It’s up to Gen Z to chart a new vision for the GOP

This op-ed originally appeared in the Boston Globe, and was co-authored with Ryan Doucette, Samuel Garber, and John Olds.


“You cannot tell me this is our guy.”

That feeling, that sentiment of unfettered disgust is one that animates the sensibilities of many young Republicans today. It is a simple emotion — one of pure conviction — that opposing the personal and political essence of this president of the United States is the right thing to do.

However, while we firmly believe that preventing the reelection of Donald Trump is a necessary precondition to realizing our vision for the future of the GOP, our mission will become even more important after Nov. 3.

As we’ve grown up in politics, the Republican Party has gifted us many things: a political home, sound principles, and, most of all, each other. But while this party has brought our friendships closer together, its current iteration of right-wing Trumpian populism has been tearing our country apart. In a sense, we’ve become politically alienated, as rhetoric and policies move toward the extreme.Get Today in Opinion in your inboxGlobe Opinion’s must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.Sign Up

This is not an endorsement of the Democratic Party or the political left more broadly, but rather a call to rethink the right so that it remains a productive counterbalance to the generational shift toward the left. It has become increasingly clear that the party that introduced us to politics no longer represents us. The GOP under Trump has lost sight of its values, has failed to engage in productive discourse, and continually neglects policies in the best interests of our country and generation.

By embracing Trumpism, the Republican Party has sacrificed its values and any belief of limited, sensible government. With gross negligence of the rule of law, the president has undermined our nation, which has long stood as a beacon of liberty. He has sought to surgically divide the nation by embracing the tribalism that confuses political opponents with personal foes. Rather than heeding the advice of advisors and experts, the president has taken the dangerous approach of undermining the hard work of civil servants.

Thus, the reality of short-term electoral calamity for Trumpism is a moral responsibility for our generation. Not only must we reject the politics of hate and division, but we must also empower young voices. Our generation cares about climate change. We believe LGBTQ+ people should be free from discrimination in our laws and in our social circles. We believe that immigrants help uphold the vibrant American tapestry. And, we believe that while there will be policy differences, there should be a basic set of facts that the American people can accept as we tackle the issues of our time.

The current embrace of gaslighting and near-sighted thinking has torn our party apart over simple realities and facts. How is our party supposed to engage in discourse over policy-making if we cannot even come to an agreement on what the facts are in the first place? For too long, our party has failed our generation on the issues that affect us most.

Gen Z needs a palatable alternative to the political left, which today’s GOP has failed to provide. Notably, the conversation around climate change within the party needs to move past whether it exists or not to how we can offer realistic, innovative solutions as an alternative to the infeasibility of the Green New Deal. If the GOP continues down this path of rejecting facts and consequently failing to offer up forward-looking policy solutions, Gen Z voters will increasingly feel pressured to move further left.

This is why we are launching “gen z gop.” We seek to provide a platform for other Gen Z Republicans who have felt ostracized by the GOP under Trump, and who seek to provide a new vision for the party’s future.

It’s up to our generation to chart a new vision for the future of the GOP and the country. With a new approach, we can truly achieve greatness in the future. Together.

Reframing “Ethnic Conflict” as “Politicized Ethnic Conflict”

Currently, “ethnic conflict” appears to be a useful label for understanding political and social violence around the world. One only needs to search for this term on an academic search engine or database to notice the plethora of studies and articles surrounding this topic. This paper strives to reframe the term “ethnic conflict” as “politicized ethnic conflict” in order to more accurately reflect both the ultimate and proximate causes of this type of violence. By using literature on ethnic conflict and politicized ethnicity, along with the comparative cases of Kenya and Tanzania, this paper argues for the incorporation of the term “politicized ethnic conflict” into the literature since it is evident that politicized ethnicity ultimately drives many instances of ethnic conflict, with ethnic difference serving as a proximate cause and delineator. 

While the apparent status quo in academia remains that  “ethnic conflict” as a term is useful, maintenance of this term is misguided. By employing this term, one implicitly argues that ethnicity is the main determinant and driver of conflict in absolute terms, or at least neglects to dispel this notion. Fearon and Laitin demonstrate that there is no consistent effect on the likelihood of civil conflict associated with variation in ethnic homogeneity. Additionally, Fearon and Laitin demonstrate that even areas where ethnic grievances are strongest, civil conflict is not more likely (Fearon & Laitin, 2003). This evidence indicates that ethnic grievances themselves are not sufficient to cause ethnic violence. The examples of Kenya and Tanzania support these findings against ethnicity as an ultimate determinant of civil, ethnic conflict. Malipula states that the literature on ethnic conflict has failed to explain why some heterogeneous countries such as Tanzania have not experienced ethnic conflict, while Ajulu argues that ethnic clashes in Kenya “are not tribal conflicts in the primordial sense” (Malipula, 2014) (Ajulu, 2002, p. 251). Although ethnicity is not the ultimate cause of “ethnic conflict” (in most cases), it is misguided to remove the “ethnic” characterization from the terminology addressing these types of conflict.

Eliminating ethnicity from the terminology of these types of conflicts entirely negates the role that ethnicity plays in delineating belligerents and serving as a direct motivating factor for violence. Brubaker and Laitin define ethnic violence as “violence perpetrated across ethnic lines, in which at least one party is not a state … and in which the violence is coded as having been meaningfully oriented in some way to the different ethnicity of the target” (Brubaker & Laitin, 1998, p. 428). Similarly, Fearon states that “a violent attack might be described as ‘ethnic’ if either (a) it is motivated by animosity towards ethnic others; (b) the victims are chosen by ethnic criteria; or (c) the attack is made in the name of an ethnic group” (Fearon 2008, p. 857). Both of these characterizations of ethnic violence do not maintain that ethnicity must be the ultimate cause and driving factor of violence, but rather that any conflict delineated by ethnicity should rightfully be described as “ethnic.” In numerous instances of civil conflict, it is blatantly evident that belligerents are structured according to ethnicity, and that many individuals commit violent acts specifically against people of other ethnicities (e.g. Rwandan genocide). In Kenya, there have been ethnically motivated clashes in the 1990s and notably in 2007 (Dercon & Gutiérrez-Romero, 2012). While these clashes occurred in the context of political contests, this fact does not negate that the proximate delineator and motivation of the violent acts was ethnic difference. Therefore, the maintenance of “ethnic” in describing these types of conflict is necessary, but a better framework and terminology would incorporate the role of politicized ethnicity in driving conflict. 

Reframing the term “ethnic conflict” as “politicized ethnic conflict” would result in a more accurate characterization of these conflicts that incorporates both their ultimate cause (politicized ethnicity) and proximate cause (ethnic difference). This approach neither overemphasizes the causal role of ethnicity in driving conflict nor neglects the role of ethnicity entirely, but rather makes the terminology more accurate and nuanced. Fearon introduces the concept of politicized ethnicity by stating that “ethnicity is politicized when political coalitions are organized along ethnic lines, or when access to political or economic benefits depends on ethnicity” (Fearon, 2008, p, 853). The politicization of ethnicity uncovers the ultimate source and political driver of ethnic conflict. Brubaker and Laitin explain that conflicts driven by political power struggles are framed in ethnic terms, thus demonstrating the causation from politicized ethnicity to violence delineated by ethnic difference (Brubaker & Laitin, 1998). One mechanism that exemplifies this causation is that ethnic conflict can occur when a minority ethnic group (which also serves as a political coalition) believes that its ability to fight for a better political outcome will decline in the future, demonstrating how political conflict takes on ethnic hues when political coalitions are divided along ethnic lines (Fearon, 2008). 

From a comparative perspective, Kenya and Tanzania demonstrate how politicized ethnicity serves as the key driver of ethnic conflict. In Kenya, there is high politicization of ethnicity (politics strongly divided along ethnic lines), while in Tanzania it is low (ethnicity plays little to no role in politics) (Weber, 2009). In fact, ethnicity has emerged as the preeminent factor in political competition in Kenya, thereby giving new and invigorating social salience to these identities (Ajulu, 2002). Therefore, when considering the lack of politicized ethnicity in neighboring Tanzania, it becomes evident why Kenya has experienced bouts of ethnic conflict while Tanzania has not. Rok Ajulu provides evidence to this causal relationship in the Kenyan context, describing how ethnic clashes are politically organized, and how oftentimes these conflicts are precipitated by political elites who use ethnic differences simply as an organizing principle to achieve their own political ends (e.g. by dividing the electorate along ethnic lines and establishing political rents) (Ajulu, 2002) (Dercon & Gutiérrez-Romero, 2012). On the contrary, the lack of politicized ethnicity in Tanzania means that violent confrontations between ethnic groups have been kept to a bare minimum (Cocodia, 2008).

Much of the current literature regarding whether “ethnic conflict” is a useful analytical label falls into polar opposite camps: those (often implicitly) regarding “ethnic conflict” as a useful term, and those pushing for the removal of the term in its entirety. Both of these approaches are misguided and fail to incorporate the nuances of what has historically been labeled “ethnic conflict.” The status quo camp, which supports the use of “ethnic conflict” in analytical terminology, fails to highlight the political considerations that serve as the ultimate drivers of ethnic conflict. As demonstrated above, ethnic difference does not cause ethnic conflict in its own right, and thus this terminology mischaracterizes the true causes and mechanisms of ethnic conflict.

The revisionist camp, which seeks to eliminate “ethnic conflict” as an analytical label, similarly fails to highlight an aspect of ethnic conflict, which in this case is ethnic difference. In “Against the Concept of Ethnic Conflict,” Gilley argues that ethnic conflict is not a concept, but rather a “messy descriptive label for a bunch of unrelated phenomena,” partially because what defines “ethnic conflict” is too vague in the first place (Gilley, 2004, p. 1161). While Gilley may be correct in that ethnic conflicts are not uniform in characterization, this does not support the complete elimination of the term “ethnic conflict” to explain conflicts in which they all have the same feature in common: violence delineated by ethnic difference. By assenting to Gilley’s suggestion, the critical aspect of ethnic difference in these conflicts disappears, running counter to Gilley’s intention of trying to better understand these conflicts. 

Another scholar in the revisionist camp, Charles King, concedes slightly more to the benefits of the “ethnic conflict” label, but ultimately argues against it. King writes that “the ‘ethnic conflict’ label is fine as an easy shorthand for wars in which the belligerents define themselves, in part, along cultural lines,” highlighting the distinction between wars delineated/not delineated along ethnic lines (King, 2001). However, King does not uphold this term for its rightful reason of inclusion: the fact that ethnic difference serves as a proximate driver of conflict, not just a delineator. It is one thing to only acknowledge that belligerents are divided along ethnic lines; it is another (and more accurate) to also acknowledge that people are mobilized to participate in acts of violence against people of other ethnic groups because of ethnic difference. If a combatant in an ethnic conflict is driven to believe that members of another ethnic group are the enemy and consequently resolves to acts of violence against them, it matters not why he believes this (e.g. political mobilization of ethnicity) or whether the other ethnic group truly is the enemy. If people are still committing acts of violence along ethnic lines, then dispelling with the notion that ethnic difference plays a unique role in these conflicts is truly misguided. Further, King argues that viewing ethnic conflicts as essentially different from other intra-state conflicts can be misleading, citing two reasons: ethnic grievances can be manufactured, and symbolically-created hatred is insufficient to cause violence (King, 2001). His first reason does not provide a sufficient explanation for why “ethnic conflict” should be eliminated as a concept entirely; while King is correct in that these ethnic grievances are often manufactured, that does not negate the fact that in some conflicts people are inspired to and do commit violence against members of other ethnic groups specifically, while in other conflicts this is not the case. King’s second reason similarly fails to negate the fact that people are still committing violence along ethnic lines, regardless of the political and leadership mechanisms required to spur this action. Therefore, King’s assertion that ethnic conflicts are not essentially different from other intra-state conflicts is misguided, and could lead to serious policy consequences in terms of conflict resolution. Although King’s two lines of reasoning do not support the elimination of “ethnic conflict” as an analytical concept in its entirety, they do support the incorporation of political elements in the analytical understanding of ethnic conflict. 

This paper has demonstrated that the question of whether “ethnic conflict” remains useful as a label for understanding political and social violence is nuanced due to the role that the politicization of ethnicity plays as an ultimate cause of many ethnic conflicts, and uses the comparative examples of Kenya and Tanzania to ground these arguments. From an analytical perspective, in order to improve understanding of the ultimate causal factors and mechanisms for these conflicts without losing sight of the importance that ethnic difference plays as a proximate cause and delineator, the term “politicized ethnic conflict” should arise as an analytical label. 


Ajulu, R. (2002). Politicised Ethnicity, Competitive Politics and Conflict in Kenya: A Historical Perspective. African Studies, 61(2), 251–268.

Brubaker, R., & Laitin, D. D. (1998). Ethnic and Nationalist Violence. Annual Review of Sociology, 24(1), 423–452. 

Cocodia, J. (2008). Exhuming Trends in Ethnic Conflict and Cooperation in Africa: Some Selected States. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 8(3), 9–26.

Dercon, S., & Gutiérrez-Romero, R. (2012). Triggers and Characteristics of the 2007 Kenyan Electoral Violence. World Development, 40(4), 731–744.

Fearon, J. D., & Laitin, D. D. (2003). Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War. American Political Science Review, 97(01), 75–90.

Gilley, B. (2004). Against the Concept of Ethnic Conflict. Third World Quarterly, 25(6), 1155–1166.

King, C. (2001). The Myth of Ethnic Warfare. Foreign Affairs.

Malipula, M. (2014). Depoliticised Ethnicity in Tanzania: A Structural and Historical Narrative. Afrika Focus, 27(2), 49–70.

Weber, A. (2009). The Causes of Politicization of Ethnicity: A Comparative Case Study of Kenya and Tanzania. Center for International Studies.Weingast, B. R., Wittman, D. A., & Fearon, J. D. (2008). Ethnic Mobilization and Ethnic Violence. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy.

The Simpler the Better: Choosing Electoral Systems in Democracies

In order to make an argument as to the “best” electoral systems, it is necessary to first contextualize this subjective description. This paper will assess the “best” electoral systems in the context of democracy due to the fundamental necessity of elections in any democratic system. Thus, at the core, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the best electoral systems in a democracy are that which are the simplest to understand in two ways: using a definition of democracy and the paramountcy of accountability, and by assessing the implications of the accountability and representation tradeoff inherent to democratic electoral systems. The argument proceeds as follows: first, the paramount importance of accountability in democratic systems is presented using a definition of democracy; next, using both a generalized theoretical argument and the case of FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems, the connection between the simplest electoral systems and enhanced accountability is established, supporting the definitional argument; lastly, this paper proposes that the simplest electoral systems are not only best definitionally, but also in the context of the accountability/representation tradeoff as a function of accountability facilitating the increased ability for citizens to express preferences outside of elections, thus creating better representation. To clarify, although others have addressed the connection between simple executive systems and accountability, this paper will focus on the mechanism of legislative accountability to demonstrate that the simplest electoral systems are best for democracy (Hellwig & Samuels).

While democracy has a variety of definitions and necessary components, accountability is perhaps the most crucial element. Schmitter and Karl define modern political democracy as “a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens,” highlighting the paramount importance of accountability in any democratic system (Schmitter & Karl). Therefore, considering this definition of democracy, deciding which electoral systems are best for democracy equates to finding which electoral systems best promote accountability of politicians. 

In both general theory and through the proxy use of an example electoral system, the simplest electoral systems best provide accountability. According to Hellwig and Samuels, accountability is defined as the “voters’ capacity to reward or sanction incumbents,” and this capacity rests on two sets of conditions: the ability of voters to assign policy responsibility (to specific politicians) and the opportunity of voters to act on assigned responsibility. In a theoretical sense, the connection between simplicity of electoral systems and enhanced accountability is clear. In simpler systems, more voters will understand (and better understand) how the electoral system functions; as a result of understanding the system, voters are more likely to participate in the system and hold politicians accountable. This correlation exists because understanding facilitates assignment of policy responsibility and the opportunity to act on this determination, the key conditions of accountability. The details of these mechanisms can be explained by employing the example of FPTP, single-member constituencies as a proxy for the simplest electoral system. This proxy is practical because both FPTP and single-member constituencies have been described as extremely simple. Schmitter and Karl argue that the representation channel of democracy based on territorial constituencies is “the most visible and public” (Schmitter & Karl). Visibility and publicity are inherently related to simplicity in this context because like simplicity, they facilitate voters knowing who to hold accountable and provide the opportunity to do so. As for FPTP, Blais and Massicotte bluntly state that such a system “outperforms all other options in terms of its pristine simplicity” (Blais & Massicotte). Further, since Blais et al. and King explain the high correlation between FPTP and single-member constituencies, which are both simple, the electoral system that combines them serves as a proxy to more practically demonstrate the theoretical argument between the simplest electoral systems and accountability (Blais & Massicotte) (King).

Under a FPTP, single-member constituency electoral system, the two accountability conditions are easily achievable. First, it is easier to assign policy responsibility. Under this system, voters have assigned representatives (based on geographic constituencies); thus, responsibility is automatically assigned to that representative because there is an inherent connection between representative and voter. Consequently, a voter can simply decide if they agree or disagree with their representative’s policy decision. In systems where there is not an inherent and established connection between specific voters and representatives, voters may not know who to assign policy decisions to. Further, although a voter’s representative may not have supported a specific policy measure, the voter can still then assign a lack of responsibility for the passing of a certain measure. This situation in which responsibility is negated in a simple and effective manner would not be the case in systems where voters and representatives are not inherently connected. Second, the opportunity to act on this assigned responsibility is also best accomplished under this electoral system. In some ways this condition is endogenous to the previous. For example, by knowing whom to assign responsibility to and thus contact inherently provides the opportunity for such contact to take place. Being unaware of who is responsible (such as in electoral systems without assigned representatives) clearly lessens the opportunity to act on accountability mechanisms. However, the FPTP, single-member constituency electoral system also has an exogenous effect on widespread accountability. As a result of having assigned representatives based on geographic constituency, it follows that a larger number of representatives will be held accountable than in systems where voters do not have assigned representatives. When each representative has a specific constituency, that constituency holds that representative accountable, thus ensuring that no representative can operate without voter oversight. 

The opportunity of voters to act on assigned responsibility occurs both during and outside elections. In elections, a voter can hold their specific representative accountable by either voting for or against them, while in systems without assigned representatives and party list voting for example, it is more difficult to hold individual politicians accountable for their policies. Outside of elections, voters can contact their assigned representatives; such contact is less likely in other electoral systems because it would be less clear who to contact and because the voter lacks an established connection with the representative. Therefore, it is clear that in FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems, accountability is easier to achieve. And, since this type of electoral system is widely considered the simplest, it provides concrete evidence to the aforementioned theoretical argument that the simplest electoral systems best facilitate accountability. Lastly, because accountability is perhaps the most paramount aspect of democracy according to the cited definition, it follows that since the simplest electoral systems best facilitate accountability, that they are consequently the best electoral systems for democracy definitionally. However, not only are the simplest electoral systems best for democracy definitionally, but also by providing the best overall outcome in the accountability and representation tradeoff.

While it was established earlier that accountability is paramount to the definition of democracy, many other scholars discuss the counterbalancing relationship between accountability and representation as crucial factors in a democratic system. In a blog post entitled “Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems,” the author identifies the tradeoff between accountability and representation as fundamental to democracy, but also challenging in terms of choosing an electoral system. The author states that the tradeoff in terms of electoral system choice is that plurality systems (likely paired with single-member constituencies) are better at providing accountability, while PR systems are better at providing representation Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems). However, the argument that PR systems better provide representation is misguided because it solely focuses on representation in terms of translating votes to seats. In this sense, there is little doubt that PR systems better represent the preferences that voters wish to express during elections. But what about the ability of voters to express preferences outside of elections? Does that not constitute representation? In fact, expressing preferences outside of elections may be more important since there are more days without elections than with them, especially when incorporating the notion that “modern democracy … offers a variety (added emphasis) of competitive processes and channels for the expression of interests and values” (Schmitter & Karl). Considering this, the simplest electoral systems (e.g. FPTP, single-member constituency systems) actually lead to better representation across time via increased accountability and contact. As stated before, in the simplest systems, voters are more likely to know who to contact and follow through on it; this demonstrates that the simplest electoral systems better facilitate the expression of voter preferences outside the context of elections. While in PR systems the timeshot expressions of preferences (votes) may be better represented, PR systems are less receptive to representing voter preferences outside of elections. Consequently, because FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems can better represent voter preferences outside of elections and are superior in accountability, the tradeoff outcome rests favorably with such systems. And, because it has been demonstrated that FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems are arguably the simplest, it follows that the simplest electoral systems result in the best tradeoff outcome between accountability and representation, two key factors of democracy. 

While Pippa Norris may argue that there is no best electoral system, this paper has demonstrated that when accounting for democracy definitionally (paramountcy of accountability) and in providing the best outcome of accountability and representation, that it is possible to determine which electoral systems are best for democracy (Norris). Therefore, because the simplest electoral systems best provide accountability and result in the best accountability/representation tradeoff, it is evident that the the best electoral systems (for democracy) are the ones that are simplest to understand.  


Blais, André, and Louis Massicotte. “Electoral Systems.” In Comparing Democracies 2: New Challenges in the Study of Elections and Voting, 2nd ed., 40–69. London: Thousand Oaks, 2002. 

Hellwig, Timothy, and David Samuels. “Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes.” British Journal of Political Science 38, no. 1 (January 2008): 65–90.

King, Charles. “Electoral Systems.” Georgetown University, 2000.

Norris, Pippa. “Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems.” International Political Science Review 18, no. 3 (July 1997): 297–312.

Schmitter, Philippe C, and Terry Lynn Karl. “What Democracy Is … and Is Not.” Journal of Democracy 2, no. 3 (1991): 75–88.

Unknown. “Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems.” Unparliamentary Affairs. University of British Columbia, June 28, 2016.

Explaining Disparities in Electoral Concession and Peaceful Presidential Power Alternation in 21st Century Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire

**Note: Since this paper originally used footnotes (which could not be transferred over), in-text citations can be provided upon request.**

The outcomes of the 2012 presidential election in Senegal and the 2010 presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire display a notable and significant contrast: peaceful concession of the losing incumbent, or the lack thereof. Abdoulaye Wade’s electoral concession and peaceful handover of power to Macky Sall in Senegal demonstrates a striking contrast to Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to concede his electoral defeat to Alassane Ouattara, and the subsequent violence that ravaged Côte d’Ivoire for months after. This paper aims to address this disparity and answer the question as to why Wade willingly and swiftly conceded defeat, while Gbagbo clung to the presidency for months, even after impartial and international observers agreed that he lost. In other words, what factors and dynamics differed in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire that influenced these opposing decisions? 

Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire were chosen for this paper as a means of using a comparison to explore the broader topic of peaceful power alternation and thus provide a thesis that can be applied to other cases in addition to this country comparison study. Moreover, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire were chosen for this specific country comparison study due to their disparate power alternations (and thus different political experiences), while also possessing striking similarities in other facets. Geographically, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are both situated in West Africa. Historically (and now linguistically), Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are colonial sister states, both having been French colonies, and both becoming independent countries in 1960. Demographically, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are both ethnically diverse, which will become salient throughout the argument of this paper. 

The question investigated in this study is more relevant and important than simply providing an explanation for the disparate outcomes in the elections in these two specific countries. According to the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), “the refusal by an incumbent government to relinquish power to the winning party after free, fair and regular elections constitutes an unconstitutional change of government.” And, because unconstitutional changes of government in Africa have negative consequences for democratic consolidation on the continent, it is imperative to understand what drives these unconstitutional changes so that they can be prevented, thereby preventing the democratization project in Africa from failing or stagnating. In fact, scholar J. Shola Omotola specifically argues that the refusal of Gbagbo to concede defeat and step down in 2010 is a sign of the crisis of democratization in Africa. On the other hand, Senegal’s peaceful transition in 2012 constituted its achievement of the two-turnover test, a narrow measure of democratic consolidation. The two-turnover test is passed when the opposition party that ousts an incumbent party (which occurred in 2000 when Wade defeated Diouf, who peacefully conceded) also accepts defeat in a subsequent election. In addition to this question’s importance to democratic consolidation, it is also relevant in preventing violence. Though the post-electoral violence seen in Côte d’Ivoire is a function of a lack of democratic consolidation, the sheer death and destruction that occurred is an additional reason as to why the dynamics of electoral concession and peaceful power alternation ought to be explored. 

This paper argues that the ultimate reason explaining the disparate concession outcomes is a function of zero-sum politics versus positive-sum politics, which are present in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal respectively. Through exploring two underlying, pre-democratization variables, the catalyst of democratization, and two consequential, post-democratization variables, this paper will demonstrate how and why Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire differ in terms of zero-sum/positive-sum politics, and how this ultimate reason explains why Wade chose to peacefully concede his defeat while Gbagbo did not. After reviewing the relevant literature on this topic and addressing the overarching theory and research design, the argument for this paper will proceed as follows: evidence and characteristics of the two underlying variables, the existence of/lack of strong local leaders and democratic/ethnic historical norms and path dependence, will be associated with the two countries, along with their effects on politicized ethnicity; next, the catalyst of democratization/introduction of multiparty politics and its effects will be explained in relation to the underlying variables; then, the first consequential variable, the lack of/existence of politicized ethnicity, and the second consequential variable, united versus disunited elite structure, will be associated with the two countries, and their disparate impacts will be demonstrated in order to explain why politics in Senegal is positive-sum, while politics in Côte d’Ivoire is zero-sum; lastly, the dynamics of zero-sum/positive-sum politics will be used to explain the disparity in electoral concession and peaceful presidential powerful alternation, before concluding that more research on successful peaceful power alternation and democratic consolidation in Africa is necessary.    

Currently there is no literature that compares these specific countries and elections, and thus there is presently no definitive explanation or overarching variable as to why Wade conceded while Gbagbo did not, providing significant importance to the results of this paper. However, there are some theories that pertain to the specific cases independently, though none of these explanations constituted the main focus of a research study, nor were they thoroughly explored, explained, and validated.

In his doctoral dissertation, Abiodun Surajudeen Fatai argues that “the refusal of Laurent Gbagbo to relinquish power after he was defeated [in the 2010 election] in Côte d’Ivoire was the consequence of political instability.” This argument is rather vague as it provides little explanation to the involved dynamics. Next, arguing that Gbagbo was trying to cause political instability (in contrast to his decision being a consequence of it), J. Shola Omotola believes that Gbagbo may have been trying to force a power-sharing agreement in which the other leader would have little power, similar to the political situation before the 2010 election in which northerner Guillaume Soro served as Gbagbo’s prime minister.   Omotola explains that refusing to step down and resorting to violence was a strategy that attempted to induce peace-seeking negotiators into agreement on a superficial power-sharing deal, and states that “it is otherwise difficult to understand why Laurent Gbagbo held on to power in the face of overwhelming international agreement as to the actual winner of the election.” While this explanation is a possibility, it fails to provide a root reason for why Gbagbo felt that he needed to remain in power. This assumption that Gbagbo simply wanted to stay in power out of pure-self interest in its benefits is echoed by Thomas Bassett. William Milam and Jennifer Jones write, “after a decade in power, he believed himself anointed by the heavens and indispensable to his people,” and cite that pastors even convinced him to stay in power since only God could remove him and because Ouattara represented the devil. This argument is difficult to defend, but it does add to the chorus of explanations that cite preventing Ouattara specifically from becoming president. 

While Cyril Daddieh was writing in 2001 and thus not commenting specifically on the 2010 election, his article offers two explanations as to why past Ivorian presidents tried to prevent an Ouattara presidency. First, he argues that the dominant southern political culture (of which Gbagbo is part of) views transferring presidential power to a northerner as an “unacceptable violation of the natural order of relations between northerners and southerners.” Daddieh explains that southern political culture stereotypes northerners as untrustworthy, and therefore conceding power to Ouattara is seen as dangerous. Secondly, Daddieh notes that Gbagbo’s lifelong experience of leading struggles against Côte d’Ivoire’s first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, makes him feel entitled to the presidency. In contrast, Gbagbo believes that Ouattara has little claim to the presidency since he had not paid any real political dues by being significantly involved during the presidency of Houphouët-Boigny. This second argument is weak since Ouattara served as Houphouët-Boigny’s prime minister and thus was involved politically (simply on the opposing side), while the first argument is partially accurate, and will be expanded upon and incorporated into the larger argument in this paper.

The existing argument as to why Senegal experienced peaceful power alternation in 2012 focuses on an elite consensus about democracy and its related component of peaceful power transition. Abiodun Surajudeen Fatai argues that a combination of a democratic culture due to its colonial introduction in the Four Communes of Senegal, and the fact that Diouf set a precedent in 2000 by peacefully conceding, created a consensus among political elites that respecting democracy and peacefully conceding an electoral defeat is preferable, thus leading Wade to follow this consensus. While this argument is valid and will serve as part of the larger argument in this paper, it fails to incorporate further explanations as to why this political consensus is maintained. Therefore, when considering the existing literature explaining the reasons for the lack of/existence of peaceful power alternation in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, it is evident that some of the arguments put forth constitute valid explanations, though they are only pieces of the larger argument that incorporates them into the theory of zero-sum/positive-sum politics. 

The overarching theory in this paper, that of zero-sum/positive-sum politics, draws on the elite structure theory presented by John Higley and Michael Burton in their article “The Elite Variable in Democratic Transitions and Breakdowns,” and their book, Elite Foundations of Liberal Democracy. Additionally, this paper combines other theories, namely those involving the role of politicized ethnicity and path dependence, into this overarching elite structure theory. The core of Higley and Burton’s theory revolves around the different political outcomes stemming from united and disunited elite structures. Higley and Burton state that “a national elite is consensually united when its members share a largely tacit consensus about rules and codes of political conduct, and participate in an integrated structure of interaction that provides them with relatively reliable and effective access to each other,” and that “a national elite is consensually disunited when its members share few or no understandings about the proprieties of political conduct and engage in only limited and sporadic interactions across factional or sectoral boundaries.” Higley and Burton argue that a united national elite produces stable regimes in which “competitions for political power have a positive-sum or ‘politics as bargaining’ character.” On the contrary, a disunited national elite produces unstable regimes, and “partisan factions and elites in different sectors manifestly distrust each other and engage in unrestrained, often violent struggles for dominance that have a zero-sum or ‘politics as war’ character.” Through employing a comparative study of electoral concession and lack thereof in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, and applying a historical analysis of the underlying variables, this paper primarily uses qualitative and secondary, literature-based evidence to support its core argument. 

The first underlying, pre-democratization variable is the existence of/lack of strong local leaders, and largely stems from Dominika Koter’s argument in her book, Beyond Ethnic Politics in Africa. Koter distinguishes between two forms of non-programmatic electoral mobilization: “directly relying on voters from one’s own ethnic background” and “indirectly working through electoral intermediaries.” Koter defines intermediaries as “local leaders who command moral authority, control resources, and can influence the electoral behavior of their dependents.” These two forms lead to opposing outcomes in terms of politicized ethnicity, the first consequential variable in this paper. When strong local leaders exist in a polity, politicians avoid ethnic politics and mobilize through the local leaders, and thus ethnicity does not become politicized. When strong local leaders are absent in a polity, politicians default to ethnic mobilization, which creates ethnic blocs and thus politicizes ethnicity. This is especially relevant in the types of patronage networks created, a salient political reality in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. Patronage forms along personalist lines in polities with strong local leaders, while it forms along ethnic lines in polities without strong leaders.

In Senegal, the existence of strong local elites has led politicians to rely on them, thereby creating cross-ethnic allegiances, and preventing voting along ethnic lines. Koter specifically states, “Senegalese local elites have much more social clout than their counterparts in many other African states,” which demonstrates the importance of strong local leaders in Senegal, particularly the marabouts of the Sufi brotherhoods, who have historically been a center of political mobilization. Sufism is a mystical denomination of Islam; its religious leaders, known as marabouts, are socially significant because they are perceived as holy men to whom their followers owe their allegiance, even in political matters. Marabouts have historically urged their followers to vote for certain candidates (known as an ndigel) in exchange for patronage from those political candidates. Therefore, marabouts have served as credible intermediaries between politicians and voters, benefitting the politicians by allowing them to expand their support across ethnic groups. Because of this opportunity to bridge ethnic differences via personalistic patronage networks, politicized ethnicity has been historically avoided in Senegal, and has yet to arise to this day. 

Côte d’Ivoire displays a contrasting history in relation to this variable. The southern part of Côte d’Ivoire, where power has historically been concentrated, possesses a history of “weak hierarchical ties,” which Koter defines as “ties of dependence between local authority figures and their followers.” As a consequence of a historical lack of strong local leaders in Côte d’Ivoire, the possibility of ethnic mobilization and politicization has never been eliminated since cross-ethnic relations and patronage networks have never supplanted its existence. It is important to note that ethnicity has not always been outwardly politicized on the national level, such as during the rule of Houphouët-Boigny, and such explanations will be provided in a later section.

As noted in the literature review, some scholars have used path dependence theory to argue that colonial-era introduction of democracy in urban areas of Senegal is the reason as to why peaceful power alternation occurs. This paper seeks to incorporate this argument, though it does not argue for a direct link, but rather that the role of path dependency, like the existence of strong local leaders, demonstrates its impact through the lack of politicized ethnicity. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, path dependency stemming from ethnically-tied patronage networks contributed to a significant politicization of ethnicity after the introduction of multiparty politics. 

Senegal’s democratic tradition is the result of heavy assimilation to French culture in Senegal’s urban coastal enclaves during the colonial period. Senegalese elites in these communities, named the Four Communes, were Western-educated and individualistic in thought. Such assimilation to French culture facilitated familiarity and limited experience with democratic self-government, party formation, and civic associations beginning in the early 1800s. Therefore, many of Senegal’s political elites have and continue to consider themselves “heirs to the oldest tradition of democracy and self-rule in Africa.” Tom Lodge writes that “pride in lineage traced to colonial assimilationist policies has to an extent exercised a self-restraining function within the Senegalese executive, helping to preserve reasonably civil and democratic norms within elite politics.” Furthermore, because Senegalese elites have consistently and continue to conceive of politics as “organized along individualistic lines in the classic liberal sense,” these elites “trust, associate, and cooperate with others based on common interests rather than familial, ethnic, regional, or religious ties,” thereby highlighting the causation from democratic path dependence to the lack of politicized ethnicity in Senegal.

During the early years of the country’s existence post-independence, home-town associations formed throughout Côte d’Ivoire with the stated intentions of representing the interests of local communities (e.g. economic and cultural development) within a given area. However, despite the denial that these were ethnic associations, they relied on the principle of ethnic solidarity in order to create and define a constituency, thus making the historically predominant ethnic group in a given area serve as the main basis of identification for the association. These ethnic-based associations became the basis for patronage networks, as urban elites with ties to the associated ethnic groups mobilized support from these associations in exchange for economic benefits. Thus, this “utilisation of ethnic associations by elites to consolidate their own economic and political position,” demonstrates how ethnically-tied patronage networks existed during the rule of Houphouët-Boigny, prior to the introduction of multiparty politics, even as his government attempted to suppress such politicized ethnicity. This next section will elaborate on how path dependence created by a history of ethnically-tied patronage networks has exacerbated the politicization of ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire by way of democratization as a catalyst. Democratization simply served to uncover and inflame the politicized ethnicity that had been continually checked on the national level, but which continued to pervade Ivorian society for decades.

The two underlying variables both demonstrate an effect on the lack of/existence of the politicization of ethnicity, but only after democratization and the introduction of multiparty politics. In other words, these two underlying variables established disparate conditions so that upon the moment of democratization, these disparities would be realized and manifested in the lack of politicized ethnicity in Senegal, and the notable politicization of ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire. 

During the 1980s, both Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire faced slowing economies that contributed to their democratic transitions. This section demonstrates how democratization served as a catalyst for the notable disparities between the countries regarding the politicization of ethnicity, but that the disparities in the aforementioned underlying variables are the ultimate cause for differences in politicized ethnicity; democratization simply served to exacerbate politicized ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire, while having no impact on its non-existence in Senegal, thereby further augmenting the difference in political dynamics in the two countries that serve to explain their opposite experiences in peaceful power alternation. 

In Senegal, a deteriorating economy, specifically declining agricultural credit, meant that there were fewer resources to finance the patronage link between the ruling political elites and the marabouts. This decrease in economic benefits upset the patronage networks that had been in place for decades, and marabouts gradually dissociated themselves from the political sphere, with many of them eventually ending the issuance of voting edicts (ndigels). However, even with this collapse of the patronage network and simultaneous democratic transition, ethnicity never became politicized. The aforementioned underlying variables explain why politicized ethnicity did not even enter the political lexicon in Senegal, even as the effects of a declining economy and democratization challenged the political structure that had maintained order in the country for decades. The experience of never having politicized ethnicity and the rich history of cross-ethnic ties (especially in politics) in Senegalese culture is so ingrained that introducing politicized ethnicity, even in a potentially opportunistic moment such as democratization, is unthinkable. 

The catalyzing effects of democratization on politicized ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire must be evaluated with consideration of the national-level suppression of politicized ethnicity during the presidency of Houphouët-Boigny. Houphouët-Boigny led a rather inclusive government, incorporating outsiders (e.g. northerners) who possessed talent and expertise. For example, Ouattara served as Houphouët-Boigny’s prime minister at the end of his presidency in the early 1990s. Houphouët-Boigny’s government promoted this inclusive governance strategy through the attempted suppression of ethnic-based organizations; the continued existence and strength of these organizations demonstrates that Houphouët-Boigny’s suppression of politicized ethnicity solely existed on a superficial national level, and that the sudden cessation of his delicately-woven political structure could come about with the correct circumstances since ethnicity was politicized in other aspects and levels of politics and society. Once the economic miracle of Côte d’Ivoire ended in the 1980s, Houphouët-Boigny was no longer able to maintain this political structure in which equally distributed, widespread, personalistic patronage subdued ethnic tensions. This downfall of economic prosperity served as an impetus for democratization in the country, opening up the possibility for the politicization of ethnicity by other political elites. However, Houphouët-Boigny strategically managed to keep his patronage networks and political alliances intact (by way of the skillful political maneuvering he possessed as a result of his lengthy presidential experience), continuing the stifling of ethnic tensions.

After Houphouët-Boigny’s death, ethnic tensions were no longer in check. Houphouët-Boigny’s successor, Henri Konan Bédié, lacked the economic means and political prowess necessary to maintain the cross-ethnic patronage networks and to subdue oppositional opinions. Bédié thus introduced ethnically exclusionary policies as a political strategy, thereby provoking ethnic tensions. Consequently, Côte d’Ivoire experienced a significant escalation of exclusion and overt manipulation of ethnicity as a means for political gain shortly after the introduction of multiparty politics. These policies and practices primarily disadvantaged people from northern-based ethnic groups, most notably demonstrated through the introduction of Ivoirité, a policy that will be further elaborated on in the next section. Bédié’s undermining of Ouattara’s ability to run for president in the 1995 election is one aspect of this policy that notably stoked ethnic (and interrelated) regional and religious tensions. Thus, as demonstrated, multiparty democracy in Côte d’Ivoire did not create pluralism or a more inclusive political system, but in fact the opposite; the introduction of multiparty electoral competition catalyzed the reanimation of ethnic cleavages, this time on the national stage and endorsed by the national government. In 1994, one year after Bédié’s assumption of the presidency, Dwayne Woods wrote that “ethnic associations are increasingly becoming the locus of competition by urban elites in their struggle to gain a clientele base in the new atmosphere created in the country with the reintroduction of competitive multi-party elections in 1991.”

As previously stated, democratization catalyzed a rapid escalation of politicized ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire because the superficial suppression of ethnic differences and tension at the national level during Houphouët-Boigny’s presidency was no longer sustainable, giving way to the reanimation of politicized ethnicity that manifests itself in the two underlying variables explored earlier in this paper. Côte d’Ivoire’s tendency to politicize ethnicity (due to the lack of strong local leaders and a historical, path dependent tradition of ethnically-based home-town associations) resurged during the democratic transition, thus creating the political and social conditions that will eventually explain why Côte d’Ivoire has failed to experience a peaceful alternation of presidential power. 

Given that the causes of politicized ethnicity (or lack thereof) have previously been demonstrated, this section aims to establish and prove its non-existence in Senegal and its existence in Côte d’Ivoire. Tom Lodge argues that the worst cases with respect to turnover feature political mobilization around primordial and ancestral concepts (such as ethnicity), though his explanation fails to explain why. After establishing and proving the lack of/existence of politicized ethnicity, this section will demonstrate how the lack of politicized ethnicity leads to a united elite structure, while its existence generates a disunited elite structure, setting up the mechanisms that explain exactly how politicized ethnicity becomes relevant in discussions about power alternation.

Dominika Koter bluntly states that ethnicity does not structure political competition in Senegal. This notion is demonstrated through the fact that none of the major political parties or candidates in the country have an ethnic base; in fact, each party’s electorate is as ethnically diverse as the electorate as a whole. Senegalese elites cut across ethnic lines when vying for support, driven partially by a large personalistic patronage network, even with the weakened participation and influence of the marabouts. Thus, elite formation and circulation is not grounded in ethnicity. As a result, elites in Senegal are not disunited along ethnic lines, giving credence to the statement that “the inception of multiparty politics in Senegal witnessed the resolution of political differences through consultation, dialogue and negotiation rather than violence.” This resolution of political differences hints at the existence of a united elite structure, which will be discussed as the next consequential variable 

The situation in Côte d’Ivoire is much more complicated, as it experienced a remarkable and impactful escalation of politicized ethnicity after the end of Houphouët-Boigny’s presidency. Abu Bakarr Bah argues that since the introduction of multiparty elections, party politics have followed the ethnic and associated regional cleavages of the country. As previously stated, much of this politicized ethnicity and increase in ethnic tensions can be attributed to the introduction of Ivoirité. In general, Ivoirité is a form of exclusionary discourse regarding citizenship, with the demonstrated effect of limiting access to the democratic process. Ivoirité was a strategy used by southern parties (which dominated the political system prior to Ouattara’s presidency) to win multiparty elections by reducing the voting power of northerners, and also limiting their choice of candidates. While the policy had various iterations and forms, it generally disqualified from voting or running in an election anyone who did not have two Ivorian-born parents. This statute disproportionately affected northerners whose parents had migrated to Côte d’Ivoire during the presidency of Houphouët-Boigny seeking economic opportunity. This strategy to gain political power in the context of multiparty competition in an ethnically divided state demonstrates how the aforementioned underlying factors allowed for the politicization of ethnicity, and that Ivoirité exacerbated existing ethnic tensions.  

Although introduced under President Bédié and constitutionalized by subsequent President Guéï, the policy continued during the first seven years of Gbagbo’s presidency. Gbagbo’s continual denial of full citizenship to many northerners resulted in a civil war that began in 2002, leading to a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south. This civil war flamed ethnic tensions even further. And, while the policy of Ivoirité officially ended in 2007 with the Ouagadougou Peace Accord, politicized ethnicity continued to be used in national political rhetoric, and ethnic tensions endured among the populace. However, the end of the policy meant that many of the previously-excluded northerners could vote and run in the 2010 election, evidently setting up Ouattara’s (who had previously been repeatedly disqualified from running) campaign for the presidency.

The 2010 presidential election itself also exhibits the politicized ethnicity that defines modern Ivorian politics. Thomas Bassett writes, “ethnicity influenced voting behaviour in the 2010 presidential election,” which can be demonstrated through the election’s ethnic vote share. There is a significant positive trend in the Krou vote for Gbagbo (the ethnic group to which he belongs), while there is a negative trend for Ouattara. Conversely, there is a positive trend in the Northern Mandé vote for Ouattara (the ethnic group to which he belongs), while there is a negative trend for Gbagbo. Therefore, ethnicity was evidently politicized prior to and during the 2010 presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire. This history of politicized ethnicity, exclusion, and differentiating between elites based on ethnicity creates a disunited elite structure. As elites seek out the vote of their own ethnic groups, they in return provide ethnically-exclusionary patronage since “successful urban sons of a particular area are expected to … redistribute some of their gains.” 

As noted in the theory section, this consequential variable stems from the theoretical argument presented by Higley and Burton. This section aims to prove the existence of a united elite structure in Senegal and a disunited elite structure in Côte d’Ivoire in order to later apply Higley and Burton’s argument, that a united national elite produces positive-sum politics and that a disunited national elite produces zero-sum politics, to the specific cases of power alternation in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire in 2012 and 2010 respectively. 

In their book, Higley and Burton specifically note the existence of a united elite structure in Senegal. One notable instance that demonstrates this notion is the fact that political elites in Senegal switch parties. In fact, Macky Sall, the winner of the 2012 presidential election to whom Abdoulaye Wade conceded, was not only in the same party as Wade, but was his prime minister before becoming disillusioned with his unconstitutional practices. This specific instance exemplifies that a lack of ethnic politics allows for elites to switch between parties since they are not structured along ethnic lines.This ability demonstrates and further facilitates a united elite structure that involves “consensus about rules and codes of political conduct,” demonstrated by the fact that Sall was never excluded from running against Wade. This elite agreement demonstrates that Senegal maintains a consensually united elite structure “whose value system indicates ‘politics-as-bargaining’ and conflict resolution.” Lastly, the causation from a united elite structure to a positive-sum political system will ultimately be demonstrated to explain the existence of electoral concession and peaceful power alternation in the country.

During the presidency of Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire appeared to have a consensually united elite, as it was artificially bound together by the extensive cross-ethnic patronage networks made possible by the economic miracle. As this paper has demonstrated, elite power struggles and ethno-regional splintering after Houphouët-Boigny’s death and the introduction of multiparty politics ceased whatever elite unity existed in the country. Higley and Burton state that by the 2000s the political elite structure in Côte d’Ivoire was very disunited. This can be evidenced through exemplifying one of Higley and Burton’s characterizations of a disunited elite structure, in which “members of a disunited elite routinely take extreme measures to protect themselves and their interests: killing, imprisoning, banishing opponents, or fomenting rebellions against ascendant factions.” This is evident throughout the post-democratic transition history of Côte d’Ivoire, especially the banishing of opponents through Ivoirité and the rebellious civil war that resulted from it. As such, this disunited elite structure along ethnic lines generates a zero-sum political system, manifesting disastrous consequences for the possibility of peaceful power alternation. 

Dominika Koter explains that political competition along ethnic lines creates a zero-sum game, as an ethnic group as a whole is either in power or not. Koter argues that ethnic groups who lose might be marginalized and left without resources (e.g. through ethnically-tied patronage networks). While this is evident in the case of Côte d’Ivoire and will be applied in this section, it is a far more relevant contribution to explain how politicized ethnicity works through a disunited elite structure to then create a zero-sum political system. Explaining this mechanism is also beneficial because it explains and contrasts cases that lack politicized ethnicity, and still uses the same mechanisms to account for disparate outcomes in electoral concession and power alternation. Thus, exhibiting how the lack of/existence of politicized ethnicity works through the mechanism of elite structure is crucial to investigating and explaining the specific cases of Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. 

In the 2012 presidential election in Senegal, the opposition (many of whom previously supported Wade) galvanized themselves across collective democratic and constitutional rule; ethnicity was as an irrelevant political factor. This collective action against citizens who formerly supported Wade is only possible because citizens are not bound by zero-sum political choices, as candidates and parties are not ethnically-based. As a result, Wade lost the election by so many votes that it would have been difficult to refuse giving up power. While the lopsided election outcome is certainly a factor in Wade’s decision to concede, the key of this paper is to further examine what factors made that choice so easy. Higley and Burton write that in a united elite structure, “elite members enjoy considerable personal security, in the sense that they do not expect to be killed, imprisoned, or otherwise severely penalized for ending up on the losing side of a policy dispute.” This same idea can be applied to ending up on the losing side of a presidential election. 

Because politics in Senegal is not zero-sum, in which competing for total political control is necessary for the benefit and survival of an ethnically-tied politician and his ethnic group, Wade did not face a “life or death” decision when he lost his election. As a result of a consensually united elite and the consequent positive-sum political system, Wade had little fear of being killed, violently attacked, or punished in any way as a consequence of losing his presidential power. In a system of positive-sum politics, a cost-benefit analysis favors conceding power over unconstitutionally remaining in office and fighting to retain control. Wade knew that after his presidency he could continue to live the rest of his life as a member of the wealthy elite in peace and comfort. In addition, Wade did not have an ethnically-based, zero-sum relationship with his supporters, and thus his stepping down would not have resulted in detrimental effects to them. Therefore, when Wade was given the option to peacefully concede power to Sall and cement Senegal’s achievement of the two-turnover test, his choice was simple, but only as a result of the positive-sum political system that made giving up power a superior choice to retaining it.  

Higley and Burton explain that a disunited elite structure is composed of deep insecurity, especially the fear that all is lost if some other person or faction gets the upper hand. Writing after the 2010-2011 Ivorian Crisis, Abu Bakarr Barr argues that “the electoral outcome compounds the dominance of an ethnic or religious group by the fact that the president controls parliament, the judiciary, police, and military,” and thus the president appoints people loyal to him, often people from his own ethnic group and region. This resulting dominance by the group that wins the election and the concurrent marginalization of the losers is a function of a zero-sum political system, which is clearly evident in the case of the 2010 presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire. On one hand, the fact that Gbagbo’s power-sharing deal with Guillaume Soro was set to end with the 2010 election meant that the election was in fact zero-sum, as the victor would gain complete control of the disproportionately powerful executive branch.

Since Gbagbo campaigned on ethno-nationalist policies that sought to again marginalize northerners, it was clear that Gbagbo was mobilizing along ethnic lines, and also that northerners would evidently have a political vendetta against him should he lose the election to northerner Alassane Ouattara. Consequently, Gbagbo held legitimate personal fears of losing his power, confirming the deep insecurity that a defeated incumbent faces in a zero-sum political system. Furthermore, in addition to fearing for himself, Gbagbo feared for his ethnically-related supporters based on the notion that transferring power to Ouattara would create a government that favored northerners at the expense and marginalization of southerners. Gbagbo feared that such a government would effectively upend the discriminatory, ethnically-based political structure that Gbagbo himself utilized to secure and maintain his power. Therefore, when faced with the decision of conceding defeat and power to Ouattara, or igniting a violent conflict in order to remain in office, his choice was not exactly as easy as Wade’s. However, given the zero-sum political system that contained the possibility of his persecution and his ethnic supporters’ marginalization, Gbagbo was left with little choice. That is simply the nature of a zero-sum political system; an incumbent will do everything to stay in power, even if the refusal to concede sparks the country’s second civil war in two decades. 

Not all of this thesis argument is original, even in the case of Côte d’Ivoire. For example, Abu Bakarr Barr writes that “the key problem with liberal democracy in Côte d’Ivoire … is that elections tend to produce winner-takes-all outcomes in a situation where voting is largely based on ethnic or regional identity,” highlighting the causation from politicized ethnicity to zero-sum politics. Thus, while this paper affirms this argument, the incorporation of Higley and Burton’s theory of elite structure strengthens the overall objective of this paper that attempts to explain disparities in electoral concession and power alternation between two countries using equivalent and corresponding mechanisms. 

When considering the existing research and literature on this topic of power alternation in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, it is notable that there are more explanations for the Côte d’Ivoire case than that of Senegal. Thus, at least in this specific comparison, this research and literature disparity demonstrates that scholars have focused more on a situation in which something went wrong, namely the lack of electoral concession and a violent transfer of power in Côte d’Ivoire, than on a situation in which something went right, namely the swift electoral concession and achievement of the two-turnover test in Senegal. When applying this to the broader African context, it would be intriguing and informative to see if this disparity holds up. If the disparity in research does exist, perhaps it shines light on why there is a realized disparity in peaceful, democratic power alternation across the continent. And, considering that Senegal’s case of achieving the two-turnover test and democratic consolidation is not the norm on the African continent, it becomes quite evident that more focus needs to be placed on studying why turnovers go right, prompting an opportunity to look forward to a democratizing continent, instead of disproportionately looking back and trying to explain what went wrong. Therefore, as evidenced by the 2019 article in Foreign Affairs entitled, “The Retreat of African Democracy,” it is increasingly important to research the conditions and mechanisms that contribute to democratic consolidation on the African continent. This paper serves to add to that conversation. 


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Gender Quotas in Sub-Saharan African Legislatures: Feminist Justifications and Implications

Over the past few decades, gender quotas have become an increasingly common policy around the world. Since the late 1980s, more than 70 countries have implemented laws requiring that women compose a minimum percentage of electoral candidates or seats in the national legislature, with the goal that such policies will increase the amount of women in elected legislative positions. Current scholars generally agree that gender quotas have led to an increase in the presence of women in legislatures around the world, presumably demonstrating that gender quotas achieve a feminist goal of increased representation for women and a more equal opportunity for women to contest such elections. This paper will focus on gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region with significant implementation of gender quota policies (half of the countries in the region have mandated gender quotas) and the fastest and largest rate of change in women’s political representation in recent decades.

Overall, this paper will prove that gender quotas are consistent with feminist action, and that contrary to the arguments of some critics, gender quotas are not sexist, but rather feminist in nature. In order to make this argument, it is imperative to define feminism and feminist action. Feminism is defined as “the social and political movement advocating for women’s equality,” while feminist action is defined as “associated with achieving the goals and aims of feminism.” 234 This paper will proceed as follows. First, it will explore the implementations of various types of gender quota policies, and discuss the feminist reasons and implications of their enactments. Next, this paper will verify that gender quotas are truly a form of feminist action and achieve feminist goals through three forms of representation: descriptive, substantive, and symbolic. Additionally, there will be a discussion about the sustainability of quotas to demonstrate that while they should not be a permanent solution, gender quotas play a positive and necessary role in quickly feminizing politics. Lastly, using the concepts of creating access and combating structural oppression, this paper will argue in favor of gender quota policies being inherently feminist and not sexist as some claim. To conclude, this paper will argue for the necessity of broader affirmative action policies in order to upend structural oppression and inequality, and that creating access and equal opportunity proves such policies to be the opposite of discriminatory. 

According to Drude Dahlerup, “quotas in politics may be defined as an affirmative action measure that establishes a percentage or number for the representation of a specific group, in this case women, most often in the form of a minimum requirement.” Quotas can come in different forms and generally can be classified in terms of two characteristics: the lack/existence of a legal mandate and the stage of implementation. In terms of the mandate condition, there are both voluntary party quotas and legally mandated quotas (which apply to all parties/the legislature as a whole). The stage of implementation refers to which part of the electoral process the quota addresses, either candidates or elected members/seats. This has generally led to three types of quota systems in Sub-Saharan Africa: voluntary party candidate quotas, legal/mandated candidate quotas, and reserved seats. Voluntary party quotas establish that a certain political party promises to have a specified minimum percentage of its candidates be female. However, since these quotas do not affect the entire political system, they will not be specifically addressed or investigated in this paper. Legal/mandated candidate quotas require all political parties to have a specified minimum percentage of candidates be female, with the goal of increasing the number of women on election ballots. One significant benefit of candidate quotas is that women compete with men, introducing such a concept into the public eye and setting up potential long-term success for when quotas are no longer in place. However, candidate quotas do not guarantee that a fixed percentage of women will hold elected office in the legislature. 

Under a reserved seat system, women are either elected as part of a proportional representation system in which the political parties allocate a certain percentage of their winning seats to women, or women run in their own elections against other women in majoritarian systems. While some scholars claim that a reserved seat system creates a glass ceiling for women (which will be discussed later), women are still legally permitted to run for the non-reserved/open seats against men, and some women have successfully done so. Thus, the advantage over candidate quotas is that women are guaranteed representation, but the lack of competition with men raises questions about the long-term impact on the ability of women to feasibly compete with men. Currently, reserved seats are the least commonly used type of quota worldwide, but they are the single most common quota system (out of the three) in Sub-Saharan Africa. In terms of realized numerical representation, reserved seats are the most effective as they require a minimum percentage of female legislators. This policy is also easier to enforce compliance with compared to candidate quotas. 

Before evaluating the feminist qualities and implications of gender quotas, it is important to demonstrate the feminist need for gender quotas in the first place. Such a need stems from sexually stratified, patriarchal societies that contain a disproportionately low number of women in political office. Currently, women make up 24.1% of single house or lower house national legislatures, which this paper is focusing on. At the most basic level, gender quotas exist as a means of increasing women’s political representation in these legislative bodies. According to numerous scholars, gender quotas have achieved this aim in Sub-Saharan Africa, arguing that the increase in women’s political representation in Sub-Saharan Africa is largely attributed to the introduction of gender quotas. From a feminist perspective, this numerical increase is important because women have the right to equal representation, or at least the equal opportunity to representation. However, numerical representation is only the first step, as “the incorporation of women into political and public life by extension promotes feminist aims to improve women’s overall social, economic, and political status,” a concept that will be explored when discussing the impact of gender quotas on various types of representation. Further, “the inclusion of women is crucial to achieving justice, promoting women’s interests, and making use of women’s resources for the good of society,” demonstrating that the reasoning behind the introduction of gender quotas is in fact feminist in nature. 

While there is an obvious feminist justification as to the need for gender quota policies, the direct impetuses for their implementations have not always aligned with these feminist mindsets. Overall, the introduction of gender quota policies in Sub-Saharan Africa has been the result of a combination of both normative (feminist) and pragmatic motivations of various involved groups. While principled stands (often by civil society or the international community) for the feminist belief that women should be better represented and have an equal opportunity to hold political office are instrumental in pushing for the introduction of gender quotas, the governments implementing such policies are often pressured and have non-feminist motivations that justify their decisions. For example, governments may implement gender quotas to gain international legitimacy (even if they do not care for women’s rights), or as a way for the ruling party to gain more votes from women, even if it has few intentions to enact a pro-women agenda. As a result, some scholars argue that because the involved motivations and actors are partially non-feminist, there is some question as to the extent to which quotas can be considered “feminist” reforms. And, while “it is crucial to acknowledge that the adoption of gender quotas does not always stem from principled concerns to empower women in politics,” the feminist effects and implications of gender quotas should be weighed more heavily, as those are what ultimately constitute feminist action, even if unintended. 

Although it is important to acknowledge that the effectiveness of gender quotas is influenced by a wide variety of factors (e.g. regime type), this paper will use aggregated, demonstrated effects of gender quota policies in Sub-Saharan Africa on the three types of representation. The first type of representation, descriptive representation, has already been alluded to so far in this paper, just without the attached terminology. Descriptive representation consists of the number of women elected, as well as the diversity of their social backgrounds. The correlation between gender quotas and descriptive representation has been argued above, and can be further illustrated in the following graph. 

Therefore, it is evident that gender quotas are an effective mechanism to increase women’s descriptive representation in a numerical sense. In addition, the diversity of the backgrounds of women elected to national legislatures is also increasing, with scholars arguing that “family ties have not characterized women’s access to political office.” Further, while it is clear that gender quotas achieve the feminist aim of increased descriptive representation, the demonstrated effects on the substantive and symbolic representation of women as a result of increased descriptive representation are far more impactful and important for acheiving true feminist goals in a wider societal context, proving that gender quotas serve as the impetus for a domino effect of feminist action.

Substantive representation involves the effectiveness of female politicians in commanding influence in the legislature, promoting the discussion of women’s-related issues, and realizing tangible pro-women policy outcomes. In order to preface the discussion regarding policy outcomes, it is important to note that the national legislatures in many Sub-Saharan African countries are weak, meaning that the male-dominated executive branches have considerable control over which policies are actually implemented as laws. However, there is still evidence that women’s descriptive representation increases women’s substantive representation. Female legislators are more likely to promote legislation that serves women’s interests, meaning that increasing the amount of female legislators increases the likelihood that such interests will be considered and codified into legislation. Scholars have identified legislative gains in areas such as family law, gender-based violence, and gender-related land rights in several Sub-Saharan African countries. Therefore, gender quotas, by way of increasing women’s descriptive representation, have a significantly positive impact on the increased awareness of women’s issues in politics and also the passing of pro-women legislation. Such legislation seeks to improve codified gender equality and protect the rights of women, providing more evidence as to how gender quota policies are in line with feminist action. 

The most important type of representation in terms of sustainability and future implications of feminist action is symbolic representation. Symbolic representation is defined as “the ways in which women’s increased presence in parliaments affects public attitudes towards women in politics as well as women’s own engagement in politics.” Overall, while substantive representation affects codified gender equality, symbolic representation of women has the ability to influence the other two types of representation, and is a means of changing attitudes about gender equality. For example, increased perception of women as equal in society can naturally lead to more women in politics and the promotion of pro-women laws by both men and women, thus encompassing the true transformation of society through feminist action to a point where policies such as gender quotas are no longer necessary.

Studies have revealed that the increase in the number of women in legislatures has increased women’s engagement with the political sphere and changed many citizens’ attitudes toward women’s leadership and women’s participation in politics, both as elected officials and activists. Gender quotas are directly responsible for these shifting perceptions, as “the increased visibility of women in leadership positions in politics” is the main impetus. Gretchen Bauer explicitly argues that “one of the main benefits of introducing electoral quotas has been the way an influx of women has helped influence popular perceptions of the acceptability of women being active in politics.” Further, such shifting perceptions facilitated increased political engagement of female constituents. Thus, gender quotas not only create opportunity and access for women to enter the political sphere in leadership positions, but they also increase the engagement of non-politician women, leading to increased civil society promotion of pro-women policies in line with feminist action. That being said, the pro-feminist changes in societal perception are the most important impact of gender quotas. Increasing the amount of citizens who believe in gender equality is the most important long-term goal of feminist action because it incorporates the correct motives (principled stands), increases the capacity for pro-women reform, and is sustainable. 

Gender quota policies are meant to be temporary, and therefore the sustainability of their impacts is of paramount importance. The objective of gender quotas is to fast track descriptive representation, with the assumption that such increased descriptive representation has the aforementioned impacts on substantive and symbolic representation. Sustainable representation is defined as “viable and substantial political representation secured for the long run,” which in this case would relate to that of women. A true achievement of feminist action would be a society that does not need gender quotas in order to provide true equal opportunity for women. True equal opportunity does not just mean the codified, textual opportunity that already exists in these countries. Such laws that allow women to run for the same positions as men have little impact if the structural factors that oppress women create the current reality that sees a lack of women’s representation, a lack of pro-women laws, and a lack of societal agreement that women deserve to be treated and valued equally to men. As of now, it is difficult to measure whether such structural oppression, especially in the political sphere, is being overcome since no countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have repealed their gender quotas. The best way to measure the impact is to assess to what extent women participate beyond the quota requirements, and if female politicians have been successful in switching from reserved seats to open seats, which men contest. As of now, the percentage of women in Sub-Saharan African legislatures rarely exceeds the quota requirement. While some may view this as a glass ceiling stemming from reserved seats, and a failure of gender quotas in promoting women’s symbolic representation, one can also argue that this demonstrates the need for the continuation of gender quota policies as there is still more work to do done in terms of increasing symbolic representation. 

The aforementioned successes and goals of feminist action can only be achieved  as rapidly as they should be through a fast-track policy such as gender quotas, with scholars writing that without the intervention of gender quotas, it would have taken decades to “bring about the changes in cultural attitudes and the socioeconomic developments necessary to organically produce such large numbers of women in African legislatures.” In fact, this demonstrates that numerical representation and broader feminist goals are reciprocally affected. This means that increasing numerical representation now through gender quotas can improve perceptions of women and their realized status in society, and then as a result of these new perceptions and heightened status, women’s organic political representation (i.e. without quotas) in the future will naturally increase. Gender quotas simply serve to expedite the process of women’s equality and empowerment, but they should only serve as a temporary solution to ensuring equality of opportunity.

Gender quotas should be temporary for a few reasons. First, a true feminist goal would be a society in which women do not need a legal abetment to securing equal opportunity. Additionally, gender quota policies are “textually sexist” meaning that the written policies themselves (sans context) discriminate against men in favor of women. While critics of gender quota policies cite this as a reason as to why the policies are discriminatory and inconsistent with feminism, it is paramount to consider the structural sexism and oppression that prevents women from having equal access and opportunity to political office and in society more generally. Having a codified law that allows women the same legal opportunity to run for office as men is just the start, whereas critics see it as the finish, an illustration of postfeminism. These critics are misguided because the codified law does not serve as the reality of the situation for women; structural sexism and oppression continue to limit their opportunity. Because of this, policies such as gender quotas must be put in place in order to guarantee the right to equal opportunity. In this context, gender quotas “do not discriminate, but compensate for actual barriers that prevent women from their fair share of the political seats” and in fact serve as “compensation for direct and structural discrimination against women.”  

When determining whether a specific policy or social reality is sexist, one should distinguish whether the policy or reality creates access or creates/maintains barriers. Therefore, while gender quota critics may technically be correct in arguing that gender quota policies “textually discriminate” against men, they neglect to realize that gender quotas create access for women in a society that maintains barriers to equal opportunity. Using this perspective, the lack of gender quotas is the sexist option because allowing the structural oppression and sexism to continue leads to a more impactful and realized discrimination against women than a temporary, “textually discriminatory” law that promotes creating opportunity for the socially subjugated sex at the “expense” of the socially dominant sex, which is really not an expense at all given the heightened status of men. Because the “textual discrimination” against men has little impact, allowing for the continued social subjugation of the female sex is a far worse alternative than implementing gender quota policies. It is more in line with feminist action to have “textually sexist” laws against the socially dominant sex than to have textually non-sexist laws in which structural oppression against the subjugated sex continues to limit the access and opportunity of women. Gender equality cannot wait for society to catch up by neglecting a policy stimulus, further demonstrating how not implementing “textually sexist” gender quotas is actually more sexist than implementing them since waiting for the gradual improvement of attitudes and realities of gender equality means that women continue to suffer under a sexually oppressive system in the meantime. 

Contrary to what is commonly believed, gender quotas are more about providing equality of opportunity than equality of result, and thus do not contradict the liberal and democratic principle of merit. Gender quotas are a necessary step in correcting a system that provides an unfair opportunistic advantage for men to dominate socially and politically. Debating whether feminism should entail a mandated equality of result is an entirely separate argument, but what is clear is that women are currently structurally oppressed and that any positive outcomes for women can only begin to manifest themselves by empowering women through providing them the same opportunity as men to be heard and to enact meaningful change.  

This investigation of the feminist justifications and implications of gender quota policies, namely the argument that they serve as a useful mechanism to combat discrimination, contributes to the broader argument regarding the justified and important use of affirmative action policies in order to upend structural oppression by creating access and opportunity. In her study of gender quotas, Isobel Coleman writes, “women are just as qualified as men, but women’s qualifications are downgraded and minimized in a male-dominated political system.” This same concept can be applied to race relations in the United States, in which case the sentence would read: black people are just as qualified as white people, but black people’s qualifications are downgraded and minimized in a white-dominated political system. In fact, this concept can be extended beyond the political system: the education system, the economic system, etc. Paul Kuttner discusses this idea in his blog post regarding the equity vs. equality graphic, explaining that the reason that people cannot see over the fence is not because of something inherent to them (e.g. height or unqualification) but rather as a result of structural oppression and discrimination (e.g. lower ground or sexist/racist societies). Kuttner’s argument provides a further justification for gender quota policies and affirmative action more broadly, arguing that the “achievement gap” cannot be closed unless policies are put in place to close the “opportunity gap” first. Therefore, postfeminist and postracist thought that is grounded in the idea that equality and justice simply means equality under codified law must be rebuked; structural oppression continues to plague societies around the world, and affirmative action policies are the best mechanism for reifying this reality, while still placing an emphasis on the equality of opportunity. 

Affirmative action does not guarantee that a woman or a black person (in the U.S. context) will succeed without trying; it simply gives them the same chance that a white man like myself has to achieve their hopes and dreams with the necessary hard work and dedication. In other words, affirmative action does not ensure that an oppressed individual will automatically beat a privileged individual in a race, but rather it provides them the opportunity to start the race at the same position as a privileged person, and not 50 meters behind. 


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Coleman, Isobel. “Are Quotas for Women in Politics a Good Idea?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, January 11, 2012.

Cook, Nicolas, Alexis Arieff, Lauren Ploch Blanchard, Brock R. Williams, and Tomas F. Husted. “Sub-Saharan Africa: Key Issues, Challenges, and U.S. Responses.” Congressional Research Service. Congressional Research Service, March 21, 2017.

Dahlerup, Drude. “Electoral Gender Quotas: Between Equality Of Opportunity And Equality Of Result.” Representation 43, no. 2 (2007): 73–92.

Dahlerup, Drude, and Lenita Freidenvall. “Judging Gender Quotas: Predictions and Results.” Policy & Politics 38, no. 3 (July 2010): 407–25.×521080.

Edgell, Amanda B. “Vying for a Man Seat: Gender Quotas and Sustainable Representation in Africa.” African Studies Review 61, no. 1 (April 2018): 185–214.

Krook, Mona Lena. “Quota Laws for Women in Politics: Implications for Feminist Practice.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society 15, no. 3 (2008): 345–68.

Krook, Mona Lena. “Gender Quotas and Democracy: Insights from Africa and Beyond.” Women’s Studies International Forum 41 (2013): 160–63.

Kuttner, Paul. “The Problem with That Equity vs. Equality Graphic You’re Using.” Cultural Organizing, November 10, 2016.

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Muriaas, Ragnhild L., Liv Tønnessen, and Vibeke Wang. “Exploring the Relationship between Democratization and Quota Policies in Africa.” Women’s Studies International Forum 41 (2013): 89–93.

China’s Involvement in Africa in the Past 20 Years


Concurrent with China’s rapid economic growth over the past two decades has been China’s increasingly deep interest, investment, and relationship with the African continent. China has engaged in considerable trade with African countries and heavily financed development projects. China’s expanding geopolitical influence through the media, military involvement, and diplomatic engagement has introduced ubiquitous new realities on the continent, which the United States should investigate and address more actively. As economic and political ties have deepened between China and Africa, some in the West have become skeptical of China’s intentions and whether negative impacts will arise from Chinese engagement with Africa. On the contrary, many African governments and citizens openly welcome China’s involvement, a major reason being China’s ability to address the infrastructure gap. However, this situation is not purely dichotomous and thus a more nuanced approach is required to assess the potential outcomes for African countries and the United States.

Major topics:

Africa: The Next Frontier of Globalization

China’s rise and engagement with Africa is occurring in the context of a rising and globalizing African continent. Africa is ready and eager to join the world’s economic order due to its endowment of natural resources, rapidly growing population, and strong economic growth. Africa contains more than 30% of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves and minerals, and possesses 22 of the 33 mineral commodities that the US deems critical to economy and defense.[1] The presence of a variety of natural resources on the continent aligns with China’s growing need for imports to support a growing industrial sector (specifically energy imports), thus making Africa’s natural resources a major target for Chinese interests. Additionally, Africa is experiencing the world’s biggest population explosion, driving the potential for robust economies. The current population of 1.2 billion people has significant unfulfilled demand, which will only increase with population growth (projected 1.68 billion by 2030) and rising incomes/economic growth.[2] Young people are also especially relevant, given that 60% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under 25 and 15-20 million young people will enter the workforce each year for the next decade.[3] The recent rapid economic growth on the continent (4.6% GDP growth 2000-2016) means that investment and engagement can lead to significant benefits for all involved parties.[4] [5] [6] In essence, Africa is the region with the most unfilled potential, making it increasingly attractive to international actors, such as China.[7]

China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Launched in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious development project to connect China with Eurasia and Africa through land and maritime networks with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade, and stimulating economic growth.[8] According to Brookings fellow David Dollar, the goal of the initiative is to “more efficiently utilize excess savings and construction capacity, expand trade, consolidate economic and diplomatic relations with participating countries, and diversify China’s import of energy and other resources through economic corridors that circumvent routes that are controlled by the U.S. and its allies.”[9] While the Belt and Road Initiative is not solely focused on Africa, its impact on the region is arguably more significant than in Europe and Asia due to the aforementioned reasons that make Africa an increasingly relevant region in the global system. Many developed countries have criticized the initiative for lacking transparency, exporting China’s authoritarian governance model and expanding Chinese soft power, potentially creating debt crises in African countries, and displaying inadequate environmental and social safeguards (essentially arguing that China only seeks to benefit itself). As of September 2019, 39 out of 54 African states have signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative, and economic results have been heterogenous. Some countries have faced consequent debt sustainability problems, while others have successfully integrated loans into sound macroeconomic programs and policies.[10] A trillion-dollar plan that is said to make China a dominant economic player on the continent already has statistics to show for its engagement.[11] More than 3,000 Chinese infrastructure projects are currently underway and approximately 10,000 Chinese companies are doing business across the continent.[12][13] However, nearly 75% of Chinese investments have gone to only 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, of which only one (South Africa) is classified as free, highlighting the political intentions and impacts of Chinese economic engagement.[14] Therefore, China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Africa demonstrates an increasingly high level of engagement that extends beyond purely economic purposes. China is not just investing in trade and infrastructure, but rather investing in long-term relationships with African countries that require further attention and assessment.[15]

Economic Engagement

Over the past 20 years, China and Africa have forged close economic ties. This economic engagement occurs through two main channels: trade and finance (mostly lending).[16]

International trade between China and Africa has significantly increased (40-fold) over the past two decades.[17] In 2009, China overtook the United States as the largest trading partner with Africa.[18] More recently, Chinese trade with Africa has seen even further increases; trade figures went from $300 billion in 2015 to $500 billion by the end of 2018.[19] For the most part, African countries import large quantities of consumer and light-manufactured goods, machinery, and electronics, while China mostly buys minerals and metals since China cannot domestically procure enough natural resources to meet its expanding industrial needs. The relationship between African natural resources and China will be further explored in a later section.[20] In June 2019, the first China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo was held, resulting in a total of $20.8 billion in new trade deals.[21]

Along with increased trade, Chinese financial engagement into Africa has dramatically increased over the same time period. Chinese intentions are not entirely clear, with some claiming that China is trying to benefit economically while mutually benefiting African countries, while others emphasize the Chinese goal of locking African countries into long-term political and diplomatic relationships to further their own interests. Whatever the intentions, China is benefitting both economically and politically, and thus financial engagement outcomes deserve sufficient attention.[22]

Chinese financial engagement can be divided into three major categories: loans, aid, and foreign direct investment (FDI), the latter of the three coming from Chinese firms instead of the state, although the reality of the Chinese governance structure demonstrates that Chinese firms are intrinsically connected to the state.[23] In recent years, loans have been considerably higher than the other two categories. For example, in 2017, Chinese loans to Africa totaled $11 billion, aid totaled $2.45 billion, and FDI flows totaled $4.1 billion.[24] [25] [26] Due to the relatively low amounts of aid and FDI, this report will focus on lending.

The China-Africa Research initiative has presented three key findings regarding Chinese loans to Africa. From 2000 to 2017, the Chinese government, banks, and contractors (note: these entities are either directly owned or heavily influenced by the Chinese government) extended $143 billion in loans to African governments and state-owned enterprises (FDI would go to private firms). Angola is the top recipient of Chinese loans with $42.8 billion in the same 17-year time period, which will be relevant for the later discussion on extractive industries. Thirdly, even Chinese loan finance is varied. The majority of loans are not concessional in nature. Because of this and the relatively low amount of aid, China is not Africa’s largest donor; the United States is.[27]

The majority of Chinese financial engagement consists of export credits and loans. Part of the attractiveness of these loans is that they are offered at subsidized and relatively low interest rates.[28] Moreover, these types of investments are fast, flexible, and largely without conditions, often making Chinese investments more popular for African countries than more traditional aid sources.[29] The “unconditional aid” means that there are no required changes in governance structure or requirements of sound economic policies (e.g. promoting efficiency or democratic institutions) that traditional donors (such as international institutions or OECD countries) attach to aid. Countries that struggle with reducing corruption and increasing accountability exemplify the attraction to this form of aid, which some argue may prevent the improvement of government quality in these countries. However, China does require some conditions in terms of pro-China rhetoric and foreign policy, which will be discussed later.[30]

A centerpiece of Chinese economic engagement in Africa is the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). First held in 2000, this forum meets every three years and is a major event for all parties as it outlines the status and future initiatives of Chinese economic engagement on the continent.[31] The latest meeting in 2018 was the biggest to date in terms of attendance, with 51 African leaders attending in Beijing.[32] At the 2018 meeting, China committed $60 billion in aid and loans, marking the first meeting that did not increase financial commitments from the previous one. Additionally, only a small portion of the $60 billion qualifies as official development aid.[33]

Potential debt of African countries as a result of Chinese lending is a potential concern, though the situation is nuanced. Some in the West, including the Trump administration, have accused China of engaging in debt trap diplomacy: giving predatory loans aimed at trapping countries in debt in order to force dependence and coerce influence.[34] As of 2015, Chinese loans accounted for a third of new debt being taken on by African governments.[35] Though China is not entirely responsible for the recent increases in debt of African countries, the addition of Chinese loans makes the debt problems larger. Public debt on the continent is rising for a variety of reasons, such as exchange rate depreciation due to falling commodity prices and the reduction in debt relief from international institutions.[36] Researchers at the China-Africa Research Initiative back this assessment, stating “we find that Chinese loans are not currently a major contributor to debt distress in Africa.”[37]

According to the China-Africa Research Initiative, the majority of Chinese loans go toward infrastructure projects.[38] Further, Deloitte states that China is the biggest single non-African financier of Africa’s infrastructure. China finances one in five infrastructure projects and constructs one in three on the continent, and to date has participated in over 200 African infrastructure projects. The majority of these infrastructure projects are related to transport/shipping/ports, and the majority of the funding comes from the state-owned China Exim Bank (67%) and China Development Bank (13%). China is likely investing in infrastructure because it is a priority in Africa; the infrastructure gap remains a constant obstacle to growth on the continent, and China is significantly contributing to reducing it. Infrastructure investment also allows for further investment; for example, it lowers transactions costs and facilitates trade in goods and services. In the end, Chinese infrastructure investment in Africa has the potential to be positive, and thus assessment of these investments must not discount this.[39]

In addition to infrastructure, a large amount of Chinese economic engagement involves the extractive industries (e.g. importing African natural resources). Some of the largest African exporters to China are resource rich nations. For example, Angola and South Sudan export crude petroleum (in 2017, South Sudan exported 95% of its crude petroleum to China), Eritrea exports zinc and copper ore, the DRC exports cobalt, and Sierra Leone exports iron and titanium.[40] While China imports natural resources through trade, natural resources are also inherently tied to Chinese loans and investments. Using what is dubbed the “Angola model of lending,” China also allows African countries to use natural resources as collateral for instances such as infrastructure development lending from the China Exim bank, making it a win-win situation for the Chinese. This combination of natural resource collateral and lending makes Chinese economic engagement competitive because it does not require more traditional financial guarantees from African countries. Additionally, Chinese loans can also be (and often are) repaid by shipping Africa’s oil and minerals to China in order to support its growing demand and industrial sector.[41]

Another major aspect of Chinese investment is the telecoms, internet, and television industry. One major player in Africa is the Chinese-owned company Huawei. Huawei has established 40 third-generation telecom networks in 30 African countries and built 70% of Africa’s 4G networks.[42] [43] Huawei has been a major concern for the US and Western countries due to the belief that the Chinese government uses Huawei to spy on other governments and their citizens to improve Chinese intelligence gathering. However, recent reports have also demonstrated that Huawei technicians helped African governments spy on their own political opponents, threatening democratic development.[44] These concerns are largely overshadowed in Africa due to the greater need for telecom infrastructure and internet access. Additionally, many Africans think that the US may have a vested interest in peddling the anti-Huawei argument, leading many Africans to discount the claims and thus embrace their direct benefits from Huawei’s involvement.[45] In addition to telecoms and internet infrastructure/services, Chinese firms manufacture a large portion of the cell phones sold in Africa, such as the company Tecno Mobile. These phones are attractive due to their wide availability and low costs.[46] Chinese firms have also increased their market share in television in terms of both content and infrastructure. For example, the China Global Television Network (which broadcasts Chinese state television programs) is offered nearly everywhere, and the China-based television provider StarTimes is becoming increasingly popular due to its affordability.[47] In terms of internet provisioning, the status of Chinese companies as the only viable providers of internet connectivity can give China leverage over African governments that strive to increase internet access for their citizens.[48]

Chinese investments and loans are not inherently positive or negative in terms of their impacts on African countries and their development. If loans are used properly, they could help the continent build necessary power and road infrastructure, and also spur economic growth.[49] For this reason, many African leaders welcome the competition between donors since in some ways the competition provides African countries with more agency through choosing the options best suited for their needs.[50] However, if African countries use Chinese financing as a patch for poor governance and irresponsible fiscal policies, they could incur serious problems, especially if China continues to offer loans even with the awareness of their potential negative impacts.[51] Further, the lack of good governance conditions means that the benefits of the loans can become more easily compromised.[52] Another negative consequence for African countries is the pro-China foreign policy conditions attached to the loans. China requires all African state beneficiaries to recognize a one-China policy and disavow Taiwan.[53] China is also using these loans to leverage favorable votes at the UN on issues such as ignoring its problematic human rights record (e.g. treatment of political prisoners and Uighur Muslims) and supporting its claim over the South China Sea.[54] These political conditions are just one example of China’s expanding geopolitical influence on the continent, which impacts both African countries and the interests of the United States.

Expanding Geopolitical Influence

China’s expanding geopolitical influence on the continent is no accident. The aforementioned increase in economic engagement is no doubt partially (or perhaps entirely) driven by China’s self-interest to establish its political dominance in a region that is becoming increasingly relevant in international relations. While the economic engagement may strive to help African countries develop, there is no doubt that China is spreading both soft and hard power as a result of increased involvement in Africa.

While Chinese penetration into African media was briefly addressed with regard to telecoms/internet/television infrastructure and service provision, the endeavor extends far beyond that realm. This penetration is not just a commercial endeavor, but a significant instrument of state policy designed to spread soft power, boost China’s image, and manipulate African media sources to China’s advantage. Thus, by dominating and controlling how media is delivered, China and Chinese companies are acting as the window to the world for millions of Africans, shaping their views into those supportive of and positive toward China.[55] In fact, the timing of this media penetration aligns with the other aforementioned forms of Chinese engagement on the continent. In 1999, China began investing millions of dollars into African media in order to combat negative perceptions of China portrayed in Western media, and to attempt to promote the country’s image on the continent. This engagement steadily increased and involved bulking up Chinese state media presence, supporting privately owned Chinese media, purchasing stakes in private African media, and organizing sponsored trips to China for African newsrooms (which inevitably educated African media personnel through a pro-China and pro-authoritarian lens).

To date, private African companies have been the most effective in forwarding the interests of the Chinese state. China wields significant influence since financially struggling African newsrooms are dependent on Chinese investment. In addition to promoting China’s image through this indirect form of coercion, Chinese media also covers up African corruption and fiscal recklessness, potentially to allow for more Chinese loans and perhaps dependency. Thus, many African leaders enjoy the benefits that stem from Chinese media portraying Africa more positively because African citizens are kept more ignorant of corruption and governance problems. In some cases, this pro-China and romanticized image of African countries is concocted more directly through media censorship. African media companies that are bankrolled by Chinese money often inherit strict and non-negotiable censorship policies to cover up news that would harm the positive and romanticized perception of China. One notable example of censorship is preventing commentary and reporting on the unethical treatment of Uighur Muslims in China. This practice also has more far reaching effects in that it promotes the authoritarian Chinese model of censorship that African governments may later use to their own benefit, reversing progress in accountability and democratic governance.

While China’s projection of soft power on the continent has been progressing for two decades, projections of hard power have manifested themselves more recently with increasing military involvement. At first, China’s involvement with military affairs on the continent was primarily economic. For example, in 2015 President Xi Jinping pledged to provide $100 million of free military assistance to the African Union through 2020 to support the establishment of the African Standby Force and the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis.[56] However, in 2017, China built its first military base on the continent. This naval base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa is located in the African country with the largest US military presence and lies in close proximity to US naval base Camp Lemonnier. Camp Lemonnier is the only permanent US military base in Africa, and one that is crucial to counterterrorism operations. This Chinese base has badly crowded US operations in the area, and exemplifies the growing competition for military presence in Africa.[57] [58] The creation of this Chinese base stems from Chinese influence driven by financial engagement; between 2017-2018, Djibouti borrowed $1.4 billion from China (3/4 of Djibouti’s total GDP) and thus China leveraged this money (by asking to be paid in cash) to build this base.[59] Aside from the base construction, China has also increased sales of Chinese weapons to African countries, increased their role in UN Peacekeeping missions on the continent, and expanded the size and role of the PLA Navy (including more port calls) in Africa.[60] [61]In 2018, the first ever China-Africa Defense and Security Forum engaged top officials from 50 African countries who spent two weeks touring military facilities in China and discussing security partnerships with their Chinese counterparts.[62] This showcase of technical capabilities and promotion of interaction with Chinese military personnel demonstrates to visiting African leaders that China is a serious security partner.[63] China’s military involvement and presence on the continent is likely to continue increasing; one potential increase would be providing training for policy and military units to interested African countries and the African Union.[64]

Diplomatic Engagement

In order to facilitate its increased economic involvement and geopolitical influence, China has made significant progress in enhancing diplomatic engagement. These investments in people-to-people relations and sustained diplomatic outreach help China assert its position on the continent, partially in an effort to counter engagement and influence of the United States. In the past decade, top Chinese leadership has made 80 trips to 43 African countries. In terms of African travel to China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sponsored thousands of cultural exchange visits (especially for students), short-term training (especially for media), and scholarships for civil servants and young entrepreneurs. Sponsoring trips of Africans to China is another way that China is able to leverage its investments (that do directly benefit Africans in some ways) in order to influence perceptions of African citizens. The emphasis on young people, especially considering the demographic boom on the continent, is logical. The enrollment of Africans in Chinese universities is increasing and there are now more Africans studying at universities in China than in the United States. On the continent, China has engaged and influenced young people by creating 50 Confucius Institutes which teach the Chinese language, the CCP’s version of history, and Chinese culture.[65]

African Perceptions of Chinese Involvement

Most of Africa has a pro-China view and rejects notions of neo-colonialist tendencies. Many Africans believe that China understands and respects African priorities.[66] These African perceptions are influenced by Chinese diplomatic discourse. China presents itself rather humbly and as an equal partner, promoting the idea of mutual benefit and respectful discourse.[67] For example, at the 2015 FOCAC, President Xi Jinping laid out the five pillars of the China-Africa relationship: political equality and mutual trust, promoting win-win economic cooperation, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security based on development and eradication of poverty, and solidarity and coordination in international affairs (especially in the context of the United Nations).[68] These perceptions are also somewhat biased due to the direct benefits that Africans receive from development projects, especially infrastructure. However, according to scholar Mehari Taddele Maru, African citizens are not completely ignorant of the potential issues with Chinese economic engagement (though he does not address awareness of the impacts of Chinese geopolitical influence). Maru claims that African citizens usually blame their own governments for being self-serving and weak on regulations and enforcement, highlighting an emphasis on the need for African agency. Maru furthers this argument by stating that many Africans realize that debt-traps are not inevitable outcomes of Chinese loans, and that the incurrence of debt depends on whether African governments use loans for productive capital investment.[69] This is not to say that Africans do not have any negative perceptions of Chinese economic involvement, with the lack of Chinese product quality in African markets being a notable example of negative perception.[70] Additionally, some African governments have pushed back against China on certain projects, such as the cancellation of a Chinese-funded airport project in Sierra Leone that the Sierra Leonean president characterized as a “sham.”[71]

Potential Threats to US Interests

While China’s exact intentions are unclear, its growing influence poses threats to not only US interests in the region, but also the US-dominated global system. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton stated that Chinese efforts to lock down strategic minerals and forge ties with weak governments “pose a significant threat to US national security interests.”[72] However, Aubrey Hruby of the Atlantic Council stated that China’s efforts to reshape African countries’ media landscape may be the most strategic threat to the US.[73] Regardless of what factors constitute the largest threat to the United States (i.e. hard power or soft power), it is clear that China’s increased engagement with the region poses significant challenges to US interests in the region. Interests such as development and governance objectives, diplomatic and soft power influence, and security operations are all potentially threatened by China’s involvement in Africa. While Africa may become the latest battleground over US and Chinese influence, it is imperative that China’s involvement not be treated as a zero-sum game since the potential impacts are nuanced and partially positive.[74] [75] Therefore, reducing Africa policy to only focusing on countering China is completely misguided.

Status of United States vis-à-vis China in Africa

While China has made Africa an economic and strategic priority over the past two decades, the US (along with the rest of the West) has been less involved in many facets.[76] However, the United States remains the largest donor to the region, supporting a variety of aid programs. The United States also remains Africa’s largest supplier of military assistance.[77] In terms of diplomatic engagement, China is quickly catching up. China has recently raised the number of countries in which it has diplomatic relations to 53 (eSwatini still recognizes Taiwan and thus cannot have diplomatic relations with China). The United States maintains diplomatic relations with all 54 African countries, but the quality of these bilateral relationships are wide ranging, mainly due to Washington’s policy of conditionality. China seems to have better relationships with African governments than the United States, but the United States enjoys a more favorable response from African civil society.[78] Given the fact that nearly all assistance provided by the United States to Africa is in the form of grants, Chinese lending to the continent outpaces that of the US.[79] In the private sector, Chinese businesses are now starting to overshadow American businesses, though in 2017 American businesses and investors made more direct investments on the continent than any other country.[80] [81] Chinese trade with the continent ($148 billion in 2017) dwarfs US trade ($39 billion in 2017).[82] In terms of overall approach to the region, the US seeks to use its leverage to encourage improvements in human rights practices and promoting Western style liberal democracy. China has a policy of no political strings attached to its aid and thus maintains good relations with African governments, regardless of the type of political regime.[83] Although these approaches differ, possibilities exist for cooperation between the two countries (or simply allowing both countries to independently benefit African objectives). An underlying sense of zero-sum competition between China and Africa pervades today, and though the US ought to catch up to China in engaging the continent more broadly and approach some of its policies through a competitive lens, this overall perception is not beneficial. A purely competitive lens may end up hurting African development prospects and alienate African audiences by suggesting that they are just pawns in a Cold War-like rivalry.[84] [85]

Current US Policies in the Region

The Trump administration strategy focuses on security (particularly combating extremist groups) and countering China’s influence, but more recently has included building more and better commercial ties. In 2018, President Trump approved the creation of the International Development Finance Corporation, a beneficial step to provide quality loans to African governments and companies, thus also countering Chinese financial engagement and promoting US commercial interests.[86] This year, the administration launched the Prosper Africa initiative in order to promote trade and investment between the US and Africa by reducing trade barriers and helping to create a more welcoming business climate.[87] This program empowers the US private sector and thus is mutually beneficial for African countries and the United States, providing a notable example of how US policies in the region should be structured.[88]

Broad US Policy Suggestions

The United States must focus on playing a beneficial role to African countries by strengthening its relations with African governments and citizens, and continuing support for security/stability, economic freedom, development, sound macroeconomic policies, good governance/democratic strengthening, and human rights.[89] By differentiating itself from China by staying true to its ideals, the United States can compete with China through convincing Africans that the United States is a better partner and ally, while also not ignoring African agency and African development objectives at the expense of solely seeking what is directly beneficial to the United States and countering China.[90] In turn, this approach will benefit US interests, both economically and politically. Given the rise of China, future US strategy toward Africa needs to be more robust and ambitious in order to promote humanitarian/development and US interests in the region.

Cited Works:


[2] Africa’s Business Revolution: How to Succeed in the World’s Next Big Growth Market: Leke, Chironga, Desvaux





[7] Africa’s Business Revolution: How to Succeed in the World’s Next Big Growth Market: Leke, Chironga, Desvaux





















[28] development.html































































The Role of National Anthems in Constructing National Identities in the Atlantic World

**Note: Since this paper originally used footnotes (which could not be transferred over), in-text citations can be provided upon request.**

Beginning in the late 18th century, the Atlantic world experienced a birth of new states rooted in common ideas such as liberty. These newly created nations were no longer connected by ethnic similarities, but instead by ideas and values, bringing together people of more diverse backgrounds than nation-states in the centuries before. New legal systems and governments outlined these new ideas in constitutions, but this was mere state-building. Identity on the other hand, is rooted in nation building. The births of the French Republic, the United States, Liberia, and Haiti involved revolutionary action that united them during their struggle against superior powers. However, this unifying idea of revolution tends to fade once the oppressor is removed, resulting in crucial years of instability. One way to unify people during this time was music. Historically, music has played a central role in forming cultural identities. For many years, music was intrinsically tied to ethnicity, serving as a form of homogenous bond. In the absence of homogenous bonds, members of these new countries combined music with the states’ foundational ideals, leading to the creation of national anthems. National anthems combined shared ideas, values, and history in an emotional context, ingraining these unifying forces into a new culture and creating national identities in nascent, revolutionary states. 

During the French Revolution, Claude-Joseph Rouget, a captain in the French army, composed “La Marseillaise,” a national anthem for the new French Republic. When it was written in 1792, radical ideas of overthrowing aristocratic rule in search of liberty dominated the political and social scene. The anthem is a violent call to arms to defend against the invasion of anti-revolutionary, Austrian and Prussian troops. The translation reads, “Against us tyranny’s/Bloody standard is raised” and that “It is us they dare plan/To return to the old slavery,” uniting French citizens around the threat to their foundational ideas of liberty and equality. Rouget’s emphasis of “Liberty, cherished liberty” contributes to the fact that the anthem is not an aristocratic song, but one about “the people” and their equality. As the revolutionary country continued to survive, it became necessary to remind its people about the history of their common values in order to keep them unified as a people. In particular, the ubiquitous violence throughout “La Marseillaise” is essential in conveying the struggle for the values that created the new country in the first place. 

While written documents can recount the history of the struggle for liberty, such a medium is less unifying than an anthem that evokes strong emotions for all who hear it. In fact, the original purpose of the anthem was to rally together the French people in defense of their recently won freedoms. This anthem was a more effective rallying call than other mediums because it successfully employed emotions to unify people around their values. This is exemplified by an unnamed English historian who wrote that “the sound of it will make the blood tingle in men’s veins … with hearts defiant of death, despot, and evil.” “La Marseillaise” was effective in creating a national identity because it transformed ideational bonds into emotional bonds of common values, to the point where the song itself became “a symbol of revolutionary nationalism.” La Marseillaise was grounded in the same shared ideas and values of the new French Republic, but its emotional incorporation of such abstract concepts constructed a national identity, rooted in the heart. 

Named after the flag of the United States, the “Star Spangled Banner” did not become the official national anthem of the country until the 20th century; however, its unofficial use as a patriotic song helped shape the American national identity beginning in the 19th century. The lyrics were written by attorney Francis Scott Key in 1814 after he observed the American flag’s survival of the bombardment of Fort McHenry. The song’s origin in the War of 1812 is less revolutionary, but its narrative, reverent description of the nascent country’s flag symbolizes the shared ideals of freedom and bravery on which the United States was founded. All four verses of the anthem end with the same words: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” This line does not simply repeat the core values of the country, but rather demonstrates that the flag remains, just like the United States. The flag alone is a symbol of nationalism. Incorporating the meaning of a flag into a song of veneration further emphasizes the ideas upon which a national identity is formed. Similar to “La Marseillaise,” the US national anthem describes a historical period of war in which the nascent country is an underdog fighting to retain its fundamental values. While the anthem does not explicitly mention many ideals or values, its narrative of war and American resolve helped remind citizens of America’s fragility, but also provided a common history. In a country of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, it was crucial to weave a uniquely American history with its values. Although “the rocket’s red glare” and “the bombs bursting in air” demonstrate no unifying characteristics without context, their inclusion into the national anthem is paramount in creating a history that all Americans could relate to, in order to fuse the foundational values with a new American culture.

National anthems must evoke an emotional response to create a new culture. Key’s intense emotional response to the sight of the surviving flag bound Americans together because it inspired them to embrace the meaning behind what would otherwise be a mere piece of fabric. This embrace constructs a stronger national identity than famous American texts that communicate the same ideas and values because national anthems inject such beliefs into everyday culture and life. Key’s choice of music to accompany the lyrics of the anthem assist this process through the use of syncretism. “To Anacreon in Heaven” was a popular English drinking song that had a “track record of popularity in the United States by 1814.” Using a melody that was already prevalent allowed the national anthem to spread and inject itself into American popular culture. When this melody was coupled with its revolutionary lyrics, it more effectively constructed a national identity. Decades later, “Key’s song became especially popular and a powerful expression of patriotism during the Civil War, with its emotional description of the enduring national flag, which had become the symbol of the still-new nation.” Even in times of utter turmoil and division, “The Star Spangled Banner” reminded citizens of what truly makes them a nation. After writing the national anthem, Key later became involved in the American Colonization Society, advocating for freed American slaves to return to Africa, thus linking him to another new country in the Atlantic world: Liberia.

Liberia stands out among these four Atlantic countries in that its creation was not the result of a direct, violent revolution. Yet, the idea of repatriated and self-governed land truly embodies the spirit of nascent countries in the age of Atlantic revolutions. Written by Daniel Bashiel Warner in 1847 (the year of independence), Liberia’s national anthem is titled “All Hail, Liberia, Hail.” The title alone speaks volumes about its purpose and meaning. In 1847, even the conception of Liberia was not yet understood. Independent West African countries were rare. The title adds an element of reverence to “Liberia,” not simply the state itself, but also all of the ideas and values that it represents. The third line, “This glorious land of liberty shall long be ours,” exemplifies the lengthy push for freedom after centuries of slavery. Due to the diverse background of the ex-slaves that founded Liberia, a shared identity of freedom was necessary. For Liberians, the shared experience of slavery formed a new national identity around this bond. A modern Liberian citizen, James Thomas-Queh, writes in a blog post that “history is like a culture in its entirety.” He also argues that “no one understood the vital role of history in the nation building process and the unity of a people better than our founding fathers. They were united around their common historical affinity—freedom from slavery—to pursue a common objective of establishing a nation of theirs despite all the numerous obstacles and odds against them.” Thomas-Queh highlights the interconnectedness of ideals, history, and consequently identity that all manifest themselves in the national anthems of nascent countries. In particular, he highlights the underdog status of Liberia’s creation, which is further demonstrated through the lyrics, “We’ll shout the freedom of a race benighted.” This line fuses the idea of freedom, the shared history of oppression, and the unlikelihood of the country into a powerful chant, delivering more emotion than melancholy words on paper. 

The emotional aspects of the Liberian national anthem arise from the personification of the country. Aside from the reverence demonstrated in the title, one stanza states, “Though new her name,/Green be her fame,/And mighty be her powers.” This stanza explicitly mentions that the concept of Liberia is new, and uses personification (“her”) in order to emotionally connect its new citizens to the ideational values it represents. Connecting history to emotion, Thomas-Queh writes that “we must walk with our heads up high, emulate [our founding fathers] in confronting collectively the challenges to our national destiny. And we must do so by singing aloud.” This act of singing elicits a stronger emotional response than other forms of expression, and physically brings people together. His claim that “cultural diversities serve as the richest national cultural heritage” also further connects this national identity to shared ideas instead of shared bloodlines. Thus, while Liberia was not a state formed out of violent revolution, it similarly defied the odds. Assisted by its national anthem, Liberia was able to unite thousands of ex-slaves by creating a new culture for black Africans that defied the power structures of the 19th century Atlantic world, constructing a national identity rooted in their newfound freedom, not just their former oppression. 

Haiti similarly exemplifies a country of ex-slaves rooted in the idea of newfound freedom, but unlike Liberia, its inception was wholly dependent on a violent revolution that overthrew the white oppressors. Although Haiti declared independence from oppressive rule in 1804, its national anthem was not written until a competition for it occurred during Haiti’s centennial celebration. The anthem is titled, “La Dessalinienne,” which translates to “The Dessalines Song” in English. The namesake is of revolutionary hero and first ruler of independent Haiti, Jean-Jacque Dessalines. Although the blacks in Haiti were necessarily united in their effort to defeat a more powerful enemy, diverse ethnic backgrounds did not guarantee the creation of a national identity after the expulsion of the white oppressors. The national anthem uses the word “we” in all five stanzas, which “call for unity, the need for hard work, the importance of a strong legacy, respect and protection of the ancestors, and the love of the flag as symbol of the nation.” Many of the lyrics use imperative language and compel unified action to strengthen the new nation, such as “We must walk hand in hand” and “We must be ourselves’s [sic] unique master.” The latter strongly references independence and freedom, which thrusted Haiti into existence. Therefore, this anthem deeply demonstrates the link between ideas and history, beginning with the name itself. 

Naming the anthem after a revolutionary figure highlights the importance of integrating the revolution into a national identity centered around its ideals. While the line “People are not born to serve others” exclaims a central Haitian belief, the subsequent lines “That is why all mothers and all fathers need to send children to school to learn to know what Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe, Petion did to take Haitians from under the white’s rope” directly underscores the role of a shared and unifying historical memory. And, although these Haitians possessed different ethnic and previous cultural backgrounds due to the forced movement of blacks across the Atlantic, the emotional reminder of common values and history was made possible through the national anthem. The efficacy of “La Dessalinienne” is demonstrated through the statement that “the country’s moral [sic] level at the time was greatly damaged and, this new National Anthem truly repaired Haiti’s spirit, [and] restored patriotism.”

Even more strongly than “The Star Spangled Banner,” the Haitian national anthem employs interconnected, syncretic elements to better spread and ingrain its message into the culture. In an alternative English translation, the beginning of the anthem reads “For our country, for our forebears, united let us march.” Vodou followers view this line “as a veneration of their belief as well as a veneration of their country and its founder.” In a journal article about recombinant mythology, Michael Largey explains that “Haitian intellectuals use Vodou as a cultural resource to enliven their own writing and saturate their prose with culturally resonant ideas.” The lyrical composer of “La Dessalinienne,” Justin Lhérisson, was a writer, lawyer, journalist, and teacher —an intellectual in a country that still contained many illiterate citizens. Lhérisson’s incorporation of Dessalines into Vodou religious practice allowed the spirit of Dessalines “to inhabit the bodies of contemporary Vodou initiates to show Haitians both the desirability and the risks of maintaining their national sovereignty.” By syncretically combining the ideas and figures of Haitian identity into an already established religious culture, Lhérisson effectively made “historical events more culturally saturated and, hence more resonant to culturally competent audiences.” These established beliefs helped the national anthem reach and speak to more Haitians, uniting a heterogeneous nation not simply on an ideational level, but on an emotional level that propelled national identity from the mind to the heart.

While national anthems as isolated pieces of music speak greater emotional volumes than simple prose about similar topics, it is the collective action of singing a national anthem that can fully develop and demonstrate a strong national identity. Although for most people music is meant to be heard, national anthems encourage every citizen to sing. The emotional connection that results is thus not contained to the individual, but collectively experienced in the moment by the group chanting love and pride for their nation. As time progressed, national anthems became more commonplace in non-war settings such as sporting events. Whether these anthems unite compatriots of opposing fan bases or supporters of a national team, the playing and unified singing of such music creates a patriotic, national bond in those everyday moments that causes citizens to tremble, weep, and take fervent pride in their nation that was once only an idea.


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Campisi, Jessie, and AJ Willingham. “Behind the Lyrics of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.” CNN. July 2018. Accessed May 8, 2019.

Editors, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” September 28, 2017. Accessed May 8, 2019.

“Haitian National Anthem (English Translation).” National Anthems & Patriotic Songs – Haitian National Anthem Lyrics English Translation. May 9, 2016. Accessed May 8, 2019.

Hanson, Paul R. “La Marseillaise’ and French Nationalism.” In The Book of Days: 1987, 370-71. Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press, 1986.

Kuss, Malena, ed. Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Encyclopedic History. Vol. 2. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007.

“La Dessalinienne.” 2013. Accessed May 8, 2019.

“La Marseillaise – English Lyrics.” La Marseillaise – English Lyrics. Accessed May 10, 2019.

Largey, Michael D. “Recombinant Mythology and the Alchemy of Memory: Occide Jeanty, Ogou, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines in Haiti.” Journal of American Folklore 118, no. 469 (Summer 2005): 327-53. Accessed May 9, 2019. doi:10.1353/jaf.2005.0032.

Leepson, Marc. “Francis Scott Key.” Encyclopædia Britannica. March 11, 2019. Accessed May 9, 2019.

Marshall, Alex. Republic or Death!: Travels in Search of National Anthems. London: Random House Books, 2015.

“National Anthem of Liberia.” Accessed May 8, 2019.

Olsen, Dale A., and Daniel E. Sheehy, eds. The Garland Handbook of Latin American Music. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008.

Schutt-Ainé, Patricia. Haiti, a Basic Reference Book: General Information on Haiti. Miami, FL: Librairie Au Service De La Culture, 1994.

Thomas-Queh, James. “ALL HAIL, LIBERIA HAIL: This Glorious Land of Liberty Shall Long Be Ours.” The Perspective. January 5, 2008. Accessed May 8, 2019.

“What’s the Meaning of La Marseillaise?” BBC News. November 17, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2019.

Overcoming Inevitable Violence Through Violent Means

The status quo of colonialism is oppression and violence. Rhetoric from primary sources of the Haitian Revolution, British North American Revolution, and Amaru rebellion either promote or utilize violence to promote or quell uprisings. Although the revolutionaries in each case were underdogs in the fight against strong colonial powers, their recognition of short term losses for long term gains empowered them to overthrow deep-seated systems of oppression. While this mindset is universal across these three revolutions, the persuasive rhetoric and specific purpose behind the arguments for violence were unique to each case. Haitian slaves’ status of dehumanization demonstrated that there was nothing to lose in a revolution, wars that served no American interests and caused preventable violence made the American Colonies’ relationship with Britain illogical, and the colonial perspective of the Amaru rebellion proves the mindset of short term losses by attempting to raise the perceived costs of revolution through psychological violence. However, while each case was unique in perspective and persuasion, the rhetoric of violence demonstrates its inevitability under colonialism, and that increased, revolutionary violence in the short run is the only way to upend the oppressive system. 

The coercive plantation slavery of forcefully displaced Africans in Haiti demonstrates a social and political structure of dehumanization. The “Haitian Declaration of Independence, describes the status of slaves as “the most humiliating torpor” by an “inhuman government,” demonstrating the reasoning behind an end to the current system, although a daunting task (Haitian Declaration). The author further elaborates on the dehumanization and stripping of culture of the slaves, explaining that “everything revives the memories of the cruelties of this barbarous people: our laws, our habita, our towns, everything still carries the stamp of the French” (H. Dec). While less direct than chattel slavery, these constant reminders and forced assimilation to French culture dehumanize the Haitians. 

Stemming from this relegated status, independence through violent means became necessary. This necessity is argued in the rhetoric of the Declaration through the words, “in the end we must live independent or die” (H. Dec). Drawing comparisons from Patrick Henry’s “liberty or death” speech, the statement is more dichotomic than may first appear. Essentially, the writer is arguing that continuing the colonial system of oppression is death, and that independence is the only way to truly survive. Moreover, while a revolution is certain to lead to many deaths of Haitian rebels, this short term loss is viewed as necessary and beneficial since it is the only way to escape the death continually perpetuated by the French. Consequently, the Declaration states “independence or death … let these sacred words unite us and be the signal of battle and of our reunion,” exemplifying the role that dehumanization and prolonged death played in the decision to promote more severe short term violence. This violent rhetoric against “the barbarians who have bloodied [Haitian] land for centuries” derives from the inevitability of violence to continue as it had for centuries under French rule (H. Dec). While the 350,000 deaths of Haitians between 1791 and 1804 came at a tremendous loss of life through violence, for the dehumanized slaves of Haiti, this sacrificial, revolutionary violence served as the sole option in ending the violent and oppressive colonialism on the island (AW, 388). 

In Common Sense, Paine argues for independence from Britain from a logical perspective, while subtly encouraging the violent revolution to continue. Throughout Chapter 3 of Common Sense, Paine’s central claim of illogical union with Britain involves European wars that Britain forcefully draws its colonies into. Referring to Britain, Paine writes “she did not protect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her own account, from those who had no quarrel with us on any other account and who will always be our enemies on the same account” (Paine 34-35). He further criticizes Britain by claiming, “even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families,” relating to the Intolerable Acts and various instances of British aggression (Paine 35). Without directly mentioning violence, Paine argues that a continued bond with Britain is illogical due to the unnecessary and inevitable violence and war that results from it,  and that “nothing but independance [sic] .. can keep the peace of the continent” (Paine 37, 43). 

While the violence imposed on British North American colonies was less coercive than the slavery in Haiti, similar rhetoric of short term, revolutionary violence to upend the status quo pervaded. In continuing the logic-based argument for independence, Paine explains that the “[American] plan is commerce” which “will secure us peace and friendship of all Europe” (Paine 36). Paine claims that trade is the key to American success and that trade is only fully possible through peaceful relationships, contrasting the current state of European affairs via the British political and economic bonds. Thus, Paine is arguing against a status quo of violence that is inherent in colonialism, while simultaneously advocating for whatever means necessary in order to break the illogical relationship. Paine criticizes futile attempts to negotiate with the British by sharply stating, “every quiet method for peace hath been ineffectual. Our prayers have been rejected with disdain … [and that] nothing but blows will do,” ultimately arguing for a more radical form of revolution through violent means (Paine 39-40). As in Haiti, the rhetoric of violence is not necessarily preferable due to the tremendous costs and risks, but necessary in comparison to the inevitable continuation of violence that stems from remaining a colony. Paine continues to argue that “the next war may not turn out like the last,” meaning that the brutal costs that colonists suffered from a victorious war would be nothing in comparison to a defeat in a war that served no interest for Americans (Paine 37). Taking up violent arms against the British, even at high costs in a one-sided war, is put forth as the only rational option to overthrow the system of British coercion and continual violence. 

While violence in the previous documents demonstrated the centrifugal forces of independence, Areche’s perspective as a Spanish official describes violence used centripetally in order to coercively maintain the status quo of colonialism. In particular, the rhetoric of violence is not as practical, but rather psychological in nature. The Spanish were already in a position of power, so a sudden violent action was not necessary for them to achieve their ends. However, “[Amaru’s] rebellion’s brief success terrified Spanish officials,” and thus violence was not only used to physically put down rebellions, but to scare rebels from participating in them (AW, 319). This form of psychological violence directly relates to the inevitability of long term violence under colonialism, albeit viewed from the opposite perspective. The Spanish recognized the common revolutionary argument of pursuing short term violence, even in the face of widespread death, in hopes of achieving long term peace and freedom. Thus, the Spanish attempted to raise the costs of rebellion so high as to psychologically prevent revolutionary action. 

Amaru’s torture and execution vividly display the brutality and psychological effects of this violence. After being captured by the Spanish, Amaru’s tongue was cut out and he was quartered by horses, displaying extreme brutality in torture (AW, 319). Further, Areche writes that “[Amaru’s body] parts should be carried to the hill or high ground known as ‘Picchu,’ … and let his ashes be thrown into the air and a stone tablet placed there detailing his main crimes and the manner of his death as the only record and statement of his loathesome [sic] action” (Areche 169-170). Additionally, Areche mandates that “this sentence be proclaimed publicly with the greatest solemnity as soon as it arrives in their hands, and on the same day every year thereafter,” a reminder to help maintain the status quo of oppressive colonialism (170). Thus, while this document focuses on violence from a colonial perspective, it acknowledges the line of thinking associated with violent rhetoric across these three revolutions: colonialism breeds violence, but increased violence is the only way to end the oppression. 

Violent rhetoric in the context of an age of revolution is commonplace due to its ability to both divide and unify the colonizers and the colonized. This widespread application of violence as a double-edged political tool explains why violence is ultimately inevitable in a colonial system. In a society that is built on growing mistrust of the “other,” diplomacy continually fails, further making violence an inescapable feature of the political sphere. These circumstances allowed oppressed people in Haiti, British North America, and Peru, to rationalize waging violent action against far more powerful rulers. Because of its versatility, violence has become normalized and widely accepted over time, explaining why its rhetoric pervades these movements, despite differing contexts, and continues to be used for political motives today.

**Bibliography provided upon request. Searching the quotes on an Internet browser should help retrieve the original sources.**

Latin America & East Asia: Similarities and Differences in Financial Crises

While the Latin American Debt Crisis of the 1980s and the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 generally both stemmed from overborrowing from foreign lenders, the type of crisis that unfolded depended on the level of government intervention prior to the crisis and the type of crisis (fiscal or currency-based) determined the rapidity of the crisis’ development. In Latin America, heavy government intervention in the import substitution model created a heavy reliance on foreign loans, with too much capital being used for consumption. In contrast, the financial liberalization in the 1990s in East Asia created a lack of national financial supervision, causing massive inflows of foreign capital to private sources, making these sources dependent on foreign loans as well. However, the public debt of Latin America created a gradual fiscal problem in which countries no longer could service their loans, causing defaults, whereas in East Asia a few defaults caused by the real estate bubble crash led to the sudden panic of foreign investors, triggering a currency crisis and then a widespread default of Asian financial institutions. Thus, in Latin America, defaults caused destructive capital flight while in East Asia, investors speculated currency devaluation and therefore their capital flight caused further and rapid defaults. 

At the core, both crises reached breaking points as a result of foreign capital flight, implying an overreliance on foreign borrowing to stimulate the economic development. “The Asian crisis can be understood as … caused by a boom of international lending” while “the [Latin American] debt crisis had its origin … with the burst of bank lending during 1979-1981,” demonstrating that the sharp increases in foreign lending just before the crises became problematic when defaults and capital flight also happened at such rapidity (Radelet & Sachs, 1998: 2) (Swan, 1992: 19). Also, in both crises, foreign lending came primarily from aggressive international financial institutions and not governments, causing the sharp increase in loans as investors tried to turn profits from higher interest rates abroad. This became problematic as “the fast-growing Asian economies [were] heavily in debt to foreign investors, including international banks, hedge funds and other investment funds,” similar to the case in Latin America where “banks have moved aggressively to increase their foreign lending” and “[overlent] to LDCs in the 1970s and early 1980s” (Sachs & Woo, 2000: 18) (Volcker, 1980: 9) (Dymski & Pastor, 1990: 153). While for some time these loans helped to stimulate growing economies and develop various sectors, the lack of investment in productive sectors either made loans unpayable or created unmanageable asset bubbles that did not generate long term profits to service the loans and lead to financial independence. In fact, “in the 1970s, as banking expansion became predominant, the Latin American debt became so huge that it fed itself,” due to poor government intervention in the developing economy,” while “excessive unhedged foreign borrowing by the domestic private sector” in East Asia demonstrated the lack of necessary government economic involvement to prevent a financial crisis (Martínez, 1993: 67) (Fischer, 1998: 169). 

Although the aggressive capital inflow and foreign borrowing was similar in both crises, Latin American governments, in pursuit of national development through import substitution, drove the overborrowing, while in East Asia, government liberalization of financial policies and a lack of supervision allowed private sectors to borrow too much. Economic conditions as a result of import substitution development, a government intervention program, made developing economies in Latin America overly dependent on foreign loans and allowed for a diversion of investment inconsistent with long-term growth and thus Cleveland & Brittain conclude, “the rapid rise of LDC debt was due to …  overly expansive domestic policies followed by some LDCs” (1977: 739). The poor macroeconomic policies by governments allowed the debt to accumulate over time as not enough loans were invested in productive capacities in order to generate profits to pay off the debt. Although the rising oil prices as a result of OPEC policies forced governments to spend more on consumption, they still needed to take into account the long run consequences of simply feeding current consumption. Cleveland & Brittain criticize these policies, stating “a borrowing country’s entire development effort may be so poorly conceived or managed as to yield returns too small to provide the margin needed to service foreign debt obligations” because “borrowing [went] mainly to enlarge consumption in the borrowing country rather than for investment” (1977: 740, 742). Therefore, it is evident that overborrowing in Latin America was driven by governmental policies that attempted to appease citizens and help alleviate poverty in the short run, while debt continued to increase to the point of default. Further, when bank loans were “used for the import of unessential consumer goods, military expenditures, or to finance capital finance and management fiscal deficits,” the creditworthiness of these countries dropped, preventing further foreign loans and causing capital flight (Devlin & Ffrench-Davis, 1995: 123). 

In East Asia, the liberalization and deregulation of the financial sector, an attempt to further grow the economies, allowed too much capital inflow and not enough oversight to prevent asset bubbles and defaults. Sachs & Woo recount that “in the early 1990s, these countries liberalized their financial markets, with the effect that domestic banks and corporations could suddenly borrow from abroad,” which at first seemed beneficial for emerging markets, but the growing investments in non-productive sectors such as real estate made these loans vulnerable to default (2000: 22-23). Therefore, “lax prudential rules and financial oversight … led to a sharp deterioration in the quality of bank’s loan portfolios,” meaning that domestic banks began making loans to risky debtors in search of more profits, not realizing that such loans could cause them to default to the international lenders, creating a crisis (Fischer, 1998: 168). While liberalizing the market was seen as beneficial after observing the negative effects of government intervention in Latin America, the governments in East Asia liberalized too much without experience or prudent regulations to control the foreign capital and bad domestic loans, which “made the financial system vulnerable to an exogenous shock whose effect was multiplied by bank failures, creating a credit squeeze and leading to rounds of liquidations” (King, 2001: 444). Had governments enforced regulations over the types of domestic loans that could be made, the entire crisis may have been prevented since the real estate bubble would have slowed. In fact, the lack of government regulation worsened the capital flight that occurred; “the lack of clear bankruptcy laws and workout mechanisms added to the withdrawal of credit, since foreign lenders feared they would have little recourse to collect on bad loans” (Radelet & Sachs, 1998: 35). The lack of government regulation in Thailand led to an asset bubble that eventually created a currency crisis throughout East Asia, while too much government intervention in Latin America fueled consumption and slowly led to a debt crisis. 

Although both crises originated in the overborrowing of foreign loans, the Latin American Debt Crisis was a fiscal and debt crisis that grew slowly over years, while the East Asian Financial Crisis evolved into a sudden currency crisis due to investor panic, creating a ripple effect throughout the region. In Latin America, governments slowly became more indebted to foreign lenders as not enough profits were generated to service the loans; the governments simply took out more loans, “initiating the spiral of indebtedness that was eventually to explode” as the “economies … chose to go the route of borrowing more resources than they could efficiently absorb” (Martínez, 1993: 66) (Devlin & Ffrench-Davis, 1995: 124). However, eventually these governments defaulted on their loans because “their external debt [grew] faster than their ability to pay it” causing international investors to stop loaning, and creating the crisis as there was no way to continue supporting the economy at the current rates of spending (Cleveland & Brittain, 1977: 734). Therefore, the crisis was primarily fiscal as it resulted from governments neglecting to generate profits and run surpluses, instead opting to finance fiscal deficits with foreign loans. When defaults caused the foreign loans to cease, Latin American countries were forced to reduce consumption, damaging their economies. The runup to the Latin American Debt Crisis happened gradually, with countries going further into debt each year, contrary to the sudden and generally unforeseen currency crisis in East Asia. 

The crisis in East Asia reached a breaking point after the devaluation of the Thai baht, demonstrating that currency issues drove the bulk of the crisis. The massive influx of foreign loans created a real estate bubble as “too much money was poured into speculative real estate projects” and “long term, risky investments” since domestic financial institutions had a four point spread on interest rates between their foreign loans and the real estate loans they gave out (Sachs & Woo, 2000: 23) (Kim & Haque, 2002: 41). When the bubble collapsed, “the failures of finance companies helped set off the exodus [of foreign funds],” although not all domestic financial institutions had defaulted yet (Radelet & Sachs, 1998: 33). Thus, a few defaults by domestic financial institutions as a result of the real estate bubble crash caused many investors to pull their foreign capital investments, eventually leading to the baht devaluation. The devaluation of the baht made it too expensive for other domestic financial institutions to service their loans, causing widespread defaults in Thailand and a crisis throughout the region as investors feared currency devaluations in other East Asian countries as well. “The currency depreciations led to widespread bankruptcies and slow economic growth,” demonstrating that the currency devaluations fueled the crisis, rather than a gradual fiscal crisis (Kim & Haque, 2002: 41). While in Latin America the debts crippled the economies, in East Asia, the debts were only tremendous for some companies, with the sudden pulling of foreign assets creating the majority of the problems through a rapid drop in local currency value. Also, the capital flight in East Asia was driven heavily by speculation since “a swift change in expectations was the catalyst for the massive capital outflows that triggered the crisis” (Kim & Haque, 2002: 42). This sudden reversal of investor confidence sparked a currency crisis that differs from the crisis in Latin America where investors lost their confidence over time as a result of poor fiscal management. 

While these crises had major differences in their causes, their similarities demonstrate how countries should respond to crises. In both cases, capital flight worsened the economic situations of the countries more than the initial defaults. In the wake of default or currency failures, countries should insure foreign deposits so that investors do not fear losses and cause capital flight. While the insurance occurs, governments should correct the macroeconomic problems such as fiscal deficits or stimulating the recovery of an asset bubble crash. Preventing capital flight would make such corrections easier and let the economy recover since currency values would remain stable. While the Latin American Debt Crisis had less to do with currency than the crisis in East Asia, capital flight did worsen their economies since they were fueled by foreign capital. While the factors that allowed the crises to occur and the general manifestations (fiscal vs. currency) of the crises differed, both demonstrate that the over-borrowing of foreign capital and subsequent capital flight can cause significant damage to developing economies. These countries ought to balance their regulation in their economies by allowing foreign capital to fund productive sectors that generate profits, and not diverting funds to politically beneficial projects or allowing too much capital to flood the speculative, non-productive sector. 


Cleveland, Harold van B., and W. H. Bruce Brittain. “Are the LDCs in over Their Heads .” Foreign Affairs, vol. 55, no. 4, July 1977, pp. 732–750.

Devlin, Robert, and Ricardo Ffrench-Davis. “The Great Latin America Debt Crisis: A Decade of Asymmetric Adjustment .” Brazilian Journal of Political Economy , vol. 15, no. 3, 1995.

Dymski, Gary A., and Manuel Pastor. “Bank Lending, Misleading Signals, and the Latin American Debt Crisis.” The International Trade Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, 1991, pp. 151–191.

Fischer, Stanley. “The Asian Crisis: A View from the IMF.” Journal of International Financial Management and Accounting , vol. 9, no. 2, 1998.

Kim, Suk H., and Mahfuzul Haque. “The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997: Causes and Policy Responses.” Multinational Business Review , vol. 10, no. 1, Jan. 2002, pp. 37–44.

King, Michael R. “Who Triggered the Asian Financial Crisis.” Review of International Political Economy, vol. 8, no. 3, 2001, pp. 438–466.

Martínez, Osvaldo. “Debt and Foreign Capital: The Origin of the Crisis.” Latin American Perspectives, Translated by Luis Fierro, vol. 20, no. 1, 1993, pp. 64–82.

Radelet, Steven, and Jeffrey Sachs. “The Onset of the East Asian Financial Crisis.” NBER Working Paper Series, no. 6680, Aug. 1998.

Swan, Philip L. “Economic Reform in Latin America.” Business Economics, vol. 27, no. 2, Apr. 1992, pp. 18–23.

Volcker, Paul L. “The Recycling Problem Revisited .” Challenge, vol. 23, no. 3, 1980, pp. 3–14.

Woo, Wing Thye., and Jeffrey D. Sachs. The Asian Financial Crisis: Lessons for a Resilient Asia. MIT Press, 2000.

The 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Constructivist Explanation

**Note: Since this paper originally used footnotes (which could not be transferred over), in-text citations can be provided upon request.**

The 2003 invasion of Iraq is considered one of the most perplexing and ridiculed American military adventures in recent history. Considering the complex factors and people behind the decision, perceptions and ideational goals appeared consistently and seemed to set the tone and drive the Bush administration to launch a preventative war against Iraq. Andrew Flibbert writes, “Ideational factors … alone deemed the Iraq war necessary and appropriate to the circumstances, and they alone tell us why the administration wanted a war that seemed reckless to many outside the pro-war ideational community.” The ideas and factors behind the decision consisted of a demonstration of power and credibility after the Gulf War and 9/11, the promotion of democracy, human rights, and American values in contrast to an evil regime, and the preservation and reassertion of American unipolarity and hegemony. While in some ways these ideas are distinct, their combination that drove the decision to invade reveals many similarities in their reasoning. The interplay of these ideas, perceptions, and norms, each supported by different facets of the Bush administration, demonstrates that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 should be viewed in a constructivist light. 

After the end of the Cold War, America’s military might seemed to far surpass any other country in the world. Throughout the latter half of the 1990s, the US enjoyed a relative safety with only minor military engagements abroad, causing the perception of threat and challenge to American firepower to be ignored. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 not only proved America to be vulnerable to attack, but also portrayed the country as weak for not being able to thwart a $500,000 attack by a terrorist network. Col. Paul Hughes, who was working at the Pentagon that day, bluntly states “We got our ass kicked” and compares the feeling of that day to the embarrassment Union generals felt after the Battle of Bull Run. 9/11 challenged the widely held notions of American military strength, and US officials felt destined to combat this newfound perception of weakness. Richard Clarke writes, “Bush personally went to war chiefly to prove that the United States was undeterred by 9/11, that we could take combat casualties without running away.” Only attacking the culprits behind 9/11, al-Qaeda hiding in Afghanistan, would be the assumed response to such an attack on the country. However, the constructivist framework demonstrates that combatting the perception of weakness as the global hegemon is more important than simply retaliating for the attack. A major military engagement was needed to demonstrate America’s will to use force to correct the new perception, demonstrated by Markus Heinrich’s statement, “[Afghanistan] was not the awe inspiring hammer blow which the US wanted to demonstrate its power.” Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld discussed hat Afghanistan did not have enough targets and that the campaign there was relatively less aggressive than he wanted America’s response to be, thus demonstrating that the constructivist approach explains the demonstration of force even against an enemy not directly implicated in the terrorist attacks. The hawks within the Bush administration “hankered to invade Iraq not because Saddam was strong and dangerous but because he was weak and vulnerable, not because he was implicated in 9/11 but because he looked like an easy mark.” This response in Iraq strongly contrasts the realist view, first because “the pre-war balance of power favored the United States by an overwhelming margin” and because the invasion of Iraq was precipitated on combating a negative and weak perception, not a demonstrated threat. Markus Heinrich claims that US officials considered the demonstration of force “necessary to deter others and to dispel any appearance of weakness following 9/11.” 

Besides 9/11, the unspectacular victory in the 1991 Gulf War that failed to remove Saddam Hussein from power provided another perception of weakness and the lack of complete force for the United States. “The seeds of the second president Bush’s decision to invade were planted by the unfinished nature of the 1991 war,” Thomas Ricks writes. There is no mention that failing to kill Saddam and destroy the Ba’athist regime in 1991 made the regime more powerful and thus warranted a second war. In fact, the regime was heavily weakened after 20th-century wars with Iran and the United States, proving that the failure to defeat the regime in 1991 simply gave a weak perception of American military credibility, and that provided the sense of unfinished business vis-a-vis Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Jeffrey Record writes, “the defiant Iraqi dictator’s very survival represented an embarrassing strategic defeat for the United States.” His description of an “embarrassing” defeat further cements the weak perception of the global hegemon. Further, “the sense of the need to correct a mistake became all the more potent after 9/11,” demonstrating that the combination of unfinished business in 1991 and the attack in 2001 combined to devalue America’s perceived strength and commitment to use force, a perception the Bush administration believed could be reversed by invading Iraq.

The strong demonstration of force with a more nimble and efficient fighting force comprised an ideational transformation of military purpose and power spearheaded by Secretary Rumsfeld even before the 9/11 attacks. Gordon and Trainor recount, “when he arrived at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld made clear that his goal was nothing less than to remake the U.S. military to fashion a leaner and more lethal force” and Cramer & Duggan state “it appears Rumsfeld merged this goal of ‘proving transformation’ with the goal of invading Iraq. In addition to combating the weak perception after 9/11, Rumsfeld wanted to show off his revamped military and project American power simply to prove a point. “The whole point of military transformation, as [Rumsfeld] saw it, was to demonstrate that America could project power and topple rogue regimes with a small, light force and that, therefore, it could do so repeatedly, anytime, anywhere, at low cost and little effort.” Rumsfeld held a belief that America’s ability to demonstrate force with little effort was part of its identity in the post-Cold War system. This idea is explained by constructivist thought because it focuses on perceptions of the identity of a country in the global order, not simply focusing on balancing power and threats and playing a role in institutions. Michael Ledeen, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, bluntly highlighted this conception, saying “every ten years or so, the US needs to take some crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business,” using military force as a way to ensure hegemonic credibility.

While the hegemony provided a perceived notion of the superiority of American strength and commitment to upholding that system, several events throughout the 1990s and early 2000s put cracks in that credibility, such as the bombings of US embassies in Africa in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000, which elicited weak and failed responses. These terrorist attacks, which occurred during the Clinton administration, seemed to prompt Bush officials to fix the credibility problem they faced. Bush, reiterating a previous statement by Vice President Cheney, states “this is an administration that when we say we’re going to do something we mean it … and we’re not going to miss the opportunity to make the world more peaceful and more free,” emphasizing in a post 9/11 society that America would no longer be bullied by terrorists, and that terrorists would face serious consequences. This desire to promote a credible commitment to US security, hegemony, and way of life reveals another constructivist aspect behind the decision to invade because the security aspect here is more about the reputation that America responds to attacks on its citizens, and not necessarily to just physically prevent them from happening again. Oliver Roy concurs, stating, “the invasion was largely aimed at demonstrating America’s political will and commitment to go to war,” a will that had been severely lacking (besides minor aerial engagements) since 1991.

Throughout the invasion planning process, a notable disagreement was the number of troops needed to be successful, with military leaders pushing for far more than Rumsfeld desired. The key factor in this difference of opinion stemmed from their motives. The military was primarily concerned with winning, as that is the organizational culture of an organization designed to fight, while Rumsfeld, a civilian who formed part of the president’s cabinet, was concerned with proving to the world that America could do more with less. Bob Woodward recounts these discussions, stating “the guidance to [General] Franks seemed to be: Keep it small, the smallest you can get away with.” The military and Rumsfeld were committed to emphasizing priorities that were in line with their identities and roles, highlighting the constructivist approach in their decision making. While the different actors disagreed on how to best accomplish the task, the goal of many deeply involved was a demonstration of US power. Invading Iraq “presented an attractive option. Iraq was weak [and] it was led by a notoriously cruel and demonised figure,” demonstrating the next ideational reason the US invaded Iraq: to topple an evil dictator and in turn promote democracy, human rights, and American values.

While the demonstration of power and military efficiency was mainly spearheaded by Rumsfeld, the moral response of installing democracy was the primary driver for President Bush. First, Bush advocated for freedom and democracy in a moral sense of human dignity, not merely to promote democratic peace theory and provide more safety and stability. Bush described freedom as “the non-negotiable demand of human dignity” and “God’s gift to everybody in the world,” injecting a sense of morality and religion. While Bush’s advisors, such as Rumsfeld, pushed the invasion for their ideational goals, Bush’s predisposition to act based on his moral and religious views made him easier to win over for support of the invasion. In fact, he states “I believe we have a duty to free people,” demonstrating a strong personal commitment to spreading democracy. However, while his personal values did lean him toward this approach, his realist foreign policy that existed prior to 9/11 limited its implementation, demonstrating that 9/11 played a major role in changing the way various ideas were portrayed and considered. Jeffrey Record writes, “George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, who before 9/11 embraced the realist approach to foreign policy and its attendant elevation of stability over democracy, became committed converts to the messianic ‘freedom’ mission only after 9/11,” describing the dramatic shift to constructivism after the Bush administration realized that placation in the face of evil acts was no longer an option. Bush began to focus on human rights as a result of observing the effects of oppressive groups such as al-Qaeda, and “wondered how the U.S. could reform such societies, and wanted to advocate the promotion of democracy and women’s rights in the Muslim world.” This new way of thinking is rooted in constructivism, as Bush’s ideas and beliefs about what people, not just his own citizens, deserve as human beings guided his foreign policy choices. He once simply stated, “there is a human condition that we must worry about,” which goes against the standard discussions of security, power, institutions, and global cooperation that dominate realist and liberal thinking, instead putting focus on values, specifically ones central to Bush’s belief system and the American way of life. 

Bush slowly started to see the benefits of pursuing a constructivist foreign policy in relation to his faith. He believed he could justify the new demonstration of American force by tying it to the betterment of societies. Flibbert comments on the shift in policy by explaining, “power was to be used not just to manage international problems, but to change the world for the better.” Bush’s dramatic shift from realism is also shown by his speech to West Point graduates in 2002, stating “we have a great opportunity to extend a just peace by replacing poverty, repression and resentment around the world with a hope of a better day,” which Bob Woodward explains by writing, “the goal was not only an absence of war but a just peace which included moral purposes, democracy, free markets and the rights of women.” While Bush did launch wars on specific terrorist organizations, he collectively launched a war on terror and political/radical Islam, two related ideas that connect to the constructivist approach of ideational thinking and goals. He effectively sought to change the social and political structure of the Middle East for moral reasons, something that departs from most foreign policy thinking. While a democratic Middle East certainly would have its material and diplomatic benefits for the US, Bush’s goal of “pulling the plug on [Saddam’s] toxic regime” and “[transforming] the sick political culture of the Middle East” was grounded in his personal perceptions of good and evil, a dichotomy that Bush increasingly used after 9/11 and in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. 

Not since the Cold War had a president so consistently used vocabulary involving morality in relation to foreign policy matters. In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush referred to anti-American states, including Iraq, as constituting an “axis of evil,” language that painted the three countries as morally backward. Not only were these states threatening to the safety of American citizens and the security and stability of the international system, but they were inherently wrong in their nature, according to Bush. This introduction of morality into foreign policy discussion follows a constructivist explanation of ideas and norms, with the norms being American values of freedom and democracy, something North Korea, Iran, and Iraq all lacked to an extent. Additionally, Bush’s religious guidance on foreign policy matters, especially combating what he viewed as evil after 9/11, displays another constructivist explanation for his impulses to go to war with Iraq. Muhammad Ahmad argues that “for Bush … the chief motor was his simplistic, messianic belief in fighting what he considered an ‘evil’ regime,” showing that Bush believed he had a duty as a Christian to fight Saddam, which Jeffrey Record describes as Bush “[believing] he was doing God’s will as president.” Thus, “Bush, who regarded terrorism as evil and Saddam Hussein as a terrorist, saw the war against Iraq as a war against evil,” allowing him to be convinced by prominent advisors, who were also driven by ideational factors, to go to war. Bob Woodward goes further in his description of the Iraqi leader, writing “it was almost as if Saddam was an agent of the devil.” Combining Bush’s personal vendetta with Saddam for the attempted assassination of his father with his religious duty to rid the world of evil, created an ideological impulse for Bush to authorize a war with Iraq that many experts considered non-vital to national security.   

Bush’s desire to change societies fit into neoconservatives’ desire for regime change, although their motives differed in various ways. Bush, guided by his faith, pursued goals of human rights and free societies, while neoconservatives argued for the export of American values due to their notion of inherent American exceptionalism. The desire to preserve and reassert American hegemony was justified by this concept of inherent exceptionalism and the idea that it was thus appropriate for the US to launch wars against revisionist states who challenged the unipolar system. In some ways, this factor of the decision to invade is similar to Rumsfeld’s desire to project force, but this neoconservative argument is broader in its belief of American political supremacy, instead of simply focusing on the military. Record states “the invasion … was designed to perpetuate [American] hegemony by intimidating those who would challenge it.” This reveals the interconnectedness between demonstrating force and preserving hegemony in that neoconservatives believe that force was a valid means of maintaining American dominance in the system. The neoconservatives’ ambition to maintain a significant level of hegemony coincided with their larger emphasis on unilateralism than the Clinton administration had emphasized. Flibbert states that “the drive for hegemony contrasts sharply with the liberal institutionalist view that multilateralism in foreign policy is more efficacious,” revealing a departure from Clinton’s liberal view for a more constructivist and ideational view of world politics grounded in American hegemony and exceptionalism. Record sums up this transition by arguing, “it was about showing the world, friend and foe alike, who was boss. It was about supplanting realism and multilateralism with value exportation and unilateralism.” The neoconservatives believed the US to be too constrained in its foreign policy decisions, something they deemed inappropriate considering the level of respect it deserves in the international system. This criticism is not one of power because the US physically had the power to act in its interests, but of the conception that in a world of norms and institutions, the US should be acknowledged as justified in acting as a hegemon. The neoconservatives “consciously decided to use Iraq as the first step of a wider design intended to eventually enable the United States to act unilaterally anywhere around the world with relative impunity,” essentially using Iraq as an assertion of their perceived appropriate role of the US. The conception of American exceptionalism and its aspect of the logic of appropriateness further show the constructivist explanations behind the invasion and served as the neoconservatives’ primary impetus for war with Iraq.

The neoconservatives’ belief in American exceptionalism is interconnected to the two aforementioned reasons for invading: the demonstration of force to combat a perception of weakness and the moral drive to liberate the oppressed. Neoconservatives believed that the US had an inherent moral primacy that justified the continuance of US hegemony. Flibbert writes, “the United States, unlike any other great power in human history, was deemed capable of playing a dominant but entirely benevolent role in world politics, since U.S. intentions were believed to be irreproachable,” causing neoconservatives to moderately rebuke the liberal international system in favor of their ideational tendency to support some form of unilateral action. Markus Heinrich claims that the US policy in Iraq “derived from …. Manifest Destiny,” an idea that neoconservatives believed extended far beyond the American West and into the realm of domination in international politics. This unilateral behavior is entirely constructivist because it has nothing to do with balancing power and entirely rebukes the liberal adherence to multilateralism. Flibbert explains, “the [Bush] administration authored its unilateralism with America’s unique identity, not as a form of self-help in a world of anarchy.” And, although the US did attempt to receive a UN resolution to justify its action, “Bush was going to tell the UN either they solve the Saddam problem or the US would.” The belief in American exceptionalism allowed suppression of the criticism from allies such as France and Germany, allowing invasion planning to continue, driven by the aforementioned ideational factors. Proponents of the invasion believed that “a hegemonic America served as keeper of the global order and was entitled to defend its primacy from both latent threats and open acts of defiance,” fully showing the constructivist approach in its reference to defiance, acts that do not necessarily constitute a security threat, but a threat to the global perception of the United States.

As stated by Steven Metz, the “rationale for military intervention against Iraq… was always a polyglot of ideas and themes.” The ideational objectives of the various actors combined into a decision that began to comprise an element of groupthink, arguably making invasion the “obvious” choice at one point. The recurrence of the concern with perception and a sense of obligation to change the world and preserve American identity shaped the decision- making more than any consideration of power balancing or maintaining the legitimacy of multilateral institutions. The unique prevalence of these ideas shaped the entire discussion of invasion from the beginning, and also provided a legitimacy of the decision to Bush administration officials. Without ideational prevalence, it is likely that an invasion of Iraq would not have been agreed upon so quickly. Thus, in order to understand why Iraq was invaded with a relatively small amount of time to discuss it, one must view the decision in a constructivist light, to uncover the drive and rationale of a foreign policy decision that cost thousands of lives and still haunts the United States to this day. 


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