Book chapter

The Rise of the African Legislature? (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


What explains contemporary variation in legislative strength and institutionalization in Africa? Contrary to the widespread belief that African legislatures are uniformly weak, there is significant variation in both the institutional forms and powers of these institutions. Colonial institutional development and the nature of postcolonial single-party autocratic rule partially explain the variation in legislative strength and institutionalization in Africa. Legislative development (or lack thereof) under colonialism bequeathed postcolonial states with both institutional memory and intra-elite conceptions of executive–legislative relations (how legislatures work). The nature of postcolonial autocratic rule determined the upper bounds of legislative development. Relatively secure presidents tolerated legislative organizational development. Their weaker counterparts did not. These differences became apparent following the end of single-party rule in much of Africa the early 1990s. Legislatures in the former group exploited their newfound freedom to rebalance executive–legislative relations. Those in the latter group remained weak and subservient to presidents. In short, strong autocratic legislatures begat strong democratic legislatures.