Parliaments in Africa: representative institutions in the land of the 'Big Man'

Elisabete Azevedo-Harman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This paper analyses the perceptions among survey participants, of African parliaments and presidents and examines their citizens' attitudes towards the coexistence of these two institutions. It aims to determine the way citizens rate their parliaments compared with their presidents. It further seeks to answer the question of whether Africa remains the continent of the 'big man', where absolute power lies with an individual, feeding clientelistic relationships. In the decades following the transitions to independence, most of the continent was marked by a proliferation of monoparty regimes; in many cases, these were almost one-man regimes. A majority of the leaders symbolised, at an early stage of independence, the birth of the nation itself. Many times these presidents have sought to extend their incumbency perpetually. However, over the last two decades this scenario has changed considerably. Monoparty parliaments have been replaced by multiparty parliaments and executives, and presidents have found themselves needing to share their leadership of the nation with parliamentarians. Not much is known about how these emerging parliaments have been operating, but the little that is known tells us that they have faced a lack of institutionalisation and still struggle to assert their independence from strong executives. It is therefore reasonable to expect that parliaments will be perceived as dormant institutions in the public eye.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-85
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Legislative Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • Africa
  • Citizens
  • Democratisation
  • Parliaments
  • Presidents


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