The decolonization of Africa took place in the mid-to-late 1950s to 1975, with sudden and radical regime changes on the continent as colonial governments made the transition to independent states; this was often quite unorganized and marred with violence and political turmoil. Of the changes in the regimes since independence, barely 5% have been fully democratic. The rest having been via military or civilian coups, civil wars, invasions, assassinations, etc.
Democracy comes from the Greek word ‘demokratia’. In Greek, ‘demos’ means people and ‘kratia’ means rule. So, democracy means people’s rule. Unfortunately, in Africa, democracy has mutated into an oligarchy, a system next to anarchy. Democracy should be about establishing a politically stable environment, policies focused to benefit the people, and a system of accountability of government institutions. It shouldn’t be about tribalism, political antagonism, divisionism, and other evils that make people fight against themselves.
The poor quality of elections in many sub-Saharan African countries, combined with a tendency for the media to focus on controversy, means that Africa is often depicted as a bastion of authoritarianism. Voting also doesn’t seem to help as honest politicians, if any, do not last long in office. Laws are made but not enforced from the bottom up and enforcement agencies are poorly paid if at all, leading to more graft and corruption.
Democratic African nations are also more vulnerable to international interference and in most cases, leaders are not chosen on merit but rather publicity (PR) and wealth. The challenge of democracy is not to have everyone vote on every issue or to divide the people into parties that compete for the power to rule. The challenge is to find the best advocates of the common interest and raise them to positions of leadership. Despite the challenges, at least 68% of Africans prefer to live in open and freer societies, according to a recent poll conducted by Afro barometer in 34 countries.
Which African Countries are celebrating 60 years of Independence?
17 countries are turning 60 this year in Africa. They are Nigeria, Somalia, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Gabon, Benin, Togo, Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. For organizing, we will examine them from a geographical point of view.
West African Countries
Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Benin, and Togo all make up the western part of African Independence, this also happens to be the largest cluster. Democracies have been the staple form of government and are relatively successful in the region.
Certain countries have been failing in recent years. Benin is one of the countries. With a score of 5.09, the country moved from the 81st world place to the 97th (16th in Africa). This is mainly due to the 2019 legislative elections without opposition participation, which led to violence, a rare occurrence in this West African country.
Economic development has been hindered by years of military rule, corruption, and mismanagement for most countries. There are peace and unity, minus the few insurgencies that have been propping up here and there. I would rate Democracies in West Africa a 7 out of 10. They have been moderately successful in enhancing the quality of life within this region of which I am a product.
East African Countries
Somalia, Madagascar are the only two countries from the Eastern part of Africa that will be turning 60 this year. Somalia has a colorful history that would have been so poignant had it not been equally tragic. Democracy has been restarted several times in this country and we currently hope the recent installment will be the most fruitful.
Madagascar belongs to the group of least developed countries, according to the United Nations. As of 2017, the economy has been weakened by the 2009–2013 political crisis, and quality of life remains low for the majority of the Malagasy population. Has democracy been successful in these countries? I’m hesitant to say yes, I would rate them a 5 out of 10 and I’m being generous.
Central African Countries
Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic make up the last batch of African countries celebrating Independence this year. Where do we begin? Military conflicts in Cameroon, the DRC, and the Central African Republic.
Chad remains plagued by political violence and recurrent attempted coups d’état. Chad is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world.
Despite the democratic system of government practiced in Gabon, the Freedom in the World report lists Gabon as “not free”, and elections in 2016 have been disputed. The government of the Republic of the Congo has been in power since 1972.
I don’t even see a democracy worth talking about. One thing all these countries have in common is French colonialism, perhaps the translation for democracy has been lost in meaning. I rate a 3 out of 10 and as usual, I’m being generous.
What is the Way Forward for African Democracies?
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) recently published the 2019 edition of its democracy index.
The index is based on five sets of criteria: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture.
A glance at the EIU’s Democracy Index for 2019 shows that of Africa’s 54 countries, none are “Full Democracies”, and only 8 are “Flawed Democracies”. The remaining 46 are termed “Hybrid” or “Authoritarian” regimes.
Every nation, state, and community have many individuals with the knowledge and ability to cope with contemporary problems, and the integrity to resolve those issues in the public interest. Unfortunately, one cannot point to an existing political structure that lets the people seek out those individuals and raise them to public office as the people’s representatives, which is the essence of a democratic system.
To meet that challenge, given the range of public issues and the way each individual’s interest in political matters varies over time, an effective electoral process must examine the entire electorate during each election cycle, seeking the people’s best advocates. It must let every voter influence the outcome of each election to the best of their desire and ability, and it must ensure that those selected as representatives are disposed to serve the public interest.
If we are to have democracy, if the people are to rule themselves, we must conceive, validate and adopt a political process that lets the people select, from among themselves, representatives with the integrity and the ability to advance the public interest.
Kenechukwu Nwaezuoke is a content writer at The Young Leaders Council