African democracy faces some of its biggest tests in 2019

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More than a dozen national elections will be held across Africa next year. All 55 members of the African Union (AU) are obligated to hold regular and ostensibly democratic elections. Is all this electoral activity helping to entrench democracy as the foundation for national and regional security, development and integration? Or have elections become the means for demagogues to grab power—or, more typically, for powerful elites and authoritarian rulers to entrench themselves?
Democratic theory prescribes credible elections as a necessary, but insufficient means, to consolidate real democracy. Real democracy typically abets peace and security. National circumstances vary.

Most deadly conflicts in Africa occur within—not between—sovereign states. Recognising this, the AU has made observing and assessing democratic elections an integral part of its operations. As observations improve, so do opportunities to gauge whether electoral violence and other severe human rights abuses threaten regional peace and security.

In mid-November, there were three important developments at the AU. These promise to improve Africa’s long-term prospects for collective self-reliance and democratic peace. And this will happen regionally, nationally and locally.

The first was a streamlining of the continental body’s operations. The second was a move to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of member countries. The third was a renewed commitment to improve the depth, duration, and diligence of African election observation missions.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was the chair of the AU in 2018. He spearheaded administrative and financial reforms to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. The key structural reform will be combining the portfolios of Political Affairs and Peace and Security. This makes sense strategically. It will ensure that the lion’s share of AU resources supports both urgent peace-making needs and creates conditions conducive to developing politically capable states. Failures on either front could jeopardize the AU’s strategic plan for socio-economic transformation.
Two other developments complement these shifts.

One is the Assembly’s decision to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of key governance areas on the continent. This promises substantial improvements in the role and functioning of the African Peer Review Mechanism. The mechanism aims to encourage states to critically assess their progress in governance and socio-economic development. Its new director, Professor Eddy Maloka, has been tasked with producing an Africa-wide comparative assessment of governance challenges facing AU member states, to be presented to the next regular AU Assembly in February 2019.

The final change involves beefing up election monitoring. Ten years ago the AU entered into a formal partnership with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. The parties agreed on 16 November to seek ways to extend and improve the partnership. The partnership has also helped the AU to acquire a leadership role among domestic and international election observer groups pursuing greater electoral transparency and accountability. This is true even within Africa’s most troubled states.

These efforts would seem to run counter to the question, “Is Democracy Dying?” This has become a preoccupation in the era of US President Donald Trump. African politics, too, are vulnerable to demagoguery, debauchery and divisiveness. More notable is the proliferation of progressive forces at all levels of African politics. They are exposing and combating corruption and other egregious abuses of power.
Despite Africa’s many problems, it continues to sustain a wide variety of democratic experiments. Extensive surveys by Afrobarometer, the non-partisan research network, show the majority of Africa’s citizens still prefer democracy to the alternative. This is a reality the African Union increasingly recognises and is attempting to support.( (Quartz)

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