Transitions to Democracy in Africa
By Paul Ndiho
Africa has seen a decline in the number of authoritarian leaders since 2010. Multiple countries witnessed significant political change due to popular uprisings, but the number of democracies has not noticeably increased.
The Africa Center for Strategic Studies says a large number of African governments are in a “democratizing stage” and still have a long way to go. So far this year, voters in Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Malawi voted in general elections, but there was no transfer of power.
It’s a new era in Sudan. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the new chairman of Sudan’s newly-formed sovereign council. Nine other members were also sworn at the presidential palace in Khartoum. Under the deal, the sovereign council comprises 11 members, including five military members, five civilian members chosen by the opposition alliance, and one civilian selected through consultation by the two sides.
The sovereign council was the result of tense negotiations between the countries pro-democracy leaders of mass protests, which erupted last December against the three-decade rule of former president Omar al-Bashir, and the generals who ousted him in April.
Political analysts say western-style liberal democracy is being tested, especially in countries where some of the world’s longest-serving leaders continue to hold power. In some cases, a so-called constitutional coup to remove or circumvent presidential term limits by some leaders is alarming.
For example, long-time leaders have exploited ambiguities in the law to extend their terms. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has ruled for 40 years, since August 1979. He won a fifth seven-year term in 2016.
In Cameroon, 85-year-old President Paul Biya extended his 36-year-rule. Biya is also one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers. In 2008, the Cameroonian Parliament voted to change the constitution, to remove term-limits, so President Biya would be eligible to extend his time in office.
Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is still going strong. In December 2017, Uganda’s Parliament voted to lift the age limit for the presidency, setting the stage for Yoweri Museveni to rule indefinitely. Museveni pushed to change the constitution in 2005, to abolish the term limits.
Idriss Deby has ruled Chad, for 28 years. He won a fifth term in 2016. And without term limits, he could keep running until he dies. In Congo Brazzaville, Denis Sassou Nguesso repealed term limits in 2015, was re-elected on March 2016 for another seven-year term.
In 2017, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, won with nearly 100% of the vote, securing a third term in office. Kagame’s re-election followed a constitutional amendment which ended a two-term limit allowing him to remain in power until 2034. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza is widely expected to take advantage of recent changes to the constitution that would ideally will enable him to stay in power until 2034.
Perhaps more importantly, not all of Africa is dealing with the lack of democracy syndrome. Other countries are building stronger governance and leadership institutions. Ethiopia is rebranding and building stronger institutions. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a series of reforms since taking office in April 2018. Elsewhere, tens of millions of Africans are using the ballot box to deepen the quality of democratic governance and bring about political transitions.
On January 24, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as the Democratic Republic of Congo president, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power after multiple bitterly-disputed elections.
In Senegal, President Macky Sall easily won re-election. Senegal has long been viewed as the region’s most stable democracy, with peaceful transitions of power since attaining independence from France in 1960.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari easily won re-election, securing a second four-year term.
New South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is vowing to create jobs and tackle deep-rooted corruption. Malawian President Peter Mutharika was sworn in for a second term after a contentious election marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.
Finally, Liberian President George Weah and the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio were both democratically-elected through an open and transparent process.