Catherine Lena Kelly, Ph.D.

Harvard University

Country: United States (District of Columbia)

About Me:

Catherine Lena Kelly is an Advisor at the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in the Research, Evaluation, and Learning Division and a Penn Kemble Democracy Forum Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. She works on research, monitoring, and evaluation related to security and justice, post-conflict reconstruction of the justice sector, countering violent extremism, women’s rights, anti-corruption, judicial training, and political economy approaches to rule of law reform. Her forthcoming book, Party Proliferation and Political Contestation in West Africa: The Case of Senegal is under contract with Palgrave Macmillan. Kelly has been a Postdoctoral Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, the West Africa course coordinator at the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute, and a consultant for organizations including Freedom House, the International Budget Partnership, and the University of Cape Town’s African Legislatures Project. Kelly has research and evaluation experience in various West, Central, and North African countries and is both fluent in French and proficient in Wolof.  Her analysis has appeared in venues including the Journal of Democracy, Comparative Politics, Electoral Studies, and The Washington Post Monkey Cage blog.  Kelly holds a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University, a Certificate in International Politics from Free University of Brussels, and a B.A. from Washington University.

Research Interests

African Politics

Comparative Democratization

Religion & Politics

Human Rights

Non-Democratic Regimes


Rule Of Law

Monitoring & Evaluation

Countries of Interest


Central African Republic



Journal Articles:

(2018) Party Proliferation and Trajectories of Opposition: Comparative Analysis from Senegal, Comparative Politics

Over thirty years after Africa’s post-Cold War “democratic experiments,” the number of registered political parties in many countries continues to multiply and there is a paucity of parties that consistently oppose incumbents throughout any given presidency. These patterns challenge theories predicting that parties performing poorly in elections will disappear or fuse with others and that many of the remaining parties will rival those in government by staying outside of any electoral coalitions built by the incumbent president. African policymakers suggest that party proliferation detracts from political development, but they lack systematic illustrations of proliferation’s consequences. Marshaling original data from elite interviews and archival research in Senegal, one of Africa’s oldest multiparty systems, this study characterizes the conditions under which parties consistently oppose incumbents on an uneven playing field. Focused on the Wade presidency, this article argues that most party leaders are primarily concerned with negotiating patronage; thus, few are regular vote-seekers and fewer challenge the ruling party over multiple consecutive elections. Case studies illustrate that party leaders are reliant on personal resources for party-building and rarely possess the two endowments that facilitate consistent opposition: experience as state administrators and international private financing.

(2016) Sufi Turuq and the Politics of Democratization in Senegal, Journal of Religious and Political Practice

The Senegalese example is often used to suggest that Muslim-majority countries are capable of democratizing if the state is equidistant from all religions. Historically, Islam lacks a hegemonic status in Senegal's legal order, and national politics exhibits the "twin tolerations," the mutually respectful relationships between religious and governmental authorities that are necessary for democracy. These continuities cannot explain why Sufi orders (turuq) changed from supporting a single-party authoritarian system in the 1960s-1980s to reinforcing serious electoral contestation as of the 1990s; economic crisis fostered the change. During structural adjustment in the 1980s, economic shocks weakened the ruling party, inducing it to negotiate a democratic electoral code with opponents. The reforms significantly increased electoral uncertainty by the late 1990s, which changed the behavior of state and religious actors. Abdoulaye Wade broke the tradition of presidential neutrality towards religion, favoring Murids over Tijans in hope of getting elected by Murid voters. Turuq members more frequently created political parties (to oppose or collaborate with the president) or grassroots movements (to denounce government corruption and anti-democratic practices). The history of the "Senegalese social contract" suggests why movements more successfully channeled democratic energies, while parties led by Sufi figures had limited impact.

(2012) Senegal: What Will Turnover Bring?, Journal of Democracy

Analyzes the 2012 presidential elections in Senegal.

Books Written:

(2019) Party Proliferation and Political Contestation in West Africa: The Case of Senegal, Palgrave Macmillan

The number of registered political parties in many countries has multiplied since the beginning of Africa’s “democratic experiments” in the 1990s, when national constitutions were rewritten to allow for multiparty elections lacking under previous authoritarian regimes. By 2010, after roughly twenty years of multiparty competition, Cameroon had over 250 parties, Madagascar and Senegal over 150, and Burkina Faso, Benin, and Mali over 100. Although social scientists do predict proliferation during transitions to multipartism, they also expect parties performing poorly in initial elections to disappear or fuse with more popular parties. These expectations are based on the assumption that parties aggregate interests, mobilize voters, and empower citizens to hold politicians accountable – functions emphasized in studies based on Western experiences. However, many African parties stand for personal and parochial interests. This can inhibit the development of parties whose “brand” is easy for citizens to identify when they vote; it can also curtail opposition parties from serving as consistent counterweights to the ruling party. Providing much-needed, systematic empirical demonstrations of party proliferation’s role in politics, this book examines the phenomenon’s sources, documents its consequences for opposition and contestation, and deciphers what these patterns mean for democratization in Senegal. Senegal had three political parties as of 1976 and its first multiparty presidential election in 1978, over a decade earlier than most African countries. Given its longer experience with multipartism, Senegal is where we would least expect proliferation to persist. Yet, by 2010, Senegal had 174 registered parties, and has 255 today. Focused on Senegal during the presidencies of Abdou Diouf and Abdoulaye Wade, Party Proliferation analyzes patterns of African party politics that are not yet fully theorized, including party creation as a form of negotiating patronage, the paucity of parties that consistently oppose any given incumbent, the emergence of regime insiders as the president’s most viable electoral challengers, and the difficulties of using ruling party institutions to manage elite conflict in fluid party systems. The book argues that these features of the party system were sustained by the uneven playing field that Diouf and Wade manipulated when Senegal was an electoral democracy in a minimalist sense, but a competitive authoritarian regime according to stricter criteria. Methodologically, the book asserts that social scientists should consider more fully the local institutional meanings, grassroots political context, and individual agency in the analysis of party politics. Original data created from the author’s fieldwork in French and Wolof informs each chapter.


(2017) Justice and Security Diagnostic: Bangui, Central African Republic, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative & Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

This report presents the results of a detailed diagnostic study of public perceptions of  the justice and security sectors in the Central African Republic (CAR) conducted in fall  2016. Based on interviews with 2,650 adult residents of the city of Bangui, the report  examines  citizens’  experiences  of  violence,  insecurity,  conflict  resolution  and  social  cohesion,  along  with  citizens’  perceptions  of  specific  justice  sector  actors,  self‐ perceived knowledge of the justice system, and expectations with regards to police and  the  courts.  The  study  was  initiated  by  the  American  Bar  Association’s  Rule  of  Law  Initiative  as  a  means  to  inform  its  efforts  to  support  justice sector  reforms  in  the  country, and by  the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Peace and Human Rights Data  program. The results are intended for use by any researcher or practitioner involved  with the justice and security sectors in CAR.  

(2017) Rule of Law Approaches to Countering Violent Extremism, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative Issue Paper

The analysis presented here highlights three core themes that should inform how rule of law practitioners engage in CVE-related work. The first is that violent extremism usually has multiple causes, many of which are local. The drivers of violent extremism thus vary considerably by context, with a variety of ideologies, economic conditions, and political and social situations shaping individual motivations to support extremist ideas or activities. Secondly, several potential drivers of violent extremism – including government repression, the curtailment of civil liberties, and state illegitimacy or collapse – are essentially rule of law issues. As such, rule of law interventions can potentially help address these drivers. Rule of law development assistance seeks to promote human rights, curtail arbitrary state violence, build more inclusive societies, and develop state legitimacy and capacity, particularly within the justice system. It also helps build the social contract between the state and citizens and – by attempting to correct injustice – helps reduce social and political alienation that can lead to violent extremism. Finally, some CVE focused programs can have unintended negative consequences, for example by endangering the civil liberties of the people CVE programming is meant to support, and because such interventions can alienate target communities and divert resources from other needed rule of law programs.

Media Appearances:

Radio Appearances:

(2015) Sopi FM 99.6 (Senegal)

Spoke in Wolof and French about party politics and party proliferation to a Senegalese audience in urban and rural areas.

Blog Posts:

(2017) American Bar Association Rule of Law Intiative

What the Data Says About Democracy and Governance in North and Sub-Saharan Africa

(2017) American Evaluation Association, 365 blog

Analyzing Democracy, Rule of Law, and Governance Programs Holistically - and Strengthening Monitoring & Evaluation in the Process

(2016) The Washington Post, The Monkey Cage blog

Here's Everything You Need to Know About Senegal's Latest Referendum

(2013) Council on Foreign Relations, Africa in Transition blog

Why the U.S. Military Should Care About African Opposition Parties (with Jason Warner)

(2012) Social Science Research Council, African Futures blog

Did the June 23 Movement Change Senegal?