The Progress of Democracy in Africa
According to the Economist, only three out of 53 African countries had democracies by the end of the Cold War.
Now countries like the one-party presidential republic Eritrea and the absolute monarchy Swaziland are becoming irregularities on the continent. Indeed, this is because Africa has experienced increasing engagement in the democratic process.
While African countries have made significant progress in regards to the spread of democracy, there is still significant work to be done. For example, according to the Guardian, nine African leaders have been in power for more than 20 years with three of them holding power for more than 30 years.
This is an example of the popular notion that African countries are directed by a group of authoritarian heads called “Big Men,” who dominate and control every aspect of the country.
Although authoritarian heads have not lost complete power, women in Africa have benefited greatly from democratically held elections.
For example, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia in 2011, becoming Africa’s first democratically-elected, female head of state. She was followed by Joyce Banda, who became president of Malawi in 2012 and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who was elected president of Mauritius in 2015.
The Guardian labels the notion that the transition of power in government is inherently violent to be “misguided.” There are many factors that could incite violence during the election process aside from transition of power.
These events include voter belief of election fraud, opposition initiated violence as a result of an act being considered unjust, or violence being instigated by leaders threatened by the opposition.
Kenya’s 2007 election proved to be an example of the devastation that can result from the election process when 1,133 people were killed and 600,000 displaced. However, while this kind of violent election gains the most international attention, it is the exception and there are more peaceful elections.
For example, the Guardian cites a recent peaceful election that took place in the Central African Republic, during which voters went to the polls in February in hopes of restoring democracy in Africa and ending years of struggle.
Post-Cold War advancement has been substantial for the African continent in many ways and the foundations that make up democracy in Africa have been overwhelmingly embraced by its citizens.
Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank told the Economist, “Progress comes in waves,” and much of West Africa has experienced a huge shift to democratic representation.
Many countries that have experienced devastatingly violent conflicts, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, now possess, if not perfect, adequate political systems.
– Heidi Grossman
Sources: Economist 1, Economist 2, The Guardian