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Explaining Success in Africa: Things Don’t Always Fall Apart

Erin Hern

Lynne Rienner Publishers, March 2023


Erin Hern, associate professor of political science, has written “Explaining Success in Africa: Things Don’t Always Fall Apart” (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2023), that explores how African countries have achieved political and economic success.

Rather than focusing on the barriers for reaching potential outcomes, Hern concentrates on normalizing the success of countries and analyzing their progress amid adverse circumstances. 

In each chapter, Hern profiles two main countries and two shadow countries. The two main countries are those that performed well on a performance indicator, while the shadow cases are countries that are very similar to the main countries but had less success as measured by the performance indicator.  

Hern evaluates each according to theories of comparative politics to understand each country's progress, examining factors such as institutions, structural conditions and individual agency. The numerous countries explored include Gabon, Botswana, Uganda, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Rwanda.

Hern is a senior research associate for the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration. Her specialties include comparative politics, African politics, political participation, and women and gender. She received a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2015.

From the Publisher: 

What does it take for African countries to achieve political and economic successes? Scholarship on Africa tends to focus on the barriers to reaching desired outcomes. While recognizing that these barriers are very real, Erin Hern takes a contrary, unabashedly optimistic approach: rather than treating countries that perform well as "miracles," she seeks to normalize their success, analyzing the performance of those that have made good choices in the face of adverse circumstances.

Hern shows how most-similar and most-different cases can be used to test major explanatory theories. Making the topic accessible to nonexperts, in each of five issue chapters she highlights two countries that have performed well, evaluates which theories can best explain their successes, and then turns to two shadow cases (countries that have not performed as well) to evaluate whether those theories remain plausible. Including an opening chapter that introduces the theory and methods of comparative politics, this provocative book is ideal for classroom use.

Published in the Spring 2023 issue of the Maxwell Perspective