Around the 1990s, Africa witnessed an era of democratic rebirth after being submerged in years of authoritarian rule and bad governance. Since then, the continent has continued to make strides with several countries such as Mauritius being awarded full democracy status. There were growing expectations that with the upsurge of democratization, the shift to democracy would eventually result in the institution and practice of strong democratic principles.
Unfortunately, there came the rise of a set of authoritarian leaders who maintained a grip on power and went forward to amend laws to extend their terms of office. Close to nine leaders in Africa held on to power for more than 20 years while others have gone way above that and are still not willing to let go. Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power in 1979 and is still ruling till the present date as well as Cameroon’s Paul Biya who came to power in 1982, not living out his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni.
Most of the leaders who are no longer in power were kicked out of power by a military coup such as Yayah Jammeh in the Gambia and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe all in 2017. Sudan’s Omar al Bachir recently joined the league after the military takeover in the country in April 2019. Meanwhile, Bouteflika in Algeria narrowly escaped the same scenario after stepping down from his presidential bid.
These actions by the leaders continue to weaken Africa’s democracy, but have most at times not been a problem since the leaders have never failed to leverage on the organization of elections in their various countries to depict the freedom of the people in choosing political leaders.
Today, democracy in Africa rests on the organization of an election which in most cases is highly contested. For several decades now, these elections have been at the centre of the democratization process since it constitutes an important element in democracy.
The absence of an election indicates the presence of dictatorships in Africa, as it has become a requisite for broader democratic consolidation. But how viable is a democracy based solely on elections?
Most countries have capitalized on the vital role this plays to focus more on it while relegating the other aspects out of convenience. Reason why today, election in most parts of African is considered to be a fading shadow of democracy.
Africa democracy needs more than just the organization of elections
People usually automatically point to elections as proof of democracy. But according to the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, democracy is not just about one day every four or five years when elections are held, but a system of government that respects the separation of powers.
It should also be noted that any government which lacks respect for fundamental freedoms such as freedom of thought, religion, expression, association and assembly and the rule of law loses its democratic legitimacy.
Freedom House in its 2016 Freedom in the World report cited Nigeria, Liberia and Ivory Coast as some of the countries with great improvement in political rights. This report also mentioned countries like Botswana, Ghana, Cape Verde and, Benin. Even though some of these countries have made and continue making steady progress in democratization through election, it is not enough to form the basis of democracy.
But Ghana has gone ahead to defile the odds to make a great leap forward in its democracy both through elections as well as in upholding other aspects. Recognized as the ‘Golden Child’ of West Africa for the efficiency in its democratic process, formal democracy is deeply found in the country’s political structure. Most people in the country not only believe in the fact that universal suffrage is guaranteed, but they also attest to the fact that they enjoy the freedom of expression and freedom of association, which have made most of them turn to value democratic systems.
On the contrary, although countries like Zambia have been cited among the top democratic nations in the continent due to the fact that it has a good record of free and fair elections and peaceful transition of power, there is still a high need for good governance and reinforcement of democratic practices as well as the rule of law.
In the classification of democratic nations, much emphasis has been laid on the regular organization of elections, alternation of power and defeat of incumbents during elections, forgetting other fundamental elements. Most countries in Africa are deprived of vital fundamental rights yet it is said that they observe a system of democracy.
Thus, to expand democracy in Africa, there is the need to shift from just the organization of elections which in most instances are not free and fair, to broaden up other aspects. Without governance characterized by the separation of powers, a free press, and active civil society, democracy in the continent will remain farfetched. Not doubting the fact that election is vital in institutionalizing democracy, it can only help consolidate democracy if followed by the implementation of the rule of law.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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