Kinship ties have long constituted a prime mechanism for distributing political power and selecting ruling political elites, despite the transnational spread of democratic norms since the 19th century. Indirect political representation and popular elections prevalent in all types of political and sociocultural contexts today paradoxically have become instruments for perpetuating kinship politics. Hereditary access to political power – and frequently political dynasties – persist in both democratic and autocratic regimes. Even so, the familial transmission of political power received little scrutiny from scholars until the mid- to late-2000s, but recent work by political scientists and economists on hereditary successions and political dynasties suggests they harbor rich potential as research topics. However, the study of family successions in Africa as yet has not attracted much interest.
This project thus takes up the study of heredity as a resource that is mobilized in politics by examining the modes of hereditary successions in Africa. This project delves into the hereditary mechanisms of transmitting power. It analyzes the socialization of the political class, the access to political competition, the family and political transmission of social capitals, and the ways of legitimizing the exercise of hereditary power.
In recent years, building on studies on hereditary successions in autocracies (Brownlee 2007), interest has grown in in the literature in the paradoxical existence of political dynasties in democracies (Smith 2018). But rare are the works that are interested in studying these mechanisms in hybrid (more or less competitive) regimes, perhaps because hereditary succession to the executive or in parliamentary assemblies seems self-evident. Yet these family transfers of power are by no means obvious, since they need to be thoroughly prepared and legitimized perpetually by leaders, whether in the family, party, or the electoral arena. Rules and institutions, even weak ones in the case of competitive authoritarianisms, constrain even the best laid plans for hereditary succession.
My project identifies how these dynasties form, sustain themselves, and perpetuate their hold on power in more or less competitive political systems – especially in countries going through political transitions with mixed results. I develop three specific dimensions, as follows: