Undue Process: Persecution and Punishment in Autocratic Courts*
Forthcoming at Cambridge University Press
*Based on my dissertation Autocratic Courts in Africa, which received an honorable mention for the Lynne Rienner Best Dissertation Award (2019) from the African Politics Conference Group
One of the most striking trends of modern authoritarianism is the extent to which power has been consolidated through law. In this seemingly legalistic world order, courts have unsurprisingly emerged as a prominent forum to adjudicate conflict and contest power. When courts become sites of autocratic contestation, the proceedings which ensue often bear little resemblance to the conduct of courts in functioning democracies. This is especially true wherever autocrats invoke judicial procedures for repressive ends, a practice sometimes referred to as "persecution through prosecution.” Yet, the judicial dimensions of repression are largely underappreciated despite the far-reaching implications of using law and courts to facilitate oppressive outcomes. The questions animating this book focus directly on the role that courts play in strategies of autocratic survival: why do autocrats bother holding a political trial when the outcomes are assumed to be known from the start? What are the goals of going to court and by what mechanisms are these goals achieved? Do autocrats face risks by going to court, and if so, how do they ensure that proceedings go as planned? To answer these questions, I develop a theoretical framework that centers around the disciplinary dimensions of autocracy, or how the process of punishment can be institutionalized in autocratic courts. I evaluate my theory by drawing on evidence from postcolonial autocracies in sub-Saharan Africa.