The diffusion of military regimes in sub-Saharan Africa: regional and global determinants

Military regimes have declined in overall number over time, but they remain concentrated in Africa.

Regimes and institutions of low-income and developing countries are crucial to understand and secure a development path for those societies. A large amount of literature has focused on democracy and its characters, but less attention has been paid to different types of autocracies and how they evolve and spread. However, this is not trivial for countries whose institutions are fragile.

In 1972, military autocracies accounted for 24.6 per cent of the world’s countries, almost half of them (45.7 per cent) were located in Africa. Military regimes in 2014 ruled seven per cent of the world’s countries only, with a concentration of almost 50 per cent of them in Africa. In the forthcoming paper ‘Regional diffusion of military regimes in sub-Saharan Africa,’ we test whether the probability that a country in sub-Saharan Africa is a military regime increase as the share of neighbours governed by a military rule gets larger. In other words, the paper tests whether there is a spatial correlation between military regimes in sub-Saharan Africa for the period between 1978 and 2014.

In performing our analysis, we espouse a definition of military regime that takes into account the de facto power of armed forces even if the leaders are civilian. Such definition is drawn from the Authoritarian Regimes Dataset edited by Hadenius and Teorell, which we find more encompassing than other definitions available in the political science literature. As noted above, the number of military autocracies has been declining over time, therefore, the departure point of our analysis was that we investigated characteristic features of a regime that has been concentrating over time, just the opposite of the typical studies addressing diffusion processes.

Our period under investigation covers also a sub-period of the Cold War. Then we can claim that such backward diffusion is explained in the light of the collapse of the Cold War global order. In fact, we found that the spatial correlation between military regimes is positive and significant only after 1989. Put differently, we empirically show that Cold War order had thwarted, or partly neutralised, regional forces of institutional diffusion.

A plausible interpretation of our results provides a novel, indirect but strong, empirical evidence for a patron-client relationship between major powers and African countries in line with the approach envisioned by Carney. A patron-client relationship is a dyadic interdependence between two actors. In economic terms, the client is dependent on the patron. In fact, the client gains some economic support from the patron that in return is granted with full political support. The existence of such patron-client relationships between major powers and African countries may explain why local spatial dependence could have been less relevant during the Cold War. In other words, the economic dependence of African countries on either USA or USSR support have significantly set aside regional dynamics because each government would have rationally followed directions of its patron not only in foreign policy but also when shaping domestic political regime. Due to the demise

of the global order of the Cold War, patron-client relationships lost relevance and regional factors and linkages became crucial to shape the institutional landscape. In other words, geography took its role in shaping polities and so spatial dependence have become more relevant.

Besides evidence on spatial patterns, therefore, we have also corroborated our results by employing some control variables. Some economic covariates are in line with the established results in the literature so indirectly confirming the robustness of our results. We maintain that: (i) a larger manufacturing sector is associated with a smaller probability of a military rule; (ii) there is a positive association between foreign aid and the military government only during the Cold War.  Interestingly, the benefit of a larger manufacturing sector does highlight that a larger set of economic opportunities in specific sectors do contribute to peaceful development of societies. In particular, industrialisation can be supposed to reduce dependence from primary sectors so preventing the dynamics that trigger the diffusion of military regimes. With regard to the foreign aid, the result confirms that during the Cold War foreign aid was channelled towards allies irrespectively of their internal regime so partly confirming the patron-client relationship.

In sum, the main general result of this study is that international and internal regimes are deeply interconnected and that dynamics of regimes ought to be studied in this light.

This article was authored by Professor Raul Caruso, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Italy and CESPIC, Catholic University Our Lady of Good Counsel, Albania, Dr Nicola Pontarollo European Commission, Joint Research Center, Ispra, and Professor Roberto Ricciuti University of Verona and CESifo.

Note: The scientific output expressed does not imply a policy position of the European Commission. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use which might be made of this publication.

In addition, the opinions expressed throughout this article are the opinions of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vision of Humanity or the Institute for Economics & Peace. 

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