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Citizens and Foreigners: Democratization and the Politics of Exclusion in Africa

  • 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.


Dans le contexte présent de libéralisme politique grandissant, bien des leaders africains ont adopté un discours démocratique tout en cherchant les moyens de limiter la compétition politique. Cet article traite principalement de la stratégie adoptée consistant à discréditer ou disqualifier les opposants politiques sur des attaques liées à leur citoyenneté. Depuis quelques années, plusieurs leaders africains ont initié des procès et montré des pièces à conviction destinés à mettre en question le droit de participation à la scène politique de certains candidats de l'opposition ou d'autres critiques. A travers l'analyse d'exemples spécifiques en Côte d'Ivoire, Zambie, et ailleurs, cet article explore les implications d'une telle stratégie. Bien que les droits de citoyenneté ont une importance certaine dans toute démocratie, toute manipulation de ceux-ci par le parti au pouvoir pour des objectifs politiques constitue une approche risquée, menaçant de ralentir ou même d'entraver le processus de démocratisation. Au final, une tactique initialement prévue pour exclure des individus spécifiques de la scène politique a le potentiel d'encourager des sentiments xénophobes plus larges et de légitimer des stratégies nationalistes exclusives. Au mieux, l'élargissement résultant des clivages sociaux limitera la possibilité de consolidation démocratique. Au pire, cette stratégie plante les racines de conflits politiques futurs et possiblement d'une guerre.



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Citizens and Foreigners: Democratization and the Politics of Exclusion in Africa

  • Beth Elise Whitaker


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