Democracy in Africa

Democracy in Africa

Democracy in Africa

Democracy in Africa

Democracy is an enigma in contemporary Africa. Although elements of democracy existed in African politics in the pre-colonial times, the European penetration and subsequent colonization provided the gateway for the prevalence of Western form of democracy with the practice of the parliamentary system. As each African state gained independence, beginning from the mid-twentieth century, political leaders mostly followed the Western democratic process. Africans now choose their leaders through electoral processes, but other pertinent factors make the full practice of democracy difficult.

The purpose of Democracy in Africa is to assess the level of democratic practice and to identify and analyze the political changes and challenges facing African countries. Shortly after independence, many African nations experienced political turmoil through military intervention in politics, which directly suspended democratic process. The popular uprisings and crises in North Africa, mainly in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, bear testimony to the need for the implementation of democracy in these and other African countries. These events call for political leaders to adopt and respect democratic principles, concentrate on good governance, and promote political stability.



Most African countries have since the 1990s embraced democracy albeit with various levels practice. That elections, as a means of participatory democracy and changing government, are held is in itself good development as Africa moves farther and farther away from illegal and sometimes bloody change of government typical of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (Dada, 2009). But the democracy terrain in Africa is so uneven as it swings from such promising democracies like Nigeria, Benin republic, Botswana, Mauritius, South Africa and Ghana to Quasi – Democracies as Burkina Faso, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Gambia and Gabon.

Indeed some like Madagascar, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Guinea seem to be relapsing (African Agenda, 2009). The situation is much more complicated for post – conflict countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’ Ivoire, Angola and Congo Democratic Republic who have to deal with not only devastated infrastructure but also grapple with collapsed institutions of state.

With a highly expectant population looking for a quick return to normalcy, these post – conflict democracies face a nagging situation that continues to threaten the growth of democracy in Africa. Democracy as a system of government has become an important parameter to measure good governance, development and acceptability in the comity of nations, in addition, issues of internal security and conflict resolution have been found to be inherent in democracy. It has often been said that a larger percentage of the socio – economic problems confronting sub – Sahara Africa is essentially that of inability to practice true democracy.

Economically, it is evident that investors prefer to take their investment to countries that are politically stable and conflict free. The popular conceptualization of democracy is that it is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. According to Adegboye (2005) this definition presupposes a number of assumptions:

- Mass participation in elections and electioneering process; - The larger percentage of the citizenry is involved in governance;

- The government is responsible to the people in all ramifications;

- People can “reject” an unpopular candidate through the ballot or by recall;

- Elections are usually free and fair;

- Citizens will always exercise their civic duty by voting during elections;

- The sanctity of the ballot will be respected.

If these assumptions are taken to be correct, then it is expected that significant proportions of eligible and registered voters will turn out to vote during elections and as well participate in the democratic process to ensure good governance. However, the situation in Africa has shown that political participation is not as participatory as it ought to be due to certain dysfunctional phenomenon. Issues of poverty, ethnicity, conflict, ignorance, thuggery, terrorism, political assassination, large scale corruption and “god fatherism” have combined to undermine the political process and hinder development to a great extent.


Many African countries that made a transition to democracy in the 20th century and early 21st century, the problems and challenges facing democracy were particularly acute. Obstacles in the path of a successful consolidation of democratic institutions include economic problems such as widespread poverty, unemployment, massive inequalities in income and wealth, rapid inflation and low or negative rates of economic growth. After half a century of post – colonial governance, which was admittedly fraught with many political and economic hiccups, the sets of norms generally accepted by African countries has brought only relative stability and prosperity within only two decades, we are confronted by new difficulties that must be addressed if African system of democratic governance is to survive and move forward. The resulting challenges have arisen also because human society is dynamic and is in itself also impacted upon by political, economic and social considerations at any given time. Some of these challenges include the following: political challenges, the challenge of African political leadership, and economic and social challenges.

Political challenges

Rawlings (2008) opined that most African peoples have already noticed that the new system of governance is being severally tested by the lack of good faith in certain leaders and administrators. According to him, some of those politicians who gained leadership positions as a result of the strict adherence to the norms of democracy are now, and at the end of their tenures, the very people trying to corrupt the democratic system of governance because of their selfish lust for power and money, and so, we see a serious challenge to the meticulous adherence to constitutionalism.

They are busy to prolong their stay in power through fair or foul means to modify, sometimes crudely, turn a multiparty democracy into a virtually one – party state, to arrogantly abuse the concept of the separation of powers, to ignore the rule of law, to undermine judicial independence, to inter-fare with the fundamental human rights of political opponents especially, and to capriciously use decentralization to promote parochial or sectarian interests.

A second political challenge is how to avoid the politics of exclusion and the creation of a society of unequal. The “winner takes all” mentality that we have inherited from other forms of western democracy has led to the rejection of the concept of power sharing or the involvement of other party members in a government of inclusion even when it is clearly in the national interest so to do.

A third form of challenge to democracy in Africa is the refusal of governments to adhere to the “Good governance Agenda”. For democracy to succeed, there must be a role for the opposition, decentralization must also be equitable, the media must be assisted to be free, pluralistic and independent, civil society organizations must have the unfettered freedom to operate and lastly, there must be a strong commitment to anti-corruption war. In all these areas, we have seen leaders across the continent fail badly as the opposition is openly hounded and denied any significant role in governance, as leaders have themselves become absolutely steeped in corruption and opulent life styles, as the powers that be refuse to prosecute corrupt ministers and top government officials especially, as the purchase of the loyalty and bias of a large section of the press erodes the right of opponents and as the use of radio and television stations to attack opponents is sanctioned in the hope of making opponents unpopular over time.

Examples abound in almost all Africa countries, thus impeding fast progress towards the goals that alone can lift African countries and peoples out of poverty, ignorance and economic backwardness. According to Rawlings (2008) the serious challenge of ensuring a democratic dividend for women, youth, disabled, ethnic minorities, to mention but a few interest groups, half a century after achieving political independence and after almost two decades of having been acknowledged practicing democracy, African women still hang precariously on the lower rungs of the political ladder, in spite of many constitutions and United Nations resolutions urging all countries to pay attention to their status and roles, the youth continue to be largely illiterate unemployed and disillusioned and ethnic minorities continue to live in fear and obvious disadvantage (Rawlings, 2008).

Challenges of political leadership

The failure in the practice of ideal democracy in Africa can be attributed to many factors, both internal and external, there is the unquestionable evidence that the failure are as a result of bad political leadership. At the top of this failure of leadership is the scant respect that many African leaders have for constitution and constitutionalism. The ease with which extra terms of office are pursued by certain leaders and the manner in which the illegal or unconstitutional objective is pursued has made the failing particularly objectionable and attributable to failed leadership. A second challenge to African leadership is the tendency of leadership to foster ethnic or tribal ascendancy in political parties, the military and security situations which may lead to the creation of ethnic crimes and civil services. Thirdly, the most current and terrible leadership failure on the African continent is the manipulation of election results, described variously as “rigged election” or “election manipulation” or “sham election” or “stolen verdict” or “stolen mandate”.

However, evidence abounds that the desperate attitude and winning at all costs ambition of some political leaders makes the acceptance of election results rather difficult and has led many African leaders committing electoral crimes and the refusal to adhere to the process of a peaceful and smooth changeover of government. Economic and Social Challenges For the gains by Africans in the practice of democratic governance to survive and be sustained, the mass of African people must be introduced to significant economic prosperity. The failure of a large number of African economies in the first three decades of their independence showed that the economy is also doomed to failure if such internal and external mismanagement of the economy is not brought to an end and reform, based on certain demonstrable capacities of leadership, is immediately substituted.

The first challenge of that economic goal according to Rawlins (2008) is the achievement of economic self reliance and independence, many African countries, which ignored the lessons of that experience hurriedly, became consumer societies and adjuncts to certain developed countries’ economies, following the attainment of political independence. The second economic and social challenge to democracy in African continent is the lack of efficient attention to non – existent or poor economic and social infrastructure. The building of roads, railways and communication systems as well as the electricity plants, water systems etc continue to be of top priority in the continent.

The challenge facing the continent here is to develop the economic and technical skills and the adequate human resource for negotiating with the developed World Trade. The third economic challenge to the survival of democracy in Africa is the lack of resolve to empower certain important economic actors in the various countries. With the present state of economic condition of African countries, the abject poverty, illiteracy, deprivation and hunger, one can not but wonder how democracy and economic prosperity can be built and consolidated if the larger percentage of masses are left in the present predicament. There is no alternative to the economic empowerment of the people through an investment directly in their collective abilities to produce and market. African governments must ensure the survival of other citizens by appropriate administrative, medical and economic policy interventions.


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