Introduction: The ideology of the illiberal modernizers in Africa: L’idéologie des modernisateurs illibéraux en Afrique

Barnaby Joseph Dye*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The 21st century has seen a major political and developmental shift in Africa involving the rise of new authoritarian states and a return to infrastructure-led, economically interventionist state-building programmes. Many studies have examined the international political economy of this shift, from the commodity boom to the rise of China and the political power underpinning development-focused regimes at the national level. This special issue argues instead that this authoritarian state-building drive is also the product of ideas, beliefs, and principles. An ideology of development has led a group of ruling parties to pursue distinctive programmes of leap-frogging modernization. Authors in this special issue present a set of case studies ranging from old parties in government since independence, in Tanzania and Mozambique, to former insurgents in Rwanda and Ethiopia, and detail their ideologies. While acknowledging their considerable variation and uniqueness, we group the common features of these cases together, presenting the ‘illiberal modernisers’ ideological programme. Many of its elements look like resurgent 20th-century High Modernism, however, we demonstrate that there are profoundly new features combining postmodern aesthetics, elements of neoliberal orthodoxy, and new public management. Such ideological dimensions remain overlooked in the study of African politics, with materialist perspectives touting rational interests and strategy, largely dominating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
JournalCritical African Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Green Templeton College, University of Oxford; Oxford Central Africa Forum; ESRC Doctoral Training Centre, Oxford; Africa Studies Centre, University of Oxford; Horn of Africa Seminar Series, University of Oxford. Dr Will Jones (Copenhagen) was centrally involved in the creation of the creation and editing of this special issue and this introduction. It was both fun and intellectually enriching to work on this project together and develop its ideas. The text builds on his work on the ideology of Rwanda’s ruling party and the role of ideology in the study of politics in Africa. Additionally, we would like to thank the ESRC, the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway, University of London for supporting the workshops which led to the special issues.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh.


  • Development
  • Electoral Authoritarian
  • Illiberal Democracy
  • Policymaking
  • Statebuilding
  • Strategy

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