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Rethinking Leader-Elite Relations: Regime Type, Coalition Dynamics, and Cabinet Stability in African Dictatorships

Alex M Kroeger, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


What explains the wide variation in cabinet stability in African autocracies? Though scholars of African politics and authoritarian regimes have frequently commented on the use of elite shuffles and purges by authoritarian leaders, few have attempted to explain why the use of such strategies varies across and within authoritarian regimes. I argue that cabinet instability varies according to the structure of authoritarian regimes. Various aspects of this argument are tested using an original dataset measuring the tenure of 6,093 cabinet ministers in 35 African autocracies between 1976 and 2010. I find that dominant party regimes, whose leaders face greater power sharing constraints, have more stable cabinets than either personalist or military regimes. Moreover, the overall stability of cabinets and the risk of dismissal for individual ministers exhibit distinct temporal patterns across dominant party, personalist, and military regimes. Leaders of dominant party regimes tend to engage in major cabinet changes following elections while personalist and military leaders engage in more frequent dismissals in both election and non-election years. Furthermore, when controlling for elections, the risk of dismissal for individual ministers remains relatively constant across minister tenure in dominant party regimes, decreases across minister tenure in personalist regimes, and exhibits a distinct cubic pattern across minister tenure in military regimes, increasing at the beginning of a minister’s tenure, decreasing after approximately five years in the cabinet, and rapidly increasing after 11 years in the cabinet. These findings demonstrate the importance of moving beyond the unifying paradigm of patronage politics when studying elite instability in African autocracies. Additionally, this study corroborates several existing studies emphasizing the need for dominant party leaders to make credible power-sharing commitments with other elites. However, it also extends these studies by providing, to my knowledge, the first cross-national test of these theories that examines leader-elite relations rather than simply leader or regime survival and by providing a detailed account of how these power-sharing dynamics change over time. Finally, I also provide a preliminary analysis of the economic impact of cabinet instability, which suggests that rapid cabinet turnover has had a deleterious impact on economic growth.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Kroeger, Alex M, "Rethinking Leader-Elite Relations: Regime Type, Coalition Dynamics, and Cabinet Stability in African Dictatorships" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10272357.