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Populism had been defined as a type of politics that alleges that they are representing the will of the people[1] whereas democracy refers to system in which the citizens decide on the representatives to govern them.[2]Populism can manifest itself in several ways such as civilian, military, youth or elders claiming to present the general interests of the public[3].The populists in Africa would generally portray that they can solve a major problem within a specific time such as solving the issues of unemployment within 100 days in office.[4]There have been several successful coup d’états in Africa in countries such as Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in the recent years as the military claimed that the actions undertaken were necessary to promote the interests of the citizens.[5] 

@bryanschonfeld in his post Democracy Promotion as an EA Cause Area argues that in order to ensure that the cause areas of EA such as reduction in global poverty can be achieved it is necessary to ensure protection of democratic governance.[6]In this post, it does not focus on a specific element of democracy due to the fact that various components of democracy work together hence it is daunting to analyse the specific elements as independent variables.[7] Democracy Promotion as an EA Cause Area analysed the need of promoting democracy as  a cause area based on the ITN framework and elaborates that political institutions are determinant of wealth and they can in the long term can help in reducing global poverty and promotion of peace and public health.[8]



Durkheim does not specifically address populism but his mass society thesis supports the idea of populism. The theory argues that when the society gives power to a central authority there is a possibility that ‘anomie’ which he terms as disconnections. Disconnect may grow and result in populism politics that aim to attract the citizens.


Populism in Africa is evident when the politicians when it presents itself as a political strategy supported ideological courses.[9] Decreasing populism and improving democracy, evidence-based policy, and rationality  states that populism has its cost to a state such as corruption and increasing economic uncertainty. There are several causes of populism such as;

a)Weak of democratic governance

      Political corruption has contributed to weak governance. The wide spread corruption causes citizens to harbour ill feelings since they are not satisfied with how the democracy is working.[10] Politicians that present themselves as political outcasts become an alternative choice for the disadvantaged citizens.

b)Institutions and electoral space

Volatility of the electoral system coupled with main political parties ignoring the needs of the society can lead developments of populist parties.[11]The Populist Party may face stringent competition in trying to effect policy changes since it might require for them to recognize the leadership of the new party to make changes and might sometimes cause the collapse of a traditional party system.[12]


  1. Pro-democracy programmes; An example of a programme that helps support democracy is the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) that helps to support democracy in its members states. The EA can help to fund the democracy programmes in the global south.
  2. Civic education; Populism can also be combated through civic education to enable people to make rational decision making. EA can also support by providing civic education or supporting organization that promote civic education to voters in states.
  3. Evidence-based decision making; Encouraging  policy implementations based on sufficient evidence can help to ensure that the policies undertaken cater for the needs of the population to reduce chances of emergence of populist parties.



Populism creates an assumption that the parties aim to ensure inclusion and eliminate elites in power. They create the notion of the power of the people and try to free themselves from institutional control which can create problems in implementing policies that will help the people.[13]The over-ambitious projects that they portray to seek support from people might derail the progress of the country hence it is necessary to ensure that citizens can make rational decision in a democratic state. Adoption of democracy as a cause area  in EA ensure that other cause areas can be effectively implemented.



[1] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (10th edition,OUP 2020)

[2] Ibid,n1

[3] Makulilo Alexander, “When ‘Populists’ Become ‘Unpopular’: The Case of Three Presidents in Africa” (2013) The African Review: A Journal of African Politics, Development and International Affairs, vol. 40, no.1 pp. 58–92. JSTOR,<http://www.jstor.org/stable/45342087>  Accessed 18 Aug. 2023

[4] Ibid 3

[5] What Caused the Niger Coup? An expert explains the driving factors

<https://theconversation.com/what-caused-the-coup-in-niger-an-expert-outlines-three-driving-factors-210721>Accessed on 18 August 2023

[6] Democracy as an EA Cause Area

<https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/dTconqCtsmHQsNwo9/democracy-promotion-as-an-ea-cause-area-1#Summary >Accessed on 18 August 2023

[7] Ibid,n5

[8] Ibid,n5

[9] Miller-Idriss Cynthia, “The Oxford Handbook of Populism, edited by Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Paul Taggart, Paulina Ochoa Espejo, and Pierre Ostiguy." Populism 2.2 (2019): 247-251. 

[10] Kriesi Hanspeter,"The populist challenge." (2014) West European Politics 37.2 361-378.

[11] Rooduijn Matthijs and Stijn Van Kessel,"Populism and Euroskepticism in the European Union"(2019) Oxford Encyclopaedia of European Union politics 

[12] Seawright Jason, “Party-system collapse: the roots of crisis in Peru and Venezuela’’ (2012)Stanford University Press

[13] Makulilo Alexander, “When ‘Populists’ Become ‘Unpopular’: The Case of Three Presidents in Africa” (2013) The African Review: A Journal of African Politics, Development and International Affairs, vol. 40, no.1 pp. 58–92. JSTOR,<http://www.jstor.org/stable/45342087>  Accessed 18 Aug. 2023


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This post seems to imply that populism is in opposition (or at least strong tension) with democracy - but from my definitional understanding and reading of common sources like wikipedia, I would argue that populism is extremely compatible with democracy. Yes, typical characteristics of most democracies, such as minority rights and institutional checks on power, are often undermined by populist leaders, but it seems like the thing you're warning against in your post is actually dictatorship or authoritarianism? 

Populism has historically helped to promote democracy but it can also interfere with democratic institutions.In the recent past,there have been populist military regimes in Central and West Africa such as in Niger ,Burkina Faso and Gabon  that seek to return the power to the people and disregard the institutional checks in place.The personalities of military and civilian personnel have determined the policy outcomes. The leaders that were democratically elected by the people were removed from power by populist military regimes that do not have clear policies to ensure that the countries economies and democracies can be improved.

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