Tazo Mnangagwa, ’16
2015-2016 is an important period for the state of democracy in Africa. By December, at least 35 countries across the continent will organize for elections, be it local, legislative or presidential. The sheer number of states organizing elections this year demonstrates the progress of democracy in Africa. Millions of Africans now have a platform to exercise their political rights and vote for their future leaders. The fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s created a ‘third wave’ of democracy, with many African states abandoning the one party system for multi party democracy.
Despite the progress made there still remain key concerns. Many observers of democracy have pointed out that corruption is the main impediment to the continent’s democratic progress. Corruption has created a flawed system in which elections are typically characterized as not being ‘free and fair’. Opposition parties rarely managed to unseat the incumbent leaders. For example, Uganda’s presidential elections held in February this year saw opposition leader Kizza Besigye arrested at least 5 times during the voting period. This was his fifth attempt to unseat President Yoweri Museveni who has held power since 1986. Besigye is still under house arrest. It is instances such as this that bring into question the strength of democratic institutions in Africa.
The nature of how elections are carried out this year in will determine the current state of affairs with regards to democratic progress. What remains to be seen is whether or not elections will be characterized by violence, vote rigging other electoral malpractices. Another crucial aspect is whether or not opposing sides accept the election results, and whether leaders in power are willing to step down. Last year, violent protests rocked Burundi’s stability after the current president decided to change the Constitution in order to run for a third term. However, there still remains signs that many countries in Africa value the ideals of democracy and not all leaders are willing to hold on to power. For example, Nigeria—Africa’s largest democracy—current President Buhari managed to unseat the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, who stepped down and accepted the people’s choice. Countries to observe in this year’s election period include elections in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Somalia, once considered a ‘failed state’. How elections turnout in the named countries is key due to the difference in democratic strengths. For example, Ghana and Zambia are considered one of Africa’s top democracies, while the DRC and Somalia are still battling to strengthen their democracy and electoral practices.
Although democratization is a long and arduous process, Africans need to demand that their voices be heard and respected. A full democratic continent is key in ensuring political, social as well as economic stability.