracy Terminology

The nineteenth-century philosophy of democracy derives from the model of Athenian democracy that was developed in the Greek city states. The word democracy itself emerges from two Greek words, one, the “Demo”, and the other “Cratos”. The “Demo” means the people, while “Cratos” means government in Ancient Greek respectively.

Basically, the democracy concept literarily means “people’s government”, that is the government of the people. In other words, it entails that the people take part in every decision that concerns the populace. It should however be noted that the citizens of the old-Athenian nation state were not very large proportion of the population which enable the practice of this form of governance.

Although the gradual evolution of democratic practice from appointment based representatives of leading families in the Greek city states to well organized, seemingly mass-democratic patterns of relationships between the rulers and the ruled has grown over the years, its basic classical tenet, which is the people selecting their rulers (or representatives), is still maintained. The unsuccessful attempts by Cylon – around 620s or 630s – to make himself a tyrant resulted in unrest that led to the killings of his supporters by the people who supported authorities against him (Rhodes 2004, p. 2). This triggered a wave of events that enabled Solon (between 594/3) to formulate the first written law in Athens (Ibid, p. 2) and a foundation for representative rule.

However, Solon attempts, through the promulgation of laws, to lessen leaders’ control of the people did not satisfy many of the leading families in the polies. Hence, Athens was later to be ruled by a succession of tyrants until Ephialtes transferred to more representative bodies judicial powers of political significance about 500 years after Solon’s attempts from the council of Areopagus (a body comprising former holders of the office of archon, earlier the most important office in Athenw) (Rhodes 2004, p. 2). The first sign of demo-kratia appeared around this time and was subsequently built upon by Athens, imposing democratic constitutions on some members of its alliance.

The Greek world therefore emerged from small communities which commonly took the form of poleis (singular polis), that is city states, based on a town and the land surrounding it (Rhodes 2004, p. 1). Although small polis tended to coalesce to form large polis though a process called synoecism (Ibid, p. 1), their loyalty and desire for local autonomy often remained strong. The Greek polis might have been initially ruled by kings, whose families emerged successfully from the “dark age”, but this rule by kings was soon to give way to rule by officials appointed annually from privileged families (Ibid, p. 1).

This early democratic method was based as far as possible on active involvement of the citizens (Rhodes 2004, p. 1), that is, the assumption that everyone has to participate in controlling the public’s affairs (Schumpeter 2003, p. 5). Democracy is seen, from this perspective, as “that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions which realizes the common good by making the people itself decides issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble to carry out its will” (Schumpeter 2003, p. 5).

- According to this philosophy, the classical democratic doctrine rests on two pillars, the “common good” and the “will of the people”. These two democratic elements, as it was assumed by the philosophers of the day, are pertinent to the democratic method. Everyone is assumed to know the “common good” and to accept it as a social fact. Therefore, a common ethics of the poli, which is arrived at through the acceptance by all of the common good, can be described, from this perspective, as the common public good of the society.
- Rhonheimer, in the spirit of modern political thought, argues this from two points of view, that is, the integral common good and the political common good (Murphy, Jr., 2013, p. 22). The integral common good is determined from the political praxis itself and related to the classical democracy “common good”, whereas the political common good, according to him, can be differentiated from the classical democracy philosophy of the “common good” (Ibid, p. 22).

The classical democracy philosophers, according to Schumpeter, held that there exists a common good, the obvious beacon light of policy, which is always simple to define and which every normal person can be made to see by means of rational argument (2003, p. 5). By accepting the “common good” the people are assumed to take it as their responsibility in furtherance of the “common good” and hence everyone participates in public affairs.

Since the common good is also the will of the people, it is therefore necessary for the people to appoint some specialists– through popular election– to handle the management of public affairs (Schumpeter 2003, p. 5). In other words, the people entrust representatives to do so on their behalf under a condition of sufficient information to determine the right person to select through voting. “The claim connecting democracy with representation is that under a democracy governments are representative because they are elected” (Manin et al 1999, p. 1). Modern democratic theorists have actually accounted for two views on representation and election: the mandate and the accountability views.[23]

It is therefore assumed that the politicians will represent the interests of everyone, since they are assumed to implement the “common good” which is the will of the people. The only thing that can bring about opposition is the ways in which the common itself (or the will of the people) can be achieved (Schumpeter 2003, p. 5). These the representatives are supposed to resolve through deliberations by selecting the most suitable method for achieving what is deemed to be in the best interest of the people.

In this regard, the “common good” is immediately coterminous with the interest and happiness of the people. John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth century philosopher, relates this idea of the “common good” to his utilitarian thesis. John Stuart Mill proposes a moral principle that is based on the realization of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of the people. He submits that, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Brandt 1992, p. 129).

However, Schumpeter criticizes this assumption by associating the classical theory of democracy with a naïve and optimistic view of the ordinary citizens (Zakaras 2009, p.7). He further argues that no common good can be agreed on by the force of rational arguments among the people because individual wants may be different from one another. As such, common good cannot imply equally definite answers to individual issues (Schumpeter 2003, p. 6).

Despite the difficulties of appropriating a definitive common good to every individual citizen, democracy has triumphed as a concept for organising relations between the rulers and the ruled. It has been the most dominant and acceptable form of government among committees of nations. But the dominance of democracy as a form of government is not unconnected to the collapse of the two principal forms of government, i.e. monarchy and aristocracy, hitherto in competition with democracy. These systems were subdued by the force of the spread of democracy in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, which was largely aided by the vigorous and forceful expansion of capitalism into the non-Europeans regions of the world.

Tariq Amin-Khan recently argues that the post-colonial state, as a proto capitalist state, has been the key mechanism in the global south domination (internally, by undermining civil-societies and externally, by facilitating its imperialist domination) such that its populace remains largely fragmented and powerless as it is forced to yield to a unified front in the form of a mobile metropolitan capital that has the support of Western and client post-colonial states (2012, p.11-12). Therefore, the post-colonial state is now a proto-capitalist state, weak in the sense of their client status under the current orthodoxy and strong vis-à-vis its own populace in enforcing the neo-liberal shift in state and society (Ibid, p.10). Democracy, as one of the major current global orthodoxies, is seen here as a mechanism for coercing the Global South to enhance capitalism.

The practice of democracy presently is different from the way it was practiced in the ancient Athenian nation state. This is because, unlike the relatively small citizenry in proportion to population, the modern state is vastly bigger in terms of population and territory. Despite this fact, the understanding of the concepts in a very general way as “rule by the people” is a common element to all usage of the word and claims a long heritage, stretching back to the classical age (Coppedge et al. 2011, p. 247). Therefore, it has continued to be inextricably linked to the acquisition of power, which means the electorates have granted the authority and the right to act on their behalf to a few people who are seen as representing the nations’ sovereignty.

It has thus received signficant attention among modern philosophers, as both a concept and method of governance. As a guiding word for political analysis and practice, it has therefore become one of the most important buzzwords since the middle of the last century. In the next section, I will explore its conceptualization at it relates to the modern states.

2.2 Contemporary Democracy Conceptualization

Despite the fact that classical and modern philosophers have been analyzing and recording their observations on the nature of democracy and democratic society for many centuries, there has not been one single universally accepted definition of the concepts. However, the age-old debates over the meaning of democracy boil down to two core definitional issues: the first pertains to the nature of democracy, whether it is distinguished according to the form of its procedures or the substance of its results; the second involves the minimal set of essential requirements for a nation to warrant being called democratic (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997, p. 12).

In its procedural terms, there is a remarkable consensus on the minimal condition for a polity to merit the appellation of “democratic” (Schmitter and Karl 1991, p. 76). As standard conditions have to be met before a country can be described as democratic, the procedural meaning of democracy has gained momentum since the late 1970s, when “Third Wave” democratization began. As a result, the “Third Wave” democratic transition has provided a convergence towards a common definition of democracy (Ibid, p. 75).

In modern history, as described by Huntington, there have been three basic periods of democratization (1991). He argues that the first wave was during the period of European and North American democratization (Ibid, p. 21). Although this wave lost its momentum between World War I and World War II, the end of World War II ushered in the second wave when many of the former colonies regained their political independence. Democracy was, however, shortlived in many of these colonies as dictators seized political power shortly after their national political independence. The “Third Wave”, as he argues, began in Portugal following the military revolution that eventually created a space for democratic endeavors in Portugal in the mid 1970s (Huntington 1991, p. 21). This event inaugurated the wave of regime changes that dominated the last quarter of twentieth century and still persist today.

The conceptualization of democracy in a procedural manner fits the framework of either the minimalist or maximalist connotations. According to Munck and Vercuilen, the tendency to specify the meaning of a concept in a way that includes too many attributes—the problem of maximalist definitions—has two potential drawbacks (2002, p.9). “On one hand, the sheer overburdening of a concept may decrease its usefulness by making it a concept that has no empirical referents. On the other, even if a concept is defined in such a way that empirical instances can be found, maximalist definitions tend to be so overburdened as to be of little analytical use” (Ibid, p. 9).

- In the process of avoiding the problem of maximalist definitions[24], the minimalist form usually takes the form of a moderate approach to defining democracy, which has the obvious advantage of making it easy to find instances of a concept and allowing for the study of numerous empirical questions (Munck and Vercuilen 2002, p. 9). However, minimalism also has its own drawbacks. “Indeed, if a concept is so minimalist that all cases automatically become instances, researchers must add attributes to a concept as a way to give it more content and thus better address relevant theoretical concerns and discriminate among cases” (Ibid, p. 9). Pippas Norris (2008, p. 59) summarizes it thusly:
- …tensions exist in the literature. Minimalist approaches emphasize the values of reliability and consistency, but at the expense of potentially omitting vital components of democratic regimes and thus misclassifying types of regimes. Maximalist approaches prioritize using richer and more comprehensive multiple indicators, but with the danger of relying upon softer data and less rigorous categories. Both these approaches are common in the research where there have been multiple attempts to measure democracy indeed a recent review noted almost four-dozen separate indicators of democratic performance, differing in their geographic and temporal scope.
- Consequently, approaches that are commonly used in the comparative and international literatures in conceptualizing and measuring democracies are mostly derived from the classifications of some notable organizations such as the Freedom House, Polity IV Project, the Vanhanen scaled measure of democracy, the Good Governance model, a binary measure of democracy and dictatorship (“DD”) constructed by Adam Przeworski and colleagues, a binary measure constructed by Michael Bernhard, Timothy Nordstrom, and Christopher Reenock (“BNR”), and the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (“BTI”). “These approaches are either dichotomous classifications (such as the Przeworski categorization) or graded measures (such as the 20-point Polity index)” (Norris (2008, p. 56).

Table 1:A Framework for the Analysis of Data: Conceptualization, Measurement, and Aggregation

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Munck and Vercuilen 2002, p. 8

The above framework, according to Munck and Vercuilen, provides “both a significant contribution to methodological literatures and a fruitful way to structure our assessment of data sets on democracy” (2002, p. 7). They state that quantitative researchers have paid sparse attention to the quality of data on democracy that they analyze, therefore bringing about a need for a comprehensive and integrated framework for the analysis of data on democracy.

However, it is clear that the methodological problems affecting contemporary indices begin at the level of definition. “Since definitional consensus is necessary for obtaining consensus over measurement, the goal of arriving at a universally accepted summary measure of democracy may be illusory” (Coppedge et al 2011, p. 249).

Dahl’s (1971, pp. 4-6) influential insight that democracy consists of two attributes— contestation or competition and participation or inclusion—has done much to ensure that these measures of democracy are squarely focused on theoretically relevant attributes (Munck and Vercuilen 2002, p. 9). From Dahl’s perspective ideal democracy is embodied in two intrinsic elements that tends to view the concept in the widest sense of it namely political rights and opportunities and political participation in the polity. According to Schmitter and Karl, Dahl has offered the most generally accepted listing of the procedural minimal conditions that must be present for modern political democracy:

1) Control over government decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in elected officials.
2) Elected officials are chosen in frequent and fairly conducted elections in which coercion is comparatively uncommon.
3) Practically all adults have the right to vote in the election of officials.
4) Practically all adults have the right to run for elective offices in the government.
5) Citizens have a right to express themselves without the danger of severe punishment on political matters broadly defined.
6) Citizens have a right to seek out alternative sources of information. Moreover, alternative sources of information exist and are protected by law.
7) .Citizens also have the right to form relatively independent associations or organizations, including independent political parties and interest groups.

Schmitter and Karl state that these seven conditions seem to capture the essence of procedural democracy for many theorists (1991, p. 81). Munck and Vercuilen observe that most constructors of indices subscribe to a procedural definition of democracy (2002, p. 9)[25]. Schmitter and Karl however propose to add two others. The first might be thought of as a further refinement of the first item (1), while the second might be called an implicit prior condition to all seven of the above.

8) Popularly elected officials must be able to exercise their constitutional powers without being subjected to overriding (albeit informal) opposition from unelected officials.

9) The polity must be self-governing; it must be able to act independently of constraints imposed by some other overarching political system (Schmitter and Karl 1981, p. 81).

Dahl’s conceptualization and measurement of democratic regimes have received widespread acclaim but empirical indicators attempting to measure polyarchy have employed alternative indicators of participation and contestation, and not all studies have treated both components with equal weight (Norris 2008, p. 58). Dahl submits that polyarchies use competitive multiparty elections to fill offices for the national legislature and the chief executive (Dahl’s (1971, pp. 4-6). Contests in this type of regime are free and fair, with an inclusive suffrage allowing widespread voting participation among all citizens, and citizens have the unrestricted right to compete for elected offices (Norris 2008, p. 58).

Norris concludes that levels of democracy can be gauged through the monitoring of equal opportunities for political participation, the channels of expression available through a free press, freedom of organization and assembly for opposition movements, a universal franchise for all adult citizens, as well the institutions of the rule of law and an independent judiciary, a functioning and effective bureaucracy, and the protection of civil liberties. The aim is to include all the relevant aspects of contestation and participation (Norris 2008, p. 78).

In surveying the literature, Coppedge et al (2011, p. 253) identify six key models that seems paramount in the conceptualization of democracy. They are summarized as electoral, liberal, majoritarian, participatory, deliberative and egalitarian (Ibid, p. 253). With each of these models representing what the rule of the people means in a democracy, no single conception of democracy can reasonably embody all of its meanings (Ibid, p. 253). This is summarized in the table below:

Table 2: Conceptions of democracy

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Adapted from Coppedge et al 2011, p. 253.

From the foregoing, it is appropriate to submit that modern liberal democracy consists of three fundamental main features, which are participation, competition and rights. It is a dominant orthodoxy that seeks an untainted democratic method of government that has come to be generally acceptable as a benchmark for measuring good governance. Conceptually, therefore, the establishment of a viable democracy is increasingly seen as a product of strategic interactions and arrangements between political elites, conscious choices among various types of constitutions, and electoral and party systems (Shin 1994, p. 139).

Although recent empirical research on democratization favors a procedural or minimalist conception of democracy over a substantive or maximalist conception which embraces concepts such as economic equality and social justice, it has yet to be explained why democracy in some countries has not been consolidated.

As I shall later expatiate in the conclusion, there is a need to understand why a large number of countries (namely in Africa) not only fall in the “grey zone” ─ Freedom House annual index ─ or “defective democracy” ─ Bathelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index─ but why they remain there comfortably.

2.3 Approaches to democratization

Interestingly, democracy began to flourish in Western Europe only after 1945, although attempts at democratic governance dated back to decades before this time. Even after 1945, in Spain, Portugal and Greece, right-wing dictatorships prevailed and a socialist Eastern Europe supervened (Eley 2002, p. 3) for many years after World War II. It was not until democratic polities were finally created in those regions subsequent to the end of the Cold War that democracy became a European reality.

By applying the modern conceptualization of democracy, according to table 2 above, one can argue that democracy in Europe is also a modern phenomenon– one that has gradually evolved to what it is today. Even though the full practice of democracy in Europe is a recent phenomenon, the European settlers in America and European ideas can be significantly credited for the emergence of democracy in the United States.

- On the other side of the Atlantic, as stated above, surprisingly, the root of democracy is partially traceable to the European settlers who sought in the New World a freedom which was denied to them in the Old (Becker 2001, p. 6). In this world, they found the liberty that they could not express in the old world, which was restrained by the traditional, legal and conventional norms of the old world. “In America, they found no pope and no king, no noble lords levying tolls upon the land, no Church extracting fee from the poor [….]”, they found all the freedom of nature (Ibid, p. 6).
- However, it was as a result of the need to overcome the challenges confronted from the unregulated people’s liberty that the institution of governance and democracy eventually developed. The North Atlantic origin of democracy is therefore arguably traceable to the traditions of British decent and the Protestant religion (Lipset 1965). Whereas in ancient Europe, where popes, kings, and noble lords imposed several constraining regulations on the “have-nots”, the twin processes of the national and industrial revolution marked a reversal towards the process of democratic society (Ibid).

These processes have constituted the “critical junctures” that triggered the process of democratization in this part of the world. The industrial revolution ensured a broad based working class and the consequent demands for increased political participation. The process of national revolution was embedded in the confrontations in between the masses, mainly between the working classes or peasants and kings. They both triggered the process of party formation in Europe. The first approach to democratization could therefore be situated in classical historical macrosociology and system-building. Democratization, as described by Shin (1994, p. 143)

Democratization […] is a complex historical process, consisting of several analytically distinct but empirically over-lapping stages. In the logic of causal sequence, they may run from the decay and disintegration of an old authoritarian regime and the emergence of a new democratic system, through the consolidation of that democratic regime, to its maturity.

Samuel Huntington argues that we are now in the “Third Wave” of democratic expansion (1991). He defines the wave of democratization as a group of transitions from democratic to democratic regimes that occur within a specified period of time and that significantly outnumber transitions in the opposite direction (Huntington 1999, p.15).

The first wave of democracy was at its peak during the inter-war period, when suffrage was granted to the majority of the males in the United States. This period was characterized by democratic spirit not only in the United States, but also across the European continent. Although World War II destabilized many of these democracies, it heralded the second wave of democracy in which many African states were let loose from the power of the colonial metropolis and set up as democratic states. The second wave of democracy, therefore, followed WWII but was terminated and reversed in a rash of military coups (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997 p. 34).

In sub-Saharan Africa transition to democracy emerged from a background of relatively effective states. In this context, there have been attempts by scholars to explain the nature of democracy as practiced in this area. Scholars have analyzed these transitions from different perspectives and approaches, just as they did during the first wave of democratic transition. As was noted earlier, the second wave of democracy arrived on the African continent in the 1950s and 1960s as an accompaniment of decolonization (Southall 2003, p. 2).

The military revolution that eventually created a space for democratic endeavors in Portugal in the mid 1970s inaugurated the wave of regime changes that dominated the last quarter of the 20th century. This is the third wave of democracy, according to Huntington (1991, p. 21). Several countries, most particularly from the Southern hemisphere and the break-away states of former Soviet Union, had to transition from authoritarian and/or socialist to democratic.

Samuel Huntington had suggested that Southern Europe, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, altogether more than thirty countries, can be viewed as parts of the Global Third Wave of Democratization (1991, p. 21). He affirms that the process of globalization that began in the sixties conditioned the transition to democracy of these nations (Ibid, p. 45). Therefore, following the collapse of communism, democracy has spread to every region of the world for the first time in history.

It is important to note that democratization cannot be considered a linear process, as the process of democratization has often failed to proceed sequentially from the “first to the last stage” (Shin 1994, p. 143). Larry Diamond (1992) correctly observes that some democracies abort as soon as they emerge, while others erode as much as they consolidate. Despites this, scholars tend to agree that there are four stages of democratization: (1) decay of authoritarian rule, (2) transition, (3) consolidation, and (4) the maturing of democratic political order (Shin 1994, p. 143).

The approaches to democratization can be categorized as domestic and international. The domestic approach comprises the structural and contingent approaches.

2.3.1 Structural Approach

The early approaches to understanding democratic transition were largely subsumed under the perspectives of modernization and nationalism (Southall 2003, p. 2). Several scholars have proposed plausible deductive arguments that identify the underlying causes of democratization, most of which are correlated with the extents of societies modernization (Geddes 2007, p.319).

Seymour Martin Lipset set the pace in a classical work in 1959 when he argued that modernization caused democracy. In ever more sophisticated ways, recent scholarship has confirmed the existence of a correlation between democracy and development (Geddes 2007, p.318). As a result, much of the earlier research on third wave democratization was predicated upon the assumption that democratic change has to grow out of economic and social developments.

In this perspective, the driving forces behind systemic change (or democratization) include impersonal force, such as technological innovation and its application to production, the spread of market-based social relations, and the emergence of new social identities (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997 p.20). This approach emphasizes social and economic conditions as perquisites to democracy. It is the core contention of the mainstream scholarship of the 1960s and 1970s.

To the structuralists, the prospects for political change are embedded in the architecture of the social system (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997 p.20). This argument is seen in the work of Seymour Martin Lipset (1959), Robert Dahl (1971), Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba (1963) and Guillermo O’Donnell (1979), Barrington Moore (1966) and their contemporaries. They have all traced the source of democracy to structural changes in the society. Their work is preoccupied with the search for the necessary conditions and perquisites for the emergence of a stable democracy (Shin 1994, p. 139).

Seymour Martin Lipset and Barrington Moore contend that the formative role of economic development creates conditions conducive to having a stable elected government (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997 p.21). The early stage of economic development is manifested in rising levels of wealth and education and increasing rates of urbanization and industrialization (Ibid, p. 21). Hence Lipset’s submission that “the more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chance that it will sustain democracy” (1965, p. 75).

Based on the purchasing power parity of international dollars in 1985, Adam Przworski outlines[26] the expected life of a democracy using their per capita income (1999, p. 16). In this regard, the transition to democracy and its further consolidation are seen as a function of the extent of a country’s wealth. Growing economic development will enable the expansion of the middle class, which is vitally important for stimulating democracy and ensuring its consolidation.

In this view, the hitherto subordinate classes have acquired sufficient power, through growing wealth, education and access to information, and are able to challenge the dominant class. This pits the classes against each other, and democracy has meanwhile evolved into a process of regulating the conflict of interests. In other words, the middle class would favor their own inclusion in political decision making, hence they seek higher levels of participation because they have acquired sufficient power to do so.

The power of the middle class is an outcome of capitalist development in the society. This therefore provides the link between democratization and capitalism. Scholars have advanced arguments on the relationship between democracy and capitalism. The contributors to this debate include classical scholars such as Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, who have noted an affiliation between capitalist industrialization and political democracy. Capitalism in this sense is seen as destroying the “old” order and implanting new processes, which include institutions and relationships of power.

It is a framework for democratization that views political change from the wide-focus lens of socioeconomic structures (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997 p.22). As capitalism grows, it empowers the hitherto subordinate groups to self-organize, hence the capacity to exercise relative power through worker mobilization so as to create a balance of power.

The structuralist perspective sees the establishment of democracy largely as a result not only of favorable economic and social condition but also of a country’s cultural conditions (Edvarsen 1997, p. 213). Edvardsen (1997) explore the cultural aspect of democratic transition by arguing that the “culture of a society” is relevant for explaining the preference for a particular mode of transition.

In this regard, the level of aggregate economic development and development of mass society is not the only main determinant of democratic success (Lipset et al 1956, p. 213); certain cultural attitudes are necessary for democratic development (Almond and Verba 1965).

Edvardsen (1997) and Thompson et al (1990) have suggested that different cultures have different social preference (i.e. different preferences for how society should be organized). Hence, they argued that different cultures would have different preferences for modes of democratic transition (Edvardsen 1997, p. 216).

According to Edvardsen, “if culture generates preferences, adherents of each way of life are likely to build different models of democracy” (Ibid, p. 220). Therefore, the new regime that comes to life after a phase of transition may be said to share the culture of the preceding ancient regime or of a group of actors (Ibid, p. 220).

However, any supposed socioeconomic or “cultural” precondition of democracy is external to the dynamic political process of democratization itself (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997 p.23). As a result, structural analyses are insufficiently nuanced to explain divergent political paths (Ibid, p. 23).

2.3.2 Contingent Approaches

Following the third wave, scholars have largely examined the cause of democracy in formerly undemocratic societies through the prism of internal factors, i.e. pressures from protest movements or elites, and external forces such as globalization (Geddes 2007).

Most recent scholarship has tended to focus on the role that political leaders or strategic elites have played or should play in this process (Shin 1994, p. 139). According to this model, “variations in political outcomes are best addressed by starting with the motivation, preferences and calculation of self-interested actors” (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p. 24).

The limitation of the structural approach has been that it largely underemphasized (and underspecified) collective decisions and political interactions in the search for determining preconditions for democracy (Lipset et al 1956, p. 213). Therefore, the paradigm deficiency triggered a shift in research emphasis towards the autonomy of actors and processes of democratization.

This approach grants conceptual primacy to the freedom of individuals to make choices, whether among goods in a marketplace or through open political expression, association and voting (Bratton and van de Walle 1997, p. 24). The actor/strategy perspective provides evidence for the workings of elite influence on the establishment of democracy. It sees political variables such as leadership and institutions as the prime determinant for political transition in any polity (Edvardsen 1997, p. 213).

Rustow (1970), O’Donell and Schimitter (1986), Linz (1990), Burton and Higley (1987, 1989) all converge on the arguments that the choices, behaviors, and strategies of a relatively small number of elites are critical in triggering democratization and determining the pace of consolidation. These scholars were among those who attempt to explain these political scenarios from the actor/strategy perspective. As a proponent of this position, O’Donnell and Schmitter (1986) explicitly state that the transition from authoritarian rule is a process of “structural indeterminacy” (Ibid, p. 214).

Arend Lijphart argues that democratic politics has an independent life of its own and not merely a 'superstructure' that grows out of socio-economic and cultural bases (1991). Juan Linz submits that leadership is responsible for much of the success in consolidating new democracies (Linz, 1990). Democratic transition therefore comes about as a result of the decision of elites (both of the incumbents and opposition) to democratize the polity. Southall describes a scenario of contingent factors that often stimulates democratization in Africa:

- Study of ‘watershed elections’ demonstrated how protest movements incorporated key segments of African populations (students, trade unionists, professionals, intellectuals, some business interests, the media, women, the urban poor, small farmers, and the churches) and how their demands for democracy were resisted by the ruling group, their business associates and often their external allies (Southall 2003, p. 10)

In most of the new democracies, despite the variations in the elite, elite choices are not only crucial to the consolidation of their democracies but also shape the character and content of their political systems. Therefore models of interaction between elites are crucial for defining the direction of democratic consolidation, and at the same time, specify who the relevant actors are and what their goals are.

While the elite are relevant factors in democratization, changes in civil societies (Diamond 1993, p. 45) may also be acknowledged as factors that influence democratization. The argument is that the transformation during the process of economic development and change creates organizational capacities that never existed before (Diamond 1993, p. 45).


[1] Political change cannot be explained, neither from the perspective of the elites nor that of the institution alone without an account of the symmetrical relationship of the both forces.

[2] The analyses of the translation process in this thesis are overlapping. See the “Obligatory Passage Point” (OPP) for problematization, interessement and enrollment of the human and non-human elements in Chapter 5. The mobilization of the actants is analyzed in Chapter 6 as a socio-technical account.

[3] This study seeks to occupy this niche by analyzing the latent and manifest value of socio-political transformation as an outcome of the content of elites and the effectiveness of institutions in the polity.

[4] Similar to the function served by the preservation of monarchy in many western democracies, the participation of old-guard autocrats in politics retained for the system the loyalty of aristocrats and traditionalists, which otherwise would resent increased democratization and equalitarianism (Lipset 1959, p. 88).

[5] The early classical scholars, such as Aristotle and Plato, recognized the primary role of the institution in determining both social outcomes and individual character (Riker 1980, p. 433).

[6] The Actor-Network Theory (ANT) takes into account cultural dimensions of networks such as the construction of meaning, actors’ interpretations and relational dynamics (Mützel 2009, p. 872).

[7] Riker refers to Aristotle’s works. He stated that Aristotle collected and described 150 constitutions because he believed that constitutions determined both social outcomes and individual character (1980, p. 433).

[8] Latour states that to do a proper analysis of an actor-network, one needs to follow the actor everywhere it goes.

[9] In identifying or measuring societal forces, it is important to measure them in terms of what they do. What societal forces do, according to Giddings, is always resolvable into one or the other of two concrete things, or into a combination of the two. These two things are : (1) a modification or transformation of a condition or of conditions, in this case the transition from military to democratic rule; and (2) “starting something,” “keeping something going,” “stimulating behavior and maintaining it”, in short, “carrying on” (1922).

[10] In one of the classic works on democracy, Lipset offers analyses on some social requisites for democracy that need to be met for a nation to have a stable democracy (see Lipset, S.M. 1959)

[11] Suffice it to say that the need for social and political transformation in Nigeria became a very important social decision, following the apparent failures of military rule, internal and external pressures and the persistent centrifugal political forces which put the national state on the brink of collapse in the 1990s.

[12] Samuel Huntington describes this as the Third Wave of Democracy.

[13] Acemoglu and Robinson (1999) emphasize the role of the threat of revolution and social unrest by the disenfranchised poor who may force the elite to democratize.

[14] General Sanni Abacha was a Nigerian military ruler from 17 November, 1993 to 8 June, 1998. This period was the most authoritarian in the country’s post-independence political history and was characterized by intense clampdowns on critics and the arrest of the assumed winner of 1992 presidential election.

[15] The military had ruled Nigeria for 29 years prior to the start of the current republic.

[16] Cyril Obi contends that political entrepreneurs and new breed politicians ambush the political process in order to expand their patrimonial networks and protect vested interests from being eroded by democratic principles.

[17] Bratton and van de Walle capture this phenomenon as part of the variants of neopatrimonial regimes in Africa and described it as a “military oligarchy” (1994, p. 473).

[18] Obi categorizes two major actors in the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria. According to him, there are contestations between forces seeking to advance democracy, and those seeking either to subvert or divert it to narrow opportunistic and hegemonic ends that define the very substance of travails of democracy in Nigeria (2008, p. 330).

[19] The ancien régime is conceptualized as the long years of military autocratic rule that preceded the current democratic order. The period started in 1983 following the truncation of the second republic by the military and ended in May of 1999.

[20] In reference to the organization of power in the United States, Mills argues that there is an intricate set of overlapping cliques across the political, economic and military elite circles that form the elite clique. In fact, in Nigeria the retired military officers in politics exemplify the fusion of the three powerful institutions i.e., politics, economy and military in Nigeria.

[21] The statement is used by Hemmings in his analysis of the concept of affective solidarity which, as he argues, is necessary for sustainable feminist politics of transformation.

[22] There is a remarkable consensus concerning the minimal conditions that a polities must meet in order to merit the prestigious appellation of “democratic” (Schmitter and Karl, 1991).

[23] According to the “mandate” view, elections serve to select good policies or policy-bearing politicians, while the “accountability“ view states that elections serve to hold government responsible for the results of their past actions (Manin et al 1999, p. 1)

[24] The minimalist Schumpeterian definition of democracy refers to a system of rule as democratic when a polity permits the choice between elites to be made by citizens through voting in regular and competitive elections. Huntington’s “two turnover” test also falls in this minimalist definition. Others include Adam Przeworski (1991, 1991) and Karl Popper (1963). In their conceptualization of democracy, they all proceed in the argument that democracy does not set condition for its outcome.

[25] They stated that the only exception in this regard is Freedom House (2000), which severely restricts the analytical usefulness of its index due to the inclusion of attributes such as “socioeconomic rights,” “freedom from gross socioeconomic inequalities” ,“property rights,” and “freedom from war” (Gastil, 1991, pp. 32-33; Ryan, 1994, pp. 10-11), which are more fruitfully seen as attributes of some other concepts.

[26] The expected life of a democracy in a country with a per capita income under $1,000 is about eight years. Between $1,001 and $2,000, an average democracy can expect to endure eighteen years. But above $6,000, democracies last forever (Przworski 1999, p. 16).

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The dialectics of agency and structure in transitional democracy
An actor-network analysis of Nigeria’s political transition
University of Freiburg  (Institute of Sociology)
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dialectics, agency, structure, transitional, democracy, actor-network, analysis, nigeria’s, political, transition
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Samson Ajagbe (Author), 2015, The dialectics of agency and structure in transitional democracy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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