Stellenbosch University | Political Science


Profile and Mission

The Centre for Research on Democracy (CREDO) at Stellenbosch University is an interdisciplinary academic centre with a global reach dedicated to the study and promotion of democracy and its values. CREDO builds on a 25-year long history of studying democracy in South Africa in a global perspective and is strengthened by a team of academic experts on Africa, South East Asia, MENA, Latin America, Eastern and Western Europe. Disciplines represented within the centre include political science, International Relations, economics, sociology, and history.

CREDO’s institutional network includes over a dozen institutions of higher learning and research as well as two global data gathering projects: The World Values Survey (WVS) and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem). This international academic community has readily responded to our call to help ensure the continuity of our longitudinal research on challenges to democracy in both South Africa and globally.

Besides conducting research, CREDO is steadily building up a series of initiatives designed to encourage and facilitate the study of democracy by students and young academics. Thus far, these initiatives include the African Data Hub for the Study of Democracy and the African Democracy Essay Prize. Through a series of webinars, CREDO is also positioning itself to become a national hub for debates on contemporary issues affecting South Africa’s democracy and its active promotion in the country.

Management Team

Director: Prof Ursula van Beek

Marketing and Communications Associate: Damien du Preez

Research Associates

Prof Hans Agné, Stockholm University, Sweden

Research interests: 

Democracy beyond the state
Legitimacy in global and regional institutions
Comparative democratic politics, in particular EU politics
Normative and international theory 

Prof Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Philipps-University, Marburg, Germany

Research interests:

Comparative politics         
Democratization studies        
Political culture research        
Comparative methodology        
Development and African studies

Prof Ebru Canan-Sokullu, Bahçesehir University, İstanbul, Turkey

Research interests: 

Public opinion and foreign policy
Populism (with EU focus)
Comparative democratisation 
Regional power politics

Prof Nicholas Cheeseman, Birmingham University, UK

Research interests:

Democracy and democratization
Elections, observation, and autocracy promotion
Corruption and the social contract
The politics of Africa, including, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Dr Lloyd Chigowe, National University of Lesotho

Research interests:

Democratic governance
Political polarisation
Human rights and development
Regional integration

Dr Alouis Chilunjika, National University of Lesotho

Research interests: 

Public management and governance
Public policy
Public finance
Development and African studies
Political processes

Prof Yilmaz Esmer, Bahçesehir University, İstanbul, Turkey

Research interests:

Comparative Values
Culture and cultural change
Survey research methodology

Prof Ursula Hoffmann-Lange, Bamberg University, Germany

Research interests:

Political culture
Comparative politics

Prof Christer Jönsson, Lund University, Sweden

Research interests:

International negotiations
Diplomacy and the role of transnational networks in international cooperation

Prof Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Social Science Centre Berlin, Germany

Research interests:

Political systems
The quality of the democratic process
Parties and party systems
Electoral behaviour
Political science as an academic discipline

Prof Radoslaw Markowski, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland

Research interests:

Comparative politics
Party systems
Electoral studies

Dr Catherine Musuva, Nairobi, Kenya

Research interests:

Electoral politics and democracy in Africa
Governance institutions and actors
Comparative politics

Prof Philip Nel, University of Otago, New Zealand

Research interests:

Comparative politics of preferences for or against income and wealth redistribution
The political economy of development
Ethics and international relations

Prof Vello Pettai, University of Tartu, Estonia

Research interests: 

Post-communist political development
Transitional justice 
Ethnic politics
Varieties of Democracy dataset

Dr Leon Poshai, Midlands State University, Zimbabwe

Research interests: 

Political participation and activism
Electoral systems management
Democratic backsliding
Tactics for opposition politics
Governance and public management

Dr Krige Siebrits, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Research interests:

Fiscal policy
Economic policymaking
Institutional economics

Prof Ursula van Beek, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Research interests:

Historical memory and identity
Comparative historical analyses
Cultural values and democracy

Prof Dennis Lu-Chung Weng, Sam Houston State University, USA

Research interests:

Comparative political behaviour 
East and Southeast Asian politics
Public opinion and survey research
Political psychology
Generational politics

Prof Laurence Whitehead, Oxford University, UK

Research interests:

Comparative politics in Latin America
International political economy


Our History

The Transformation Research Initiative (TRI) was established in 2000 at the Centre for International and Comparative Politics at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. The predecessor for what would become the Centre for Research on Democracy, TRI was an informal group of academics who represented the disciplines of political science, sociology, economics, history, and theology, hailing from eight countries located in globally diverse cultural regions. Their common quest was the pursuit of quality research on democracy. 

Following TRI came the Transformation Research Unit (TRU), launched in 2015 at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Building on the work of TRI, and supported by many of the same academic experts, TRU’s mission was to organise research projects that would monitor the cultural conditions for the persistence of democratic regimes. In 2022, TRU was officially reorganised into the Centre for Research on Democracy, a fully institutionalised research centre to be located in the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Research Agenda

CREDO continues the tradition of taking into account the fluctuating global context against which to conduct comparative case studies. The object of the inquiry is to identify and examine developments posing threats to democracy, both at the global and country levels.  

Among such major threats is polarisation as it erodes respect for contrary opinions, one of the hallmarks of liberal democracy. For this reason, the first CREDO project  focused on the problem of polarisation. The study included a number of case studies but is also offered insights on theory, the impact on polarisation in international diplomacy, and the role of economic inequality as one of the triggers.  

Two closely interlinked longer-term comparative studies will follow at cross-regional and African regional levels to assess the full range of  other dangers facing democracy in today’s world.

Research Outputs

CREDO’s first research output was the publication of eight essays in a special issue of the Taiwan Journal for Democracy. These essays focused on the intersection of democracy and polarisation, and have also been featured in a series of three articles for Democracy in Africa

Forthcoming in November 2022 with Palgrave Macmillan is the centre’s first major publication, an edited collection of academic essays entitled Democracy Under Pressure: Resilience or Retreat?

Made up of contributions from CREDO research associates, the book seeks to identify the main factors shaping the fortunes of democracy globally. Why do some democracies in the same region and presumably subject to similar global influences remain stable while others regress? The book includes examinations of 16 democracies and insights from the perspectives of history, political science, economics and international relations, and is anchored in the analytical tradition.

Contact Us

You can follow CREDO on Twitter and YouTube. We also welcome emails from potential colleagues and interested students from across the globe.