Liberal Democracy in an Illiberal Context

This paper examines the performance of liberal democratic institutions that are implemented in an illiberal context. It addresses the question of why liberal democracy, as it is implemented in the Sahelian countries, failed to produce resilient institutions capable of preventing state collapse. The paper is essentially theoretical. The puzzle that it addresses, however, stems from the empirical study of the emergence of the Islamic insurgency that led to the defeat of the state of Mali, which is the most democratic country in the  Sahel region, whereas the less democratic countries, namely Niger and Mauritania, proved more resilient. This contrast challenges the core assumptions about liberal democracy; that not only it prevents the emergence of conflicts, but that the resilience of its institutions constitute the more effective tool for facing and handling conflict when it emerges. The central argument of the paper is that liberal democracy failed to function properly in the Sahelien context because of the disjuncture between the formal liberal democratic institutions imported from the western political experience, and the informal institutions, namely the local culture, values, norms and traditions of the sahelien societies.  In their daily lives, Sahelien population engage both formal liberal democratic institutions and informal local institutions in a constant process of adaptation and re-adaptation that leads to the merging of both in the form of a hybrid political system that at the end is neither totally liberal democracy in its western understanding, nor the traditional African political system, but a messy combination of both.   These are the hybrid type of institutions that developed in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania, as a result of twenty years of institutional syncretism; maybe more in Mali then in the other two countries.


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