Professor Nic Cheeseman

Professor Nic Cheeseman

International Development Department
Professor of Democracy and International Development

Contact details

International Development Department
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Nic Cheeseman is Professor of Democracy and International Development at the University of Birmingham. In addition to numerous book chapters, he is the author of Democracy in Africa: Successes, failures and the struggle for political reform (CUP, 2015) and over twenty journal articles including "Rethinking the 'presidentialism debate': Conceptualizing coalitional politics in cross-regional perspective" (Democratization, 2014), which won the inaugural GIGA prize for the best article published in Comparative Area Studies.

Professor Cheeseman is also the editor of the collections Our Turn to Eat: Politics in Kenya Since 1950 (2010), The Handbook of African Politics (2013), and African Politics: Major Works (2016), and two special issues of the Journal of Eastern African Studies on the Kenyan elections of 2007 and 2013. Most recently, he published How to Rig an Election (2018), which attracted considerable academic, policy and media attention around the world.

As well as being the former editor of the journal African Affairs, the #1 ranked journal in Area Studies, Professor Cheeseman is the founding editor of the Oxford Encyclopaedia of African Politics, the Oxford Dictionary of African Politics, and the co-editor of the Handbook of Kenyan Politics (forthcoming). These days, he spends much of his time writing about contemporary events in Africa in a bi-weekly column for Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper. Professor Cheeseman also regularly provides analysis to the UK and US governments, and is an advisor to, and writer for, Kofi Annan's African Progress Panel.


  • D.Phil in Politics, University of Oxford, 2006
  • M.Phil in Politics, University of Oxford, 2003
  • B.A in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (Double First), 2001


Professor Cheeseman works in the fields of comparative politics and development with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa and processes of democratization. His research addresses a range of questions such as whether populism is an effective strategy of political mobilization, how paying tax changes citizens' attitudes towards democracy and corruption, and the conditions under which ruling parties lose power.

In 2008, Nic's doctoral thesis, "The Rise and Fall of Civil Authoritarianism in Africa", won the Arthur McDougall Dissertation Prize of the Political Studies Association of the UK for the best dissertation on elections, electoral systems or representation. Meanwhile, a recent article, 'Ethnopopulism in Africa: Opposition Mobilization in Diverse and Unequal Societies' [with Miles Larmer] won the Frank Cass Award for the Best Article Published in Democratization (2015).

In addition to these articles, Professor Cheeseman has also published a number of edited collections including Our Turn To Eat: Kenyan Politics Since 1950 (2010), The Handbook of African Politics (2013), and African Politics: Major Works (2016). His first monograph, Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures and the Struggle for Political Reform was published in March 2015 by Cambridge University Press. A second monograph, How to Rig An Election, is currently under contract with Yale, while a further edited collection on the importance of formal political institutions in Africa is under contract at CUP.

To date, Professor Cheeseman has raised over £2 million in research funding for a range of projects including two current ESRC funded studies of the impact of elections in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda and presidentialism in Africa, Latin America, and Post-communist Europe. At the same time, he runs a collaborative research programme with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on the Political Economy of Democracy Promotion and is part of the Media, Conflict and Democratization research consortium that is funded by the European Union. For more information see "Research Interests".

Postgraduate supervision

Nic welcomes new PhD applications in the areas of:

  • Elections and democratization.
  • The formation of a social contract in new democracies.
  • Power-sharing and the politics of inclusion.
  • Populism and strategies of political mobilization.


Research interests

  • Comparative Democratization
  • Power-sharing arrangements
  • Populism and opposition politics
  • Parties, patronage and political mobilization
  • Tax and the social contract
  • The relationship between democracy and conflict
  • Political participation in the one-party state
  • Ethnicity and political behaviour
  • African Politics
  • The politics and history of Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia

Current projects

Nic is currently involved in four major research projects:

The Coalitional Presidentialism Project
This four year project looks at the dynamics of executive-legislative relations in Africa, Latin America and the former Soviet Union, with a particular focus on how minority presidents form multi-party coalitions to manage their legislative agenda. The research was funded by a grant of £700,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Reference: RES-062-23-2892). A co-authored book [with Paul Chaisty and Tim Power] based on the project’s findings is currently being finalised and is under contract at Oxford University Press.

The Impact of Elections Project
In this four-year ESRC funded project (Grant Reference: ES/L002345/1), a mixed methods approach including surveys, archive research, interviews, laboratory games and fieldwork is used to understand the impact of elections in Kenya, Ghana and Uganda. More specifically, this research aims to break new ground by addressing the role of popular ideas about the (im)morality of electoral (mal)practice. Seeking to move beyond a literature that has generally focussed on the way in which ruling parties have sought to manipulate elections, the project investigates the extent to which electoral practice has been both driven and constrained by popular expectations and demands. A co-authored book [with Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis] based on the research findings is under contract with Cambridge University Press.

The Political Economy of Democracy Promotion Project
The Political Economy of Democracy Promotion Project is a new collaboration between the International Development Department of Birmingham and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is the main democracy promotion organization of the UK, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the UK government. The project is designed to draw on the analytical strengths of IDD and the experience of the WFD over the last ten years to identify key lessons regarding the conditions under which democracy promotion activities are successful, and how such interventions can be improved. In addition to Professor Cheeseman, who is the Principal Investigator, the research is managed and carried out by Dr Susan Dodsworth, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow In The Political Economy of Democracy Promotion.

The Media, Conflict and Democratization Project
Professor Cheeseman is also part of an international team of researchers investigating the relationship between Media, Conflict and Democratization, supported by the funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research.

Other activities

  • Editor in Chief, Oxford Encyclopaedia of African Politics, Oxford University Press (2016-).
  • Editor in Chief, Oxford Dictionary of African Politics, Oxford University Press (2016-).
  • Advisor and Consultant, African Progress Panel (2011-).
  • Advisory Board Member, UNESCO Chair on Communication Research and Africa (2012-).
  • Editorial Board Member, Zambia Social Science Journal (2012-).
  • Joint Editor, African Affairs, The Journal of the Royal African Society (2012-).
  • Executive Committee Member, Oxford-Princeton Global Leaders Fellowship scheme (2011-).
  • Research Associate, Centre for the Study of African Economics, University of Oxford (2008-).
  • Editorial Board Member and Book Reviews Editor, Journal of Modern African Studies (2010-2012).



Cheeseman, N. (2018) How to Rig an Election, Yale University Press [co-authored with Brian Klaas].

Cheeseman, N. (2018) Coalitional Presidentialism in Comparative Perspective, Oxford University Press [co-authored with Paul Chaisty and Timothy Power]

Cheeseman, N. (ed.). (2016), African Politics: Major Works, Oxford: Routledge.

Cheeseman, N. (2015), Democracy in Africa: Successes, failures, and the struggle for political reform, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


2018   ‘Digital Dilemmas: The Unintended Consequences of Election Technology’, Democratization [with Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis], DOI: 

2018   ‘Ten Challenges in Democracy Support and How to Overcome Them’, under review at Global Policy, published online 30 April 2018, DOI: [with Susan Dodsworth]

2018  ‘The Promise – and Pitfalls – of Collaborating With Development Organizations in Africa’, African Affairs 117, 466: 130-145 [with Susan Dodsworth]

2018  ‘Risk, politics, and development: Lessons from the UK's democracy aid, Public Administration and Development 38, 2: 53-64 [with Susan Dodsworth]

2018  ‘War and Democracy: The legacy of conflict in East Africa’, Journal of Modern African Studies 56, 1: 31-61 [with Filip Reyntjens and Michaela Collord]

2017  ‘Managing a Megacity: Lessons from Lagos’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy 33, 3: 457-477 [with Diane de Gramont]

Cheeseman, N. 2017. 'The birth of election observation: Lessons from Uganda', forthcoming in Comparative Studies in Society and History [with Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis].

Cheeseman, N. (2016), Accommodation works better for reducing conflict, Ethnopolitics, 15, 5: 538-545.

Cheeseman, N. (2015), "No Bourgeoisie, No Democracy"? The Political Attitudes of the Kenyan Middle Class, Journal of International Development, 27, 5: 647-664.

Cheeseman, N. (2015), Decentralization in Kenya: The governance of governors', Journal of Modern African Studies, 54, 1: 1-35 [with Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis].

Cheeseman, N. (2015), Ethnopopulism in Africa: Opposition Mobilization in Diverse and Unequal Societies, Democratization, 22, 1, 22-50 [with Miles Larmer]

Cheeseman, N. (2014), Rethinking the "Presidentialism Debate": Conceptualizing Coalitional Politics in Cross-Regional Perspective, Democratization 21, 1: 72-94 [with Paul Chaisty and Tim Power]

View all publications in research portal


Professor Cheeseman is happy to field media interviews on the following topics:

  • Elections in Africa
  • Election violence
  • Democratisation
  • Kenyan politics
  • Zimbabwean politics
  • Ugandan politics
  • Nigerian politics
  • Zambian politics
  • Populism
  • Political office term limits and political crises
  • Political parties
  • Taxation

Media experience

Professor Cheeseman's analysis has appeared in the Economist, Le Monde, Financial Times, Newsweek, the Washington Post, Wall St Journal, New York Times, BBC, Sky News, Radio France International, Guardian, New Yorker, Vice, the Mail & Guardian and the Daily Nation. In total, his columns and articles have been read over a million times. Many of his interviews and insights can be found on the website that he founded and co-edits,


Foreign, security and development policy

Professor Nic Cheeseman has advised or presented his work to governments and agencies around the world, including the Department for International Development and Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the UK government, the Lagos State Government (Nigeria), the Committee on Revenue Allocation (Kenya), the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA) of the Swedish Government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), UN Habitat, the EuropeanExternal Action Service and Kofi Annan's Africa Progress Panel.

His areas of expertise include elections, presidential politics, democracy, development, and international democracy support.

Policy experience