Africa in 2017 has once again shown that its legacy of coups and corruption is unyielding: the Zimbabwe Coup, the boycotted Kenyan election, and the numerous failings to hold President Zuma accountable, are but a few examples that seem to discredit democracy in Africa.
Democracy in this vast and complex continent appears to be in tumult. Elections which characterise a democracy, have largely resulted in swathes of electoral violence in African countries (Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia, Chad, Zambia and Kenya to name a few). What is more, optimism of democratic reform appears to be continuously dashed. One example is Kenya’s Supreme Court’s admirable nullification of its 2017 rigged election. Its attempt to establish a fair election was in vain; the second election was boycotted, permitting the continuation of
’s rule. These cases are unfortunately endemic. By now it’s a truism that the democratic practices or attempts at democracy in Africa succeed more in exacerbating political warfare than in sustaining democratic practices.
Ethnic fragmentation, economic dearth, and a lack of governmental accountability are difficult to combat, and are all significant in their contribution as impediments to democratic growth.
Ethnic divisiveness in Africa is not something to take lightly when we talk about democratic progress. It has caused the denial of democratic rights to individuals (such as the case with the minority group, the Murle, in South Sudan) and made it easier for power-mongering politicians to capitalise on ethnic prejudices, thus remaining in power or winning office. To overcome this ethnic divisiveness, it must be replaced by a sense of national identity, and this is not easily achievable. It takes a strong and capable leader to bring that about.
However, I do not believe that we should give up on democracy in Africa. We should once again remind ourselves that the path to democracy is not always a clear one. Despite the corruption in the Kenyan election, that there was an attempt from the court to fight against it is a positive sign, and perhaps indicates the strengthening of anti-corruption forces. It has only been a short while since democratisation began spreading in 1990’s Africa—a short time indeed; and to echo Dr Nic Cheeseman (Professor of Democracy and International Development at the University of Birmingham) it is remarkable that a continent in this time without the many demanded “necessary” pre-requisites of democracy, has seen democratic progress—‘roughly a quarter of African states are now “free”, including Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritius, Namibia, Senegal, and South Africa”. Notably, South Africa’s Supreme Court’s rejection of President Zuma’s bid to block corruption inquiry further illustrates, along with the other points, that perhaps doom doesn’t necessarily await democracy, but rather demonstrates the inevitable struggle of securing it.