The life and work of Joel Barkan: Legislatures and democratic development in Africa

Type Journal Article - African Studies Review Forum
Title The life and work of Joel Barkan: Legislatures and democratic development in Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2017
Page numbers 1-11
Afrobarometer data collected three decades after Joel Barkan’s pioneering survey of rural Kenyans confirm his insights that voters stress MPs’ linkage roles in terms of representation (carrying views upward to the capital) and constituency service (bringing goods downward from national government) over their institutional roles (law-making and oversight). And, contrary to conventional wisdom, they prefer collective goods for the constituency over private goods. An African Legislatures Project survey of 822 MPs in seventeen countries revealed, however, that MPs misinterpret this as a demand for material goods and development and underappreciate the demand for representation, prompting—among other things—the adoption of controversial Constituency Development Funds. Joel Barkan’s early research on Kenya (Barkan 1976,1978,1984; Barkan & Okumu 1974,1980) revealed an important relationship between constituents and Members of Parliament (MPs), structured by the country’s single-member district (SMD), first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, which provided a unique logic to Kenya’s political system. The Barkan thesis, which he claimed applied to other African countries as well (Barkan 1995), was as follows. First, in large, predominantly agricultural, and newly independent polities, far-flung rural voters living at the periphery might have been expected to have weak attachments to the state. But MPs, Barkan found, played a crucial role in linking them to the center and integrating them into the new political system. Second, in an African version of Richard Fenno’s (1978) Home Style, the electoral logic of the single-member constituency presented MPs with a choice between staying in the capital versus traveling to and spending significant amounts of time in the constituency. MPs, he found, devoted most of their time to working with local self-help projects and obtaining state resources for the constituency because this was the most rational strategy to secure reelection.

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