Africa has moved step forward in transition towards democracy: Experts
International Day of Democracy celebrated on Sept. 15 to review state of democracy in world
Africa has moved a step forward in the transition towards democracy compared with two decades ago, when military coups thrived, experts said in commemorating the International Day of Democracy.
“To some extent, democracy has grown in Africa from the 1990s to date, where most countries now hold periodic elections, giving people the opportunity to choose their leaders,” Dr. Sultan Kakuba, a political science professor at Kyambogo University in Uganda, told Anadolu Agency in a phone interview.
Dr. Sultan Kakuba, a political Science professor at Kyambogo University in Uganda, speaks to Anadolu Agency outside his office in capital Kampala, in this file photo dated Dec 2020. ( Hassan Isilow - Anadolu Agency )
However, three decades ago, Africa was struggling to democratize, with the apartheid regime active then in South Africa and several military dictatorship regimes on the continent. But two decades later, the apartheid regime came to an end in South Africa after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.
While many military regimes on the continent also collapsed or transformed into democratic rule, many are still struggling to embrace full democratic rule.
Kakuba said that currently, there are three systems of governance across the African continent, namely “consolidated democracy,” “hybrid regimes” and the “meltdown system.”
“Countries consolidating democracy have strong democratic institutions, thriving freedoms including press freedom and other rights and hold regular elections,” Kakuba said.
He named South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania as some of the countries building and consolidating democracy on the continent.
Kakuba said “hybrid regimes” consist of nations that advocate democratic values and hold elections, but at the same time, their leaders practice authoritarian tendencies such as limiting press freedom among other rights.
He said hybrid regime leaders often amend the constitution to remove presidential term limits which are usually pegged at two terms, giving them the opportunity to rule for as long as they want.
“Examples of such countries include Uganda and Rwanda, where the presidents have been in power for long but hold periodic elections, and the opposition is not given a fair, levelled playing ground,” he noted.
Kakuba said a meltdown democratic system involves countries in civil wars where democratic institutions and values are either declining or have collapsed.
“For Africans to celebrate the International Day of Democracy, we need to ask ourselves: Have we achieved building institutions that benefit all Africans? Have we achieved pan-Africanism? Or does each leader care only about their nation or regional blocks?”
Kakuba suggested that African leaders should build their own democratic systems, other than copying Western democratic systems, which the majority of the continent has failed to achieve.
Recent coups worrying
Dr. Mustafa Mheta, a senior researcher at the Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based think tank, agreed with Kakuba that the continent has indeed made progress in the transition to democracy but said he is worried about new coups witnessed recently.
“Of late, we are beginning to see a rise in coups across certain regions such as West Africa, precisely in Francophone countries. This is a very worrying trend,” he told Anadolu Agency.
In less than two years, the continent has witnesses three coups -- one in Guinea and two in Mali. There was also an unconstitutional transfer of power in Chad after the assassination of President Idriss Deby where his son took over to continue his 30-year grip on power.
Mheta said there is a pattern that is beginning to emerge in countries where the coups are happening.
“The soldiers who are leading these coups are either US or Israeli trained,” he said.
Kakuba said greed for political power and corruption among some African leaders are responsible for some of these coups.
“Coups are mostly because of economic issues, when leaders are corrupt. It at times prompts the military to take over and also get access to these resources,” he said.
Mheta agreed that autocratic leaders are abusing their countries’ constitutions by extending the presidential term limits, which are usually put at two terms, leading to unhappiness among citizens.
He praised South Africa's constitutional democracy, saying it is exemplary and very much alive.
‘‘Surely where else on the continent can you have a former president being arrested for committing a felony?” he said, referring to former President Jacob Zuma, who was jailed in June for contempt of court but was released this month on medical parole.
Zuma was sent to prison by the Constitutional Court after he reportedly refused to appear before a judicial commission of inquiry probing corruption during his nearly decade in power.
“South Africa is certainly leading in that pack. It is the most democratic country on the continent without any doubt,’’ Mheta added.
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