Critical Junctures: Independence Movements and Democracy in Africa

Omar García-Ponce, Leonard Wantchekon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We show that current levels of democracy in Africa are linked to the nature of its independence movements. Using different measures of political regimes and historical data on anticolonial movements, we find that countries that experienced rural insurgencies tend to have autocratic regimes, while those that faced urban protests tend to have more democratic institutions. The association between the type of independence movement and democracy is statistically significant for the post-Cold War period and robust to a number of potential confounding factors and sensitivity checks. We provide evidence for causality in this relationship by using an instrumental variables approach and a difference-in-differences design with fixed effects. Furthermore, we adjudicate between two potential mechanisms and find support for a behavioral path dependence hypothesis. Urban protests enabled participants to develop norms of peaceful political behavior, which provided cultural bases for liberal democracy. In contrast, armed rebellions generated behavioral patterns that perpetuated political exclusion and the use of violence as a form of political dissent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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