We provide insight on the current state of party system institutionalization in Africa. Our paper offers the most comprehensive dataset on African party systems to date and finds that many patterns of worldwide party system institutionalization hold true in Africa as well. Importantly, we study not only total party system volatility, but also distinguish between volatility induced by short-lived parties entering and exiting the system (Type A volatility) and inter-party competition between well-established alternatives (Type B volatility). Our analysis considers, like many others, factors thought to drive politics in Africa—ethnic identity and pervasive clientelism. However, we depart from this literature by drawing on the rich history of party system research outside of Africa and consider both “Africa specific” explanations and phenomena found to impact party system institutionalization throughout the world. Our findings suggest that by ignoring the canonical findings of party system research, Africa-specific analyses suffer from under-specification. We also show that, while volatility is increasing in Africa over time, this occurs in large part due to increasing inter-party contestation associated with healthy democratic competition.
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