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Electoral Populism Where Property Rights Are Weak: Land Politics in Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa

Abstract

Comparative democratization scholars have devoted almost no attention to how property rights regimes shape the dynamics of electoral competition. This oversight is particularly problematic in African studies. In sub-Saharan Africa the absence or weakness of secure property rights regimes in the countryside can have powerful consequences for multiparty dynamics. Land can become a patronage resource in ways that ignite destabilizing redistributive conflicts and threaten minority rights. By ignoring the design and character of underlying property regimes—or by assuming that the rules governing property are fixed, neutral, or essentially liberal in character—analysts have overlooked a fundamental source of illiberalism in many of Africa's multiparty systems. Côte d'Ivoire, where land politics have contributed to system-wide political breakdown, serves as a case in point.
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Thesis
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