4 March 2015
As much ESID research further attests, despite the widespread adoption of democratic institutions and increased economic growth in much of sub-Saharan Africa, the progress of democratisation and development remains heavily constrained by the persistence of neopatrimonial political systems and agrarian economies. In contrast to recent theorising on limited access orders and political settlements, which focus on how intra-elite relations and capitalist transformation shape institutional change, alternative historical readings place greater emphasis on the role of agency as well as structure, including in the form of organised subordinate classes as well as elites, and on the broader character of state-society relations, rather than simply inter-elite bargaining. Others have questioned the assertion that capitalist transition is a pre-requisite for democratisation, calling this the ‘sequencing fallacy’, and showing that democratic institutions can be gradually crafted, even in the absence of structural transformation.
ESID’s most recent working paper applies these debates to the context of the Rwenzori sub-region in western Uganda. Through the lens of civil society strategies for the promotion of better outcomes for smallholder farmers, this ESRC-funded study, led by Sophie King (and co-authored with Sam Hickey), finds that although progressive change for low-income groups in ‘limited access orders’ does indeed require economic transformation linked to shifts in elite incentives, attitudes, and the emergence of progressive leaders and coalitions at the top; it also requires value-driven collective action at the bottom that reshapes both socio-economic and political relations. The case studies explored here also suggest that the long-run politics of social change will be driven by norms of social justice as well as rational self-interest, and with some role for the solidarity of transnationalism.