International Relations
Online ISSN : 1883-9916
Print ISSN : 0454-2215
ISSN-L : 0454-2215
Africa at a Crossroads
On Evaluation of Political Change in Sub-Saharan Africa: Emerging Mechanism of Neoliberal Autocracy
Mitsugi ENDO
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2023 Volume 2023 Issue 210 Pages 210_63-210_78


The purpose of the article is to analyze the mechanism of emergence of what the author called “neoliberal autocracy” or “neoliberal authoritarianism” in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa in the era of anti-democratic turn or global expansion of authoritarian rule. One of the characteristics of the recent phenomena in regime transformation is supposed to happen not in the form of breakdown but in a clandestine manner. Such conceptualization as neoliberal autocracy derived from the context of African external relations which is supposed to be very much rational reactions to politics of aid.

In this regard, the author shares the argument developed by Africanists, namely Tobias Hagmann and Filip Reyntjens. They argued that “what we see is the emergence of illiberal autocratic modernities in recipient countries whose political elites effectively amalgamate authoritarian politics with (neo-)liberal discourses emphasizing efficiency, effectiveness and performance... Foreign aid may thus play a support role in generating, maintaining and legitimizing contemporary illiberal African regimes that combine autocratic rule with trappings of liberal democracy” (2016: 12). This dynamism is also related to the well-known idea of “extraversion” which was developed by J-F Bayart.

Typical cases in this regard are supposed to be Ethiopia and Rwanda. In Africa’s Pulse 19 published by the World Bank in 2019, these two countries are evaluated as follows: “The successful transitions out of fragility in the region have been characterized by stronger institutions, enhanced policy environments, and improved services delivery. These efforts led to stronger growth and a more attractive climate for private investors (Ethiopia and Rwanda)” (2019: 2). This type of evaluation, focusing not on political and civil freedom like Freedom House Index but on effectiveness of government, rule of law, quality of regulation, control of corruption clearly like World Governance Index (WGI) shows that countries evaluated through the lens of “good governance, ” which is the core norm in neoliberalism, can be so called donor darlings, even though they are never be liberal nor democratic. This is in this historical context that what this author called “neoliberal autocracy” has emerged and even be consolidated. In this sense, recent argument or conceptualization like democratic backsliding and democratic erosion might not necessarily applicable to many African countries, where democratic institutionalization has not yet fully introduced nor strongly required in order to increase amount of aid in the era of neoliberalism and in the context of Global War on Terror (GWOT). Therefore, political regimes in Africa will be transforming in their “rational” reaction to changing external context of international relations in the 21st century.

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© 2023 The Japan Association of International Relations
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