Personal Writings

Dialogue in Politics: A Comparative Analysis of Authoritarian and Democratic Speech in Electoral Campaigns within West Africa



Dialogue in Politics: A Comparative Analysis of Authoritarian and Democratic Speech in Electoral Campaigns within West Africa



Grace Chimezie 



Electoral cycles in Sub-Saharan Africa convey moments of vulnerability for societies where democracy is weakly institutionalized, but it also represents opportunities for political parties through their campaign rhetoric using the media, to roll out manifestos of their intentions towards nation building. However, lack of fact-based comparative studies on the impact of political campaign speech  in democratic processes, has led to countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal and Mali re-electing autocratic leaders into democratic systems of governance. In addition, the lack of data showing the correlation between campaign speeches and electoral outcome has hindered women from actively participating in democratic processes. To address the research gap, this study approaches, political dialogue, through a gender lens by modeling speech using the Markov chain concept. The Markov chain model would help draw a correlation between speech and political outcomes, that could help address electing autocratic political actors into democratic systems. Also, this study aims to comparatively analyze retrieved data of campaign speech rhetoric by authoritarian and democratic leaders, to provide a model that can strengthen democratic process within Sub-Saharan Africa. Subsequently, the methodology seeks to address the challenges of women’s involvement in politics, where dialogue or language seems to be a bridge in achieving electoral success.


Keywords: Democracy, Authoritarianism, Political Campaigns, Political Dialogue, Political Campaign rhetoric, Gender-based Politics, Electoral Process, New Media, Women in Politics, Mass Media.



“Political activity does not exist without the use of language”

(Bull 2003)


The beginning of the 1990’s saw the expansion and adoption of a third wave of democracy by a handful of African countries. Many of which, were reluctantly giving up their autocratic regimes to accept the wave of democracy across the globe (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997; Croissant and Wurster 2013; Kailitz and Köllner 2013 ). Although, this analysis is not without criticism, a significant number of these countries lacked the characteristics of a democratic system, which consist of political parties and institutions involving competition and civil liberties (SCAD, 2019). For example, as of 1993, Nigeria the most populous black nation in Africa, was still headed by the military under General Ibrahim Babangida.

In addition, with the excitement that followed, “it seemed possible that the wave of democratisation would completely sweep away authoritarian regimes within West-Africa (Adejumobi, 2000).” A few countries established democratic processes, which came on the heels of popular protest. Recently, the democratic project appears to be in crisis in most African states with the precedence of a gradual, but dangerous reinstatement of authoritarian regimes disguised in democratic garb. However, few african centered studies have looked into the plausible cause in the rise of autocratic regimes, relation to political dialogue and rhetoric. Most notably, there seem to be cases of yesterday’s despots and military tyrants rebranding themselves with democratic mantras, while in other cases budding autocrats are emerging in democratic systems (Bleck and van de Walle, 2019).

Thus the essence of understanding dialogue in political campaigns and rhetoric, and the indicators of such speech within democratic and authoritative regimes. It also presents a catalyst for understanding the fading shadow of democratic governance within Africa, where populist calls have risen and fewer women are emboldened to be actively involved in democratic processes across Sub-Saharan Africa.


Research Question

Is there a difference in political campaigns, and rhetoric between Authoritarian and Democratic speech, through mass media in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Is there a relationship between democracy and the involvement of women in politics within West Africa?


H1: There is a difference in political campaigns, and rhetoric between Authoritarian and Democratic speech, through mass media in Sub-Saharan Africa.

H0: There is no difference in political campaigns, and rhetoric between Authoritarian and Decmocratic speech, through mass media in Sub-Saharan Africa.


H1:There a relationship between democracy and the involvement of women in politics within West Africa.

H0: There is no difference in the relationship between democracy and the involvement of women in politics within West Africa.


“Democracy is difficult and not a spectators sport, it is a process”

Research Objective

The research is important because electoral democratic government are not immune to the characteristics of authoritarian rule. My research is inspired by the approach of former military leader Mohammadu Buhari, who ruled Nigeria between 1985- 1986 after toppling a democratic elected government of Shegu Shagari. Buhari is the current sitting Nigerian president who it is said to have ignored democratic best practices and pushed for gag on the legislature and press.

It is important to note that the scope of politics has evolved and recent trends in emerging technology, alongside change in political behavior, has prompted questions about the ability of political science research to find answers to political questions, using fact based predictable social science, data models. Modern politics focuses on a cluster of fundamental questions, each of which is generated by contemporary school of thought, approaches and sub-specialization. Some primary questions asked are; what is the capacity of dialogue in politics and how do we explain the changing pattern in political behavior in line with evolving mode of governance using words, traditional and social media.

This paper will focus on the on individual political actors at the executive or presidential level of government. Nigeria, serves as a poster child towards understanding the impact of autocratic leadership in democratic political systems.(Eshbansh and Sonag, 2005) (Thesan, 2013) Sevenans and Villegenthart 2015, suggest that there is a relationship between media and political agenda, but these studies found it difficult to link political campaign speech, and rhetoric to the future of governance.

Actions by political actors like the president, barely come under scrutiny by academic writings in this field. It is mostly a  discursive behavior of their speeches but not an in-depth look at the biting policies such as executive orders, rescinding on press freedom, citizens political engagement, which could be avoided by modelling political campaign speech. A few exceptions exist in academic work, however, neither focused on Africa (Joly, 2014, Bleck and van de Walle, 2019). Thereby, recent works have reaffirmed that the media matter for the symbolic agenda, of what political actors infer from their speech.

According to (walgrave and Van, 2016) to understand the impact of the media within Sub-Saharan Africa, there seems to be an apparent difference in bearing between the various types of media, namely; newspaper, radio, television and recently, social media.



To clarify this paper, political agenda setting isn’t about restricting focus, which is the transfer of issue salience from media to politics, but by driving how the issue is being covered. Technically, the aim is to draw a relationship between how the dialogue is framed and how it moderates electoral polls in democratic regimes. In other words looking more critically at the function of the political actor rather than the media itself. The more general literature in comparative politics focuses on the use of the media for agenda setting (Schattascheneider 1968; Kingdom 1984).

Recent polarization in electoral cycles, coupled with the need for gender balance in politics has set the tone for political campaign rhetoric.


Methodological Approach

To further develop a model on how political actors use the mass media to exert their political agenda, three ways forward are suggested. First, we need to identify the media issues political actors adopt in authoritarian versus democratic regimes and a theoretical support for such action. For example, the media has the ability to reach a mass audience at a minimal cost.  Secondly, we are able to identify indicators by analysing speech aimed at institutions (The Legislator, press, and security agencies), by applying the Markov chain concept. Third, is the comparative work of reviewing how democratic and autocratic leaders, frame their political agenda using the media.

Both the conceptualization of political campaign and rhetoric with agenda setting will be understood using media variables of, Strong institution, human rights, press freedom etc



As data in regards to media and political agenda becomes accessible, I aim to continue expanding the work of the effect of dialogue in politics with a focus on democratic processes. Fine details of language use collectively the research provides a case for interdisciplinary linguistic perspective in the study of comparative politics.The reason to pursue an interdisciplinary orientation approach towards political discourse analysis, stems from the paradigm shift of analysing politics as a product to a more recent focus of investigating the dynamics of politics and political process as it manifests.



Adejumobi, S. (2000). Elections in Africa: A Fading Shadow of Democracy? International Political Science Review / Revue Internationale De Science Politique, 21(1), 59-73. Retrieved from

Afrobarometer (2014) ‘News Release: Demand for Democracy in Africa Rises / Supply Falls Short’, Available at: <> [Accessed 17 May 2018].

Alan Finlayson (2004) Political science, political ideas and rhetoric, Economy and Society, 33:4, 528-549, DOI: 10.1080/0308514042000285279

Bleck, J., & Van de Walle, N. (2018). Electoral Politics in Africa since 1990: Continuity in Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316676936

Freedom House (2015) ‘5 Governance Challenges for Africa’, Available at: <> [Accessed 17 May 2018].

Lloyd, C. (2016). Marianne constable: Our word is our bond: How legal speech acts. Feminist Legal Studies, 24(2), 239-242. doi:

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Riggins, S. H. (Ed.). (1997). Communication and human values, Vol. 24. The language and politics of exclusion: Others in discourse. Sage Publications, Inc.

Walgrave, S., & Van Aelst, P. (March 2006). The Contingency of the Mass Media’s Political Agenda Setting Power: Toward a Preliminary Theory, Journal of Communication, Volume 56, Issue 1,, Pages 88–109,

Walgrave, S., & Van Aelst, P.  (2016, August 31). Political Agenda Setting and the Mass Media. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.


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