GIGA Working Papers | 2016
The paper seeks to explain how courts in new and vulnerable democracies acquire legitimacy and thus become credible actors able to facilitate or even foster the consolidation of democracy. It analyses the case of the Constitutional Court of Benin (CCB), demonstrating that governmental appointment policies have had an important impact on the court’s legitimacy. This West African country is considered to have been continuously democratic since 1991, and the court was established by consensus during the transition. The findings suggest that perceptions of fair representation on the bench matter more for credibility than professional qualifications and the quality of adjudication. And contrary to the widespread narrative that African politics is basically shaped by ethnicity, short‐term political affiliations appear to matter more than communalistic representation. Network analysis using original social data on the major politicians and all 25 CCB judges since the court’s creation in 1993 provides the evidence for this argument. The paper ultimately argues that the appointment‐policy‐driven delegitimisation of an established and largely credible political arbiter can put democratic consolidation at risk. Ruling elites therefore play a major role in maintaining or eroding this consolidation.