Postcolonial Politics and Discourses of Democracy in Southern Africa

An Anthropological Reflection on African Political Modernities

Publication Date:

Journal: Journal of Anthropological Research

Reissue Date:

Page start: 123

Page End: 146

Volume: 2

Edition: 53

Beginning with a critical reflection on the export of democracy from Europe and America to Africa, this essay–which opens with the birth of the “new” South Africa–explores a question of increasing significance across the continent: What might “democracy” actually MEAN in postcolonial Africa? How does it engage with vernacular cultures of participatory politics and with the construction of new public spheres? We take, as an example, Botswana, widely regarded as a “model” democracy–but where, in the 1970s, there was some demand for a one-party system. This case compels us to rethink, fundamentally, our understanding of processes of democratization, sui generis.

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