Book – Political Protest in Contemporary Africa (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press; available for pre-order)

From spray-painted slogans in Senegal to student uprisings in South Africa, twenty-first century Africa has seen an explosion of protests and social movements. But why? Protests flourish amidst an emerging middle class whose members desire political influence and possess the money, education, and political autonomy to effectively launch movements for democratic renewal. In contrast with pro-democracy protest leaders, rank-and-file protesters live at a subsistence level and are motivated by material concerns over any grievance against a ruling regime. Through extensive field research, this book shows that middle-class political grievances help explain the timing of protests, while lower-class material grievances explain the participation. By adapting a class-based analysis to African cases where class is often assumed to be irrelevant, this book provides a rigorous yet accessible explanation for why sub-Saharan Africa erupted in unrest at a time of apparent economic prosperity.

“The National Elections in Niger, February–March 2016.” 2016. Electoral Studies 43: 203-206. (with Lukas Matthews)

This election note analyzes the major events and actors of the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections in Niger. Sections include institutional context, candidates, results, and international dynamics.

“Religious Violence and Democracy in Niger.” 2016. African Conflict & Peacebuilding Review 6(1): 89-104

Deadly attacks on Christians and mounting resistance to secularism in Niger raise the question of whether the Muslim-majority country is turning away from democracy and toward Shari’a law. I argue that religious extremism in Niger is largely a foreign phenomenon and that domestic Islamists are not pursuing a revolutionary agenda, even though they are increasingly involved in organizing social movements. The foreign nature of terrorist threats may even help preserve democracy by raising nationalist support for the state.

“Democratic Revolutionaries or Pocketbook Protesters? The Roots of the 2009–2010 Uprisings in Niger.” 2013. African Affairs 112(448): 398-420

This article investigates whether political or economic grievances were the main driver of the mass demonstrations in Niger in 2009–10, which occurred at a time of famine and the President’s attempt to defy the constitution and seek a third term in office. Using original survey data from a quasi-random sample of Niamey residents, the article shows that low prospects of upward mobility are associated with a higher likelihood of protest participation, whereas opposition to the President’s anti-constitutional politics is not. Membership in civic organizations is also associated with higher protest participation, but not because these groups are effective at framing the issues: what matters is the capacity of organizations to mobilize individuals. This suggests that civil society may have a galvanizing effect on citizens, even if efforts to win hearts and minds fail. The article concludes that the uprisings were driven mainly by economic grievances, thus contradicting international perceptions of the protests as a public outcry for democracy and casting doubt on the motivations behind supposedly pro-democracy movements, especially in contexts where autocracy and poverty coincide.

“Personal Politics without Clientelism? Interpreting Citizen-Politician Contact in Africa” (forthcoming in the African Studies Review)

This article clarifies the meaning of clientelism and documents its extent in sub-Saharan Africa, a region which political scientists and policy makers often view as especially clientelistic. I propose an understanding of clientelism as personal contact between citizens and politicians in which citizens request selective rather than public goods. I then show that assessments of clientelism in Africa are sensitive to the amount of information about personal contact that surveys provide. Closed-ended Afrobarometer surveys suggest that personal contact is mostly clientelistic, whereas my original open-ended surveys from Niger suggest that the bulk of citizen requests are programmatic. Leveraging detail in Nigeriens’ qualitative accounts of visiting and calling politicians, I interpret highly personalized contact as an adaptation to limits on impersonal contact, not a sign that politicians are circumventing formal channels of communication in order to distribute patronage under the table.

“Coup de Hot: Does Appearance Affect Coup Leader Survival in Office?” (with Tyson Roberts, under review)

This study tests whether facial appearance can explain variation in coup leader survival, building on previous research showing that attractiveness predicts electoral success in democracies. We draw on multiple data sources of coups d’état worldwide from 1950 to 2013, as well as original attractiveness data coded from survey responses. We find that attractive coup leaders retain power longer than unattractive coup leaders after successfully ousting the incumbent and taking office. The attractiveness advantage is particularly strong for leaders in the first five years of their tenure, those who seized power from a dictatorship as opposed to a democracy, and those who rule without parties in the legislature. We argue that leaders who take power through a military coup lack both traditional and legal-rational authority; for such cases, appearance may signal charismatic authority sufficient to produce a coordinated response of acquiescence rather than challenge to the leader’s rule.