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. Established in 2021, CREDO nevertheless 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. Since establishment, CREDO’s team of research associates has grown by leaps and bounds to include academics from across the globe.

Besides conducting research, CREDO is steadily building up a series of initiatives designed to promote the increased engagement with democracy by students and non-academics. Thus far, these initiatives have included the African Data Hub for the Study of Democracy and the African Democracy Essay Award. Through regular 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. Most recently, CREDO has begun publication of a regular email newsletter for business leaders, policymakers, and the curious public. Democracy Delivered is published monthly and provides insight and analysis on the latest democratic trends and developments. 

Management Team

Prof Ursula van Beek, Founding Director
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Prof van Beek’s academic career spans three decades, beginning with the first cross-cultural comparative study on democratic transitions in South Africa and Poland. She is responsible for the establishment of both the Transformation Research Initiative and the Transformation Research Unit, CREDO’s predecessor organisations.

Damien du Preez, Research Coordinator
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Damien is a graduate of Stellenbosch University, having completed a BA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. He’s been involved in CREDO since its inception and is passionate about contributing to projects and organisations creating positive change in the world. He is the initiator and co-chair of CREDO’s Citizens Assembly Working Group.

Kira Alberts, Research Associate

Kira is a Master’s student at Stellenbosch University and a KAS-CREDO Scholar. Her thesis topic focuses on the comparative analysis of disinformation and voter behavior in the Global North and South, a topic which draws on her keen interest in the intersection of African politics and technology. She is the co-chair of CREDO’s Citizens Assembly Working Group.

Sonia Twongyeirwe, Research Assistant

Sonia is a Bachelor’s student at Stellenbosch University with a passion for understanding and investigating Africa’s ever-changing political landscape. She is interested in promoting informed political decision-making through well researched political information.

Research Associates

Prof Hans Agné, Stockholm University, Sweden
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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
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Research interests:

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

Prof Ebru Canan-Sokullu, Bahçesehir University, Turkey
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Research interests: 

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

Prof Nicholas Cheeseman, Birmingham University, UK
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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, Lesotho

Research interests:

Democratic governance
Political polarisation
Human rights and development
Regional integration

Prof Yilmaz Esmer, Bahçesehir University, Turkey
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Research interests:

Comparative Values
Culture and cultural change
Survey research methodology

Prof Christer Jönsson, Lund University, Sweden
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Research interests:

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

Prof Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Social Science Centre Berlin, Germany
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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, University of Witswaterstrand, South Africa
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Research interests:

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

Prof Philip Nel, University of Otago, New Zealand
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Research interests:

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

Prof Marie-Eve DesrosiersUniversity of Ottawa, Canada
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Research interests:

Governance in Africa
Authoritarianism, political protest and state-society relations
Conflict and insecurity in fragile states
African Great Lakes
Qualitative field methodologies and ethics  

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
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Research interests:

Fiscal policy
Economic policymaking
Institutional economics

Prof Ursula van Beek, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
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Research interests:

Historical memory and identity
Comparative historical analyses
Cultural values and democracy

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

Comparative politics in Latin America
International political economy

Dr Cindy Lee Steenekamp, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
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Research interests:

Political behaviour
Political culture
Social capital
Survey research

Dr Guy Lamb, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
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Research interests:

Policing and governance
Violence prevention and peacebuilding
Crime and conflict
African security
Arms control and disarmament

Dr Derica Lambrechts, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
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Research interests:

Environmental crimes
Organised criminal groups as domestic non-state actors
Governance complexities in African urban spaces
Political risk in Southern Africa

Dr Melis Gülboy LaebensOxford University, UK
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Research interests:

Democratic backsliding
Political parties and party organisation
Voter behaviour 
Turkey, Poland, Ecuador, and Colombia

Dr Jan Boesten, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
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Research interests:

Comparative politics (democratic quality, institutional development, and legal politics)
Latin American studies (Colombia and the Andean region)
Conflict studies (crime-conflict nexus and order in civil war)

Dr Gergana DimovaFlorida State University London Study Centre, UK
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Research interests:

Accountability in domestic and international settings
Democracy, democratisation and de-democratization
Blame-shifting and blame-avoidance

Dr Sishuwa SishuwaStellenbosch University, South Africa
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Research interests:

Racial nationalism
Civil society
History and politics of Zambia

Dr Justin Pearce, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
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Research interests:

Southern African political history, particularly Angola and Mozambique
The Global Cold War
Ideology, political identities and international connections in anti-colonial struggles
Civil war, post-war politics and peace building

Shreya Mishra, SOAS University of London, UK
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Research interests:

International organisations
Comparative politics
Indian and Chinese foreign policy
Global South and Great Power politics

Prof Andreas Freytag, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany
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Research interests:

Climate change and development policies
Values-based international economic relations  for sustainable development
EU-Africa international relations
African economic integration
The G7 process  

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. 

African Focus Group

The objective of this research project is to identify and then analyse key problems that are adversely impacting the legitimacy of democracy in a broad set of African cases. Once identified, these problems will be extrapolated to countries in other non-Western regions to establish if they are present and, if so, how they are affecting democratic legitimacy in these cases. The project was greatly informed by the outcome of a research workshop hosted at Stellenbosch University in March 2023, which brought together scholars from South Africa, Canada, Kenya, Lesotho, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe for two days of intense discussion and celebration.

Final results will be structured as a series of journal articles to be submitted to the Canadian Journal of African Studies for publication as a special issue sometime in early 2024. Contributors to this project include Prof Ursula van Beek, Prof Marie-Eve Desrosiers, Prof Nicholas Cheeseman, Dr Leon Poshai, Dr Krige Siebrits, Dr Catherine Musuva, Dr Lloyd Chigowe, Dr Derica Lambrechts, Dr Guy Lamb, Kira Alberts, Dr Justin Pearce, and Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa.  

Global Focus Group

This research projects aims to consider the various ways in which democracy can be, and has been, undermined, with a particular attention paid to the specific factors that tend to erode the legitimacy of the democratic system of rule. The project was first outlined at a research workshop hosted at Stellenbosch University in November 2023, which brought together scholars from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Poland, New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany, India, and Uganda.

Final results will be structured as a series of journal articles to be submitted to the Journal of Asian and African Studies for publication as a special issue sometime in 2025. Contributors to this project include Prof Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Prof Laurence Whitehead, Prof Radek Markowski, Prof Philip Nel, Dr Dennis Weng, Kira Alberts, Dr Jan Boesten, Prof Derica Lambrechts, Shreya Mishra, Sonia Twongyeirwe, Prof Ursula van Beek, and Prof Yilmaz Esmer. 

Citizens Assembly Working Group

In response to the growing political and scholarly interest in citizens’ assemblies (CAs) as a potential response to the ongoing ‘crisis of democracy’, the Centre for Research on Democracy (CREDO) at Stellenbosch University convened a Citizens Assembly Working Group in February 2023. To be composed of African and international scholars and co-chaired by Damien du Preez and Kira Alberts, the working group aims to investigate the relevance and suitability of CAs for South African democracy as well as to introduce original Global South contributions to the fields of deliberative and participatory democracy. As the first African-led research initiative of its kind, and given the current saturation of the field of scholarship and practice with Global North thinking, the working group stands to make a significant and unique contribution to the scholarly and practical development of democracy. The group’s proposal document can be read here.

Research Outputs

Special Issue in the Taiwan Journal of Democracy

CREDO’s first research output was the publication of eight essays in the July 2022 special issue of the Taiwan Journal of 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

Book: “Democracy Under Pressure: Resilience or Retreat?”

Soon after came the Published 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? The book can be accessed here.

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, LinkedIn, and YouTube. You can also subscribe to our newsletter, Democracy Delivered, for monthly insight and analysis on democratic trends and developments. If you’re interested in our work, we welcome emails from potential colleagues and curious students from across the globe.