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Judicial Politics in New Democracies: Cases from Southern Africa

Peter VonDoepp
Judicial Politics in New Democracies: Cases from Southern Africa
ISBN: 978-1-58826-657-6
ISBN: 978-1-62637-109-5
2009/185 pages/LC: 2009009738
Challenge and Change in African Politics

"An important contribution to our understanding of judiciaries and democratization in Africa and the third wave more generally.... The original material included here should be enough to make this book required reading for scholars of African politics.... A genuinely groundbreaking work that successfully marries existing theoretical work to the messy reality of African politics."—Nic Cheeseman, Perspectives on Politics

"An in-depth, subtle analysis.... Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative evidence, the author cogently argues how the work is useful not just for African regional specialists but for those interested in the larger issues of democratization. Indeed, the ultimate question being investigated is more about the survival of democracy itself and not about a particular African country’s domestic politics.... A valuable work."—Choice

"An insightful examination of an extremely important topic.... Challenging preexisting theories on relations between the judiciary and the executive, VonDoepp provides an important contribution to our understanding of the role of the judiciary in sub-Saharan Africa and how it can help, and hinder, the process of democratic consolidation."—J. Michael Williams, University of San Diego


That judicial institutions are important for emerging democracies leaves little room for debate. But to what extent do judiciaries in these new democracies maintain their autonomy? And what accounts for varying levels of autonomy across states? Drawing on the cases of Malawi, Zambia, and Namibia—and offering a novel analytical framework—Peter VonDoepp illuminates why power holders behave as they do toward the courts.

VonDoepp considers whether and why political leaders have respected or undermined judicial autonomy in each of the three cases. He also addresses how the courts themselves have shaped executive-judicial relations. His findings present unexpected challenges for existing frameworks, as well as important lessons about the factors and conditions affecting judicial development in transitional states.


Peter VonDoepp is associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont. He is editor (with Leonardo Villalon) of The Fate of Africa’s Democratic Experiments: Elites and Institutions.


  • Democracy and Judicial Autonomy: Investigating the Southern African Cases.
  • Understanding Government Choices: Judicial Politics in Theoretical Perspective.
  • Neopatrimonial Politics and the Intimidation of the Courts in Zambia.
  • Informal Ties, Threats, and the Problem of Judicial Control in Malawi.
  • Party Dominance and Judicial Autonomy in Namibia.
  • Insights from the Southern African Cases.