Successes and challenges of democratic reform in post-Cold War Africa
Is democracy on the rise in Africa? Yes and no, says Prof Wale Adebanwi, the Presidential Penn Compact Professor of Africana Studies.
“To the extent that democracy has become a norm, or a formal system of governance, in Africa, that is something to be celebrated. Unfortunately, the forces that were arrayed against democratic rule did not give up,” says Adebanwi.
According to Adebanwi, forces opposed to democratic rule had an approach to democratic rule. “The first was to become part of the democratic process. They changed the means for accessing power, and because these forces became dominant in many democratic polities, it meant that some of the most vital institutions and processes that would otherwise deepen democracy were not, in fact, truly democratic institutions and processes.
The second thing was to sap democratic institutions of their dynamism and energy. For example, in many states, because of the legacy of military rule and one-party rule, anti-democratic forces ensured that the executive arm of government was overdeveloped in relation to the other two arms.
Some scholars have described what we have now as hybrid democracies, because there’s a large number of authoritarian institutions and leaders dominating many polities, and they constitute the core of the ruling elite.”
In order for true democracy to happen, Adebanwi says, serious structural problems need to be resolved. “One problem is determining what kind of political architecture works best in states where different communities—ethnic, ethno-regional, religious, or a mix of the three—are living together. Another challenge is the absence of a clear investment by the political elite in the mess, the true mess, of democratic politics.”
Adebanwi cites Botswana and South Africa as two countries where democracy is thriving. Globally, other nations should “do more to make it clear that they will not recognize any government that comes to power other than through free and fair elections,” says Adebanwi.
According to another scholar, Prof Alade Fawole – who teaches at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife – liberal democracy, the variant practiced in most ‘democratically governed countries’, has failed Africans so spectacularly, yet we continue to hang on to the oft-repeated, threadbare Western slogan that it is the best form of government
Fawole holds that generally, the failure of liberal democratic rule or non-fulfillment of its promises has fuelled mass frustration, encouraged voter apathy and resort to self-help, as witnessed in several countries. What goes on as democratic governance in many countries is a joke. Egypt and Rwanda, for example, have perhaps the most ruthless ‘democratic’ governments on the continent.
Democratic backsliding has become the norm in Africa, and where people could not bear it anymore then soldiers have found excuses to pull the plug. It was this democratic backsliding that fuelled the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and instabilities in several others.
Democratic failures and the inability of peoples to change bad governments have emboldened soldiers to once again become arbiters in governance matters and are becoming popular and acceptable to politically frustrated societies. Malians trooped out to welcome and celebrate soldiers as liberators from a democratic system that had gone berserk.
In case anyone is worried about the incidences of coups in Africa, look no further than how the precepts and promises of liberal democracy have fooled and failed Africans. (