P171 – Institutional Reform, Religious Change and Stability in the Sahel
9 July, 16:00-17:30

Elischer Sebastian / Leuphana University Lüneburg
Villalón Leonardo A. / University of Florida


Since the onset of political and institutional reforms sparked by the “third wave” of democratization, the Sahelian countries have experienced a proliferation of new social, religious and political actors. While some of these actors contribute to democratization, social peace and state stability, others openly challenge the state and undermine democratic order. Papers on this panel critically examine these challenges, and how the states of the Sahel have responded to them. Contributions focus on the following issues: The rise of new religious actors and its consequence for stability and order; external actors and their growing influence in the Sahel; democratic change and democratic breakdown; institutional reform or institutional adaptation; and the long-term legacies of autocratic rule.

Réformes institutionnelles, changement religieux et stabilité au Sahel
Depuis le lancement des réformes politiques et institutionnelles inspirées par la « troisième vague » de démocratisation, les pays du Sahel ont connu une prolifération de nouveaux acteurs sociaux, religieux, et politiques. Bien que certains de ces acteurs contribuent à la démocratisation, à la stabilité, et à la paix sociale, d’autres par contre s’attaquent directement à l’Etat et remettent en question l’ordre démocratique. Les contributions à ce panel proposent une analyse critique de ces questions, et examinent comment les Etats du Sahel ont répondu à ces défis.  Les contributions portent sur divers thèmes : la montée des nouveaux acteurs religieux et les conséquences pour la stabilité et l’ordre ; l’influence grandissante des acteurs externes au Sahel ; les changements démocratiques, aussi bien que les ruptures de démocratie ; les réformes et les adaptations institutionnelles ; et les conséquences à long terme des régimes autocratiques. 

Paper 1

Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim / University of Florida

Islamic Insurgency and Socio Religious and Political Process in the Sahel (1990-2012)

Analyses of the current wave of Islamic insurgency emphasize the role of structural strains—religious radicalization, ethnic grievances, poverty, and youth unemployment—as the main factors explaining Muslim youth’s engagement in violence. This paper challenges this view and argues that structural strain and grievances are insufficient to explain such an exceptional phenomenon as insurgency. The paper makes this argument through the examination of the variation of experiences of the Islamic insurgency in the Sahel. Despite sharing the same context of poverty, religious radicalism, and ethnic grievances, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger have had significantly different experiences. In Mali a powerful Islamic insurgency emerged and lead to the collapse of the state, whereas in Mauritania the state defeated the insurgency, and in Niger no cells of Islamic insurgents emerged at all. The paper argues that the growing discontent vis-à-vis the state combined with a rising religiosity and ethno-racial tensions have created a fertile ground for Islamic insurgencies in all three countries. Yet such insurgencies emerged only in Mali and Mauritania where greater political and strategic opportunities incentivized jihadist leaders to frame a discourse that collectivized the grievances of the masses. The level of popular support and the state repressive capacity, however, determined the success of the insurgency in Mali, and its failure in Mauritania.

Paper 2

Eizenga Dan / University of Florida

Institutional Reform in Africa’s Hybrid Regimes: The Prospects for Democratic Change in Chad

Today virtually all African regimes participate in the core rituals of democracy through the political institutions of multi-party elections. Yet, the degree of substantive political competition within these political systems varies significantly. To better understand the multi-dimensional effects of institutional reform on politics and society in Africa’s hybrid regimes, this paper presents research conducted in Chad on political liberalization. During the political transition of the 1990s, reforms to the Chadian political system produced moderate liberalization with promises of future democratization. However, subsequent authoritarian recoils led instead to an increasingly entrenched political party that now dominates the political arena. Despite the fact that social and political forces pressured the regime to democratize, the ruling party has prevented the emergence of political competition through the manipulation of nominally democratic institutions. This paper examines how the iterative processes of institutional reform and social pressure combined to influence the prospects for democratic change in contemporary Chad. It argues that while social and opposition forces have at times been able to pressure the regime to reform, they have failed to overcome the country’s authoritarian legacy or to hold the ruling party accountable for political change. In conclusion, the paper offers potential comparative generalizations for other Sahelian electoral authoritarian regimes.

Paper 3

Jourde Cedric / University of Ottawa

Islamist and Sufi challenges to local political orders: The case of the Mauritanian-Senegal Borderland

This paper begins with the assumption that macro political phenomena cannot be fully understood without taking into account how politics at the local level, in the ‘terroir,’ is unfolding. It thus looks at the growing popularity of once peripheral Sufi and Islamist movements in Senegal and Mauritania. Using the case of the Haalpulaar ethnic group in these two Sahelian neighbors, this paper shows how Islamist movements and a once minor Sufi movement, both relatively insignificant in the borderland of Senegal and Mauritania, are now threatening the foundations of established ruling elites, who originate from the so-called ‘Noble’ status and the dominant Sufi order. Local hierarchies are being challenged, with repercussions at the national level. However, the construction of the colonial and post-colonial states in Senegal and Mauritania has followed different paths. These contrasted political developments, in turn, have an impact on these new religious movements’ capacity to attract new followers amongst Haalpulaaren, and thus on their ability to challenge local political orders.

Paper 4

Bodian Mamadou / University of Florida

Islam et espace public au Sénégal : Analyse des discours et pratiques des religieux dans la bonne gouvernance

Au Sénégal, au moment où le politique échoue et que l’État semble s’affaiblir, les acteurs islamiques renforcent leur visibilité. Depuis les années 1990, l’on voit se produire – dans l’espace public Sénégalais – des discours et pratiques politiques, sociales et citoyennes originales qui, puisant massivement leur ressource dans l’islam, cherchent à pallier à la faillite morale, politique et économique de l’État et de la société sénégalaise. Ainsi, la référence islamique est devenue un recours privilégié pour les acteurs religieux musulmans qui se positionnent davantage dans l’espace public, dans un élan articulé autour de trois préoccupations : (1) la participation à la recherche d’une stabilité politique et social par la médiation, (2) l’engagement pour la délivrance de services publics de qualité par l’activisme citoyen, et (3) la réorganisation des institutions chargées de délivrer ces services publics par la critique de l’action publique et l’engagement politique.
Ce papier cherche à capturer la manière par laquelle se construit – à travers la participation des religieux musulmans dans l’espace public et dans le débat public depuis les années 1990 – un imaginaire sur la bonne gouvernance dopée par l’exigence d’éthique et de transparence qui est le soubassement d’une société «véritablement islamique» pour certains religieux, et «véritablement démocratique» pour d’autres.

Paper 5

Idrissa Abdourahmane / University of Florida

‘Tipping the Balance: Secular and Sharia Law in Niger and Northern Nigeria.’

In Northern Nigeria, following the reinstatement of liberal democracy in 1999, public views on Sharia implementation as the solution of social problems in the region became prevalent. In the early 2000s, state governments adopted Sharia codes and reformed the justice system to integrate Sharia courts and supporting organizations in their legal toolbox. In neighboring Niger, by contrast, public interest for Sharia implementation had no effect on government policy. Indeed, as most of Northern Nigeria was putting out penal law based on the Sharia, Niger was writing its own new and thoroughly secular penal code (2003) and was popularizing it across the country through sensitization campaigns. Today it is generally believed that Northern Nigerians have grown disappointed in it, In the atmosphere of Islamist radicalism that grips the region today, there is no chance that the agenda would make any headway in Niger either. What is the meaning of this evolution? Does it imply that Islamism is losing ground as reference framework for institutional reform in the region? If so, how, and with what consequences for the political tug-of-war between Islamism and secularism that has characterized Niger and Northern Nigeria since the onset of democratization? The paper builds a response to these and related questions on the basis of a dual research effort.

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