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Condemned to Serve for Life? A Snapshot of Political Trends in Africa

October 20, 2022

11:00 am - 12:30 pm

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“The people have spoken. Their desire is manifest. You are condemned to serve them for life.” 

Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah (1987) 

When Chinua Achebe penned these words in reference to “His Excellency”, a fictional African military leader, he was evoking a familiar scene. His audience would have been intimately aware of the military and authoritarian regimes that ruled two-thirds of the continent when this book was published. Much has changed in the decades that followed the Cold War when Africa greeted a period of relative stability and the “third wave” democratic transitions. By the time what has been described as the “fourth wave” of democratization arrived with the Arab Spring in 2010/11, two-thirds of African states were characterized as “free” or “partly free” by Freedom House.  

Despite the democratic gains of the last three decades, and despite the Arab Spring and subsequent Sub-Saharan protest movements, authoritarian tendencies have persisted in Africa. With recent events such as the outbreak of conflict and attempted or successful coups d’etat in Eastern and Western Africa, many fear that a large authoritarian counter wave may be on the horizon. This event will address some of these trends and take a deep dive into some of the structural factors and local dynamics behind political developments in Ethiopia, West Africa, and Tunisia.

Gerald L. Neuman, Director of the Human Rights Program (HRP), and the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law at Harvard Law, will introduce the event. HRP Associate Director Abadir Ibrahim will moderate the discussion.

Joining us as panelists are:

Semir Yusuf, Senior Researcher and the head of the Ethiopia Project at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Lana Salman, non-resident fellow at the Middle East Initiative at the Belfer Center for Science and the International Affairs Marie Skłodowska Curie postdoctoral fellow at Ghent University, Belgium.

Ibrahima Kane, head of the Africa Union Advocacy Program of the Open Society Africa Regional Office and qualified as a lawyer in Senegal and France.

The discussion is co-sponsored by the HLS Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World, the Harvard Center for African Studies and the Harvard African Law Association.

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October 20, 2022, 11:00 am - 12:30 pm

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