American enthusiasm for promoting democracy has waned since the longer term consequences of the 2003 invasion of Iraq became apparent. The neo-cons misplaced confidence in the superiority of their ideals appeared to blind them to lessons from history. Indeed, they might have been more cautious about encouraging electoral transfers of power had they studied experiences following the post-colonial imposition of democracy. This paper draws out some of those lessons, arguing that examples of newly independent sub Saharan African nations highlighted the lag between the notion of universal suffrage and levels of mutual interdependence that enable stable and secure transitions of power. The lag legacy continues to cast a considerable shadow over sub Saharan African politics resulting in elections being accompanied by killings in the pursuit of power by plebiscite. Despite complicity in the roots of these political problems Western governments and international institutions continue with their ‘hopeful prognosis’. Rather than confront underlying failings, blame is localised, directed at corruption and ‘big men’. Such targeting fails to understand that these factors are indicative of wider problems requiring deeper rooted exploration and consideration. Hence figurational insights are applied in order to gain a broader understanding of long term social processes and activities that result in failures to entrench democracy within political arrangements. Particular attention is placed upon interweaving balances of power, competition and cooperation and we/I which are applied to a number of case studies including South Sudan, Nigeria and Kenya.