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Book Review: The Moral Economy of Elections in Africa: Democracy, Voting and Virtue by Nic Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/06/2021 - 8:05pm in

In The Moral Economy of Elections in Africa: Democracy, Voting and VirtueNic Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis explore moral claim-making in elections in Africa, focusing on the electoral history and experiences of Ghana, Uganda and Kenya. This book offers a new way of thinking about election studies in Africa and will guide researchers in understanding the complexities of political subjectivities and how claims of virtue shape political behaviour, finds Sewordor Toklo.

The Moral Economy of Elections in Africa: Democracy, Voting and Virtue. Nic Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis. Cambridge University Press. 2020.     

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For their new study, The Moral Economy of Elections in Africa, Nic Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis, scholars at the Universities of Birmingham, Warwick and Durham respectively, conducted research between the period of 2014 and 2017 in Ghana, Uganda and Kenya. The book discusses moral claim-making during elections in Africa and suggests a new way of studying African elections.

The book focuses on politicians and electorates that make claims, and how voters respond to electoral manipulations. Elections are expected to be an avenue for voters and politicians to justify themselves to make a demand. As a result, both politicians and electorates are interested in talking about what is good and right so that other people can see them as moral actors behaving correctly.

The first chapter of the book provides a conceptual framework for the moral narratives that became the theoretical basis for the research. The second chapter analyses the electoral history of Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, where Ghana is generally identified as a successful democratic country in Africa. Chapter Three provides an overview of electoral management, where all three countries are seen to have similar cultural and institutional frameworks. The fourth chapter focuses on how international election observation influences electoral credibility. It also highlights the roles and challenges for domestic observers.

Chapter Five is dedicated to the role of civil society groups in promoting human rights and voter education, and how individuals who work for civil society groups are also faced with different registers of virtues. Chapter Six demonstrates that while politicians break electoral rules, they always try to prove to voters that they have high moral authority. The final chapter discusses behaviour such as electoral participation, and how voters condemn vote-buying, political violence, ballot-box stuffing and rigging.

Image Credit: ‘Citizens queing to vote’ by Anthony Karanja licensed under CC BY 2.0

The authors rely on a survey, in-depth qualitative research, archival research and laboratory games in their study. Besides this, three sub-national representative samples have been analysed. Three key themes run throughout the studies. The first is that holders of state office view the use of universal adult suffrage to be ‘stateness’. ‘Stateness’ here refers to the legitimacy of the state’s officeholders and it is elections through universal adult suffrage that produce this legitimacy. Secondly, elections remain popular and are demanded by the public. Thirdly, elections provide an opportunity for citizens to make claims about virtue – where the civic (concerning procedural bureaucracy, meritocracy and public goods provision) and patrimony (patron-client engagement that is focused on reciprocity) are brought together. The third theme brings to light the idea of the moral economy and much of the book’s discussion relates to this third argument.

This research has produced unique findings distinct from previous scholarship, especially studies of African elections. Firstly, the authors found out that during elections voters and politicians portray themselves as virtuous people. This explains why, even though there might not be power change, politicians commit huge resources to elections. Secondly, vote-buying may be sustainable because such actions can be justified as being virtuous. A typical example is when the same individual may condemn one candidate who gives money to voters but praises another candidate for investing money in the community – the individual may see the latter as generosity and good leadership.  Such distribution is mostly based on moral interpretation and does not depend on the amount of money the candidates give out. Hence for the money to be virtuous, it depends on whether the person who gave the money out is already seen as a good leader based on the patrimonial register.

Leaders also provide a balance between patrimony and ‘civicness’, and hence a good politician is the one that can serve the community and the state. This is why, though voting in African elections may be based on communal identities, candidates still campaign towards achieving the national good. Additionally, vote-buying politicians may not always win an election because legitimacy is not just about the amount a candidate offers but the way candidates present themselves as displaying virtuous behaviour. Some of these behaviours include honesty, trustworthiness, a good track record and fighting for the interests of the people. Again, the authors show that elections could strengthen virtue conceptions that may both support and pose a challenge to liberal democracy.

I found the book very insightful and thought-provoking. The research methods employed are quite appropriate for this study because the authors want to understand political subjectivities and how elections can shape societal norms and values. Despite my admiration, a few issues need to be pointed out. Under the section ‘political identity and political engagement’, and in a few additional portions of the book, the authors briefly discuss the extent to which both ruling and opposition party supporters condemn actions such as vote-buying. However, the authors do little to prove to readers how judgment of candidates is influenced by partisan bias.

For instance, the authors found that a candidate’s legitimacy depends on how they present themselves as showing virtuous behaviour. However, certain studies on Africa have found that voting, perceptions and judgment are based on identity and attachment to party (for example, Elizabeth Carlson, 2016; Kevin S. Fridy, 2007). Even in advanced democracies, party affiliation indeed affects people’s political behaviour (Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber and Ebonya Washington, 2010). Hence, the process of judging candidates in Africa on who is more virtuous can also be influenced by whether the voter is politically affiliated with the candidate. Using methods such as experimental research will make this finding even more interesting as this method may offer some causal explanation as to whether moral claim-making about candidates is co-partisan based.

Similarly, the authors write on page 301 that ‘in Ghana repeated transfers of power have helped to make electoral participation and acceptance of electoral outcomes seem virtuous. It is widely accepted that it is good to vote and right to accept the results.’ Repeated transfer of power may encourage electoral participation; however, it does not necessarily suggest that the people think it is right to accept the results. Having grown up in Ghana, I know that voter decisions on whether to accept election results and whether people feel that elections are free, fair and transparent are also co-partisan based – where winning party supporters may accept election results because it favours their party and vice versa.

For example, when both the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) lost the 2012 and 2020 elections respectively in Ghana, their leaders and supporters believed that the election was fraudulent, which subsequently led to several protests and clashes with the police (Xinhua, 2012; StarFM, 2020). Even after petitions were filed at the Supreme Court and the court dismissed the petition in both cases, a large segment of party supporters believed that the court was also biased. Even after they have exhausted all legal procedures, in the end people may just finally accept the result because they feel that there is no further option, not because they think it is right.

In addition, the authors claim that post-independence in Africa has created social groupings in the countries that have taken competition and organisational form, such as the NPP and the NDC, which have support networks across Ghana. This makes political defeats acceptable because the losing candidates have a chance of occupying political office in the future. To the authors, this is a clear demonstration of support for civic ideas rather than patrimonial values. However, this may not be the case entirely. In fact, Ghanaian society can be considered to be what Douglass North (2007, 3) called a ‘limited access order’, where leaders address any potential issues that may lead to violence. The elites hold social order together by using rents because the existence of violence tends to reduce elites’ rents. Hence, because the political elites benefit from the current system, they are not willing to destroy the existing political arrangements, making it reasonable to accept election results.

In short, future research on African elections should consider how partisanship may influence moral claim-making about politicians. Notwithstanding this, this book gives us a new way of thinking about election studies in Africa and shows how researchers should be guided in understanding the complexities of political subjectivities and how the moral economy allows claims of virtue to shape political behaviour. The book makes several contributions to the current literature, which will be useful to academic scholars and students of African elections and even laypeople interested in this area.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.


The Group Turning Religious Leaders into LGBTQ Rights Crusaders

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 31/05/2021 - 6:00pm in

Penda* did not feel worthy of a seat at the table with the 15 religious leaders she found herself nervously sitting across from, seven of them Christian, eight of them Muslim. 

“Before I attended that forum, I knew that I was a sinner,” she recalls. “I didn’t think it was possible for me to go near a church. I didn’t even think that I could have a conversation with a religious leader.”

Yet in 2014, Penda, a masculine-presenting lesbian, found herself in conversation with these faith leaders, all of whom believed — and in many cases preached — that homosexuality is evil. But this was no ordinary conversation. At Penda’s side were three other people: a Kenyan gay man, a sex worker and someone living with HIV. None of the faith leaders knew these details. That information was held back — until just the right moment presented itself. 

The forum was part of a strategic faith engagement session organized by Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved in Kenya (PEMA Kenya), a sexual and gender minority group in the coastal city of Mombasa. In Kenya, where the LGBTQ community is a frequent target of conservative religious leaders, who preach discrimination and sometimes even violence against them, PEMA Kenya takes an unusual approach: it works to “convert” faith leaders to the gay rights cause by introducing them to LGBTQ people, face to face, to build empathy, compassion and understanding.

The carefully orchestrated encounters require the utmost care — for all involved. “We don’t aim to ‘sensitize’ religious leaders,” says Lydia Atemba, a member of the faith engagement team. “We also prepare and equip our community to participate in dialogue with them. We try to bridge the gap on both sides.”

The most unlikely allies

The five-day event attended by Penda and the 15 religious leaders was ostensibly to discuss barriers to health care faced by marginalized people who have HIV. For the first three days of the forum, no explicit mention of homosexuality was uttered. 

“We [then] brought other queer members into the sessions and they spoke with the religious leaders,” says Pastor McOveh, a queer pastor who helps to facilitate the program. (He requested his first name not be used.) 

Penda was one of them. Now 44, she calmly shared her experience as a lesbian living in Mombasa. She had moved there in 2010, leaving behind the ruins of Kitale, a cosmopolitan town in Kenya that was struggling to recover from the 2007 election crisis. She described to them how she was verbally abused, and how she had been forced to sever ties with her spirituality because of faith leaders preaching anti-gay violence and discrimination.

“I have had troubles reconciling my sexuality and faith,” she told the group. 

pema kenyaAthumani Abdullah Mohammed (left), a Muslim faith leader who has become an ally to Mombasa’s LGBTQ community, at a PEMA Kenya discussion in 2018. Credit: PEMA Kenya

She says sharing her personal story was surprisingly effective. The faith leaders’ beliefs weren’t instantly transformed, but, she says, “I think I saw a lot of compassion in some of them.” 

She was right. One of the conservative religious leaders in attendance that day was Pastor John Kambo. A pastor at the Independent Pentecostal Church of Kenya, Kambo was well known for his public attacks on the LGBTQ community. He once declared that “the gender and sexual minorities, especially in worship places, are cursed sinners and will go to hell.”

This wasn’t Kambo’s first PEMA session. The organization had been holding discussions with him for four years, gradually drawing him onto their side. “It was just follow-up meetings — continuous engagement overtime [to] change the way [he] sees things,” recalls Ishmael Bahati, PEMA Kenya’s executive director and co-founder. During this period, Kambo began reflecting on what the Bible says about love. According to transcripts from PEMA Kenya, he ultimately said that “continuous participation in these trainings opened my mind and I realized that we are all human beings.” The meeting with Penda was his last as an outsider — afterwards, he joined PEMA Kenya as an active, dedicated member, and remained one until his death last month. 

In the end, Kambo became an unlikely friend to the queer community. He underwent PEMA’s Training of Trainers, which taught him how to carefully discuss LGBTQ concerns with his fellow faith leaders. But his conversion came at a price. He was excommunicated from the church for three years, and his marriage hit the skids. He continued to be an ally, however, and in 2018 he became the first religious leader to be nominated as a “Human Rights Defender” by the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders — Kenya.

That same year, Kambo invited Pastor Benhadad Mutua Kithome to a PEMA discussion. “PEMA Kenya produced good notes, and they were helping us very much,” Kithome says of that meeting. “Some pastors were not agreeing with them — they were just agreeing with what the scriptures say. The way Sodom and Gomorrah was. The way, because of homosexuality, people were punished. But because of this training, some pastors, especially me, came to understand.”

john kamboPastor John Kambo at a PEMA Kenya discussion. Credit: PEMA Kenya

Athumani Abdullah Mohammed, an Ustaz (Islamic teacher) whose view of queer people changed gradually after partaking in a PEMA session in 2018, had a similar experience. 

“When I got a chance to engage, it was not easy because… I work with conservative organizations,” he says. “The whole gospel I was hearing was against ‘this people,’ as they called them. I thank my brother Ishmael because he was so persistent. He brought me on board. The funny thing is, the first meeting we held was not a good meeting. I was so against everything they were saying, but he saw something in me which I couldn’t see by myself. And he kept on engaging me. Now, I learned to listen and I opened myself to listen. I listen to what I want to hear — and what I don’t want to hear.” 

Converting a culture

The coastal city of Mombasa is a conservative place. Religion is at its core, and local faith leaders wield outsized influence, often preaching violence against the queer community. 

“Rhetoric vilifying LGBT people, much of it by religious leaders, is particularly pronounced on [Kenya’s] coast, and shapes public perceptions,” according to a Human Rights Watch report.

This was the environment into which PEMA Kenya launched in 2008. Started as a health and social wellbeing community for gay and bisexual men following the tragic death of a gay man in Mombasa — he became sick and was abandoned by his family — the group later expanded to accommodate other gender and sexual minority groups. Then, in 2010, a call to “flush out gays” by two major religious groups — the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) — led to a spate of attacks on queer people.

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The violence became a catalyzing moment for PEMA Kenya. “We thought that it is a good time to have a dialogue with the religious leaders,” recalls Bahati, “to see if we can have a lasting solution for the attacks.”

The organization appears to be making progress toward that goal. Until five years ago, Bahati says, Ramadan, which concluded this month, was a particularly dangerous time for queer people in Kenya’s coastal region. A U.S. government report supports this observation, concluding that “the highest incidences of violence in the Kenyan Coast, which has a largely Muslim population, are reported during Ramadan.” 

For this reason, organizations like PEMA used to focus on simply keeping LGBTQ people safe from harm during these weeks. “Most organizations were looking for funds to relocate people, to support people” during this period, says Bahati.

But this year’s Ramadan has been different. Attacks on queer folks are down, Bahati reports. “Things have really changed.” He believes PEMA’s years of meticulous relationship building are beginning to bear fruit. To date, PEMA has trained 619 religious leaders, 246 of which are still active members in the network. These members are crucial to spreading the acceptance of queerness in their congregations and communities in Mombasa and across Kenya. They also facilitate events alongside queer pastors and Ustaz, and review the group’s strategic faith engagement manual, Facing Our Fears. 

mombasaLocal religious leaders wield outsized influence in Mombasa, often preaching violence against the queer community. But, very slowly, that may be changing. Credit: rguha / Flickr

According to Jide Macaulay, an openly gay British-Nigerian priest, the influence religious leaders hold over public perception makes them invaluable allies. In his experience, building radical queer institutions in a place like Mombasa just isn’t effective. This is something he learned first-hand — in 2006, Macaulay founded House of Rainbow, the first queer church in Nigeria. It was considered an affront to the societal and religious norm, and met with hostility. It lasted only two years. 

“My largest focus was on the [queer] community, not necessarily on the rest of the society,” he says. “We didn’t take time to educate the society. House of Rainbow would have benefitted if we had allies within the community. [It] would have benefitted if we started maybe as a support group rather than a full-blown church.” 

Now, like PEMA Kenya, House of Rainbow has evolved to make engagement with Christian and Islamic faith leaders the core of its mission, holding forums in Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Ghana. 

What the scriptures say

Bahati’s expertise as an Islamic scholar comes in handy. For instance, he notes that the role of language is key to winning converts to an inclusive community. 

During PEMA’s strategic meetings, faith leaders are introduced, carefully and tactfully, to humanizing language. “You see, the word homosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer are not bad words,” says Macaulay. “Society has made them scary.” PEMA’s facilitators explain appropriate usage, context and meanings, and the harmful implications of using such language as slurs.

“What we say is that language is not innocent,” says McOveh, the gay pastor. “Most of the time we realize that faith leaders use language unknowingly.” 

Of course, simply teaching more sensitive language is only the first step. In the Bible and Quran, certain verses and stories are still used to justify homophobic slurs and attacks. 

“You realize that scriptures have different interpretations,” says McOveh, “so we try to find common ground to tell them that, see, there is this which is provided by the religion and this which is given as perception.” Macaulay echoes this point. “Looking at the Bible, there’s a history of bad theology, mistranslation, and that mistranslation has caused many churches not to understand that homosexuality is not a sin. Homosexuality is not like robbery or theft. Homosexuality is like being Black. Homosexuality is like being albino. There are things that you just cannot change…Homosexuality is not a crime and it should never be criminalized.” 

While groups like PEMA Kenya and House of Rainbow have battled systemic homophobia in society, their efforts are still “a drop of water in the ocean,” says Macaulay. 

Homosexuality remains illegal in Kenya. The Penal Code explicitly criminalizes it, and a conviction can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Petitions filed in Nairobi and Mombasa high courts in 2019 to rule these laws unconstitutional were both dismissed this year. Appeals have been filed, but according to Michael Kioko, a lawyer and LGBTQ advocate, it would take a long time to get a ruling. 

“We’ll have to wait for years to see whether the court of appeal will declare those provisions unconstitutional, and they may not,” he says. 

32 out of 52 African countries criminalize same-sex relations, with punishment ranging from death to lengthy prison terms. In some ways, these laws lend legitimacy to perpetrators of homophobic violence and discrimination. 

The pandemic has presented PEMA Kenya with yet another challenge. The delicate work of working with new religious leaders can be risky, and the discussions can only take place in a secure location, says Mohammed.

“You cannot talk to people about these things in their area,” he says. “You need to be very particular when it comes to safety because it’s a lot of voices which are talking against this and people are willing to kill.” Holding discussions with participants in an undisclosed location is safer, but it requires funding which PEMA has spent on taking care of needy community members during the lockdown. 

Still, the efforts of PEMA Kenya’s faith leaders continue to foster a safer city for a lot of queer people in Mombasa — in the streets, in the churches and mosques, and in their own homes. “[Now] someone can walk for a kilometer without being attacked,” says Penda with relief. “Those were things that were not very much happening back then.” 

*Name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.

The post The Group Turning Religious Leaders into LGBTQ Rights Crusaders appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.