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 ‚Äėthird wave‚Äô¬†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 ‚Äėfree and fair‚Äô. 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‚Äôs 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‚ÄĒAfrica‚Äôs largest¬†democracy‚ÄĒcurrent 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 ‚Äėfailed state‚Äô. 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‚Äôs 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.