The Brighter Future for African Democracy

It is more than two decades since pro-democracy grassroots organizations led struggles that eventually resulted in the overthrow of many despots and tyrants in Africa. Since then, there have been some noticeable improvements in the transition to democratic governance all over the continent. This does not mean, however, that African democracies are without problems, but a truism is that the richly-blessed continent has continued to make steady progress towards institutionalizing the world’s most coveted system of governance.
Democracy can only be bolstered in states where there is respect for the basic human rights. In some parts of Africa, the process seems to be suffering some iterant setbacks due to the neglect of the fundamental human rights. For instance, Cameroonians are tacitly disenfranchised as their incumbent President, Paul Biya, has done everything within his capacity to modify the constitution and remain as an everlasting monarch. The same applies to Equatorial Guinea where Tedoro Nguema is reported to be amongst the worst abusers of human rights. Zimbabwe is not different as President Mugabe’s government has become so oppressive that the country more closely resembles a totalitarian state. Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos – following a constitutional change – has been well positioned to remain in power to at least 2022. And the case of Yoweri Museveni remaining in power till date – as well as the recent Burundian third-term saga – are shocks to the collective growth of the continent’s democracy.
Africa’s problem has been in its conception of democracy. The idea of democracy itself is viewed almost exclusively as a Western concept of which the continent now stands desperately in need. Many African statesmen presume that democratic values and practices are alien to the continent and should not be accepted. What has been consistently ignored is that democratic values have been as indigenous to Africans as they were to the ancient Greeks. The desire for representation, inclusion and participation in public affairs are universal to all humans; the difference rests on the methods of attaining these goals. Suffice it to say that the extent to which a society “democratizes” depends on its sociocultural milieu, whether it is African, Euro-American or Asian.
Recent developments have shown that the democratization process can actually work in Africa. Since democracy has been firmly established in Ghana, Botswana and Mauritius – nations which have made steady progress towards deepening participatory and inclusive governance – its potency to spread into other parts of Africa had become stronger. Nigeria – Africa’s largest economy and most populous country – also joined the league of democratic African nations when the former President Goodluck Jonathan chose to strengthen the bedrock of unity and deepen the country’s democratic governance rather than subvert the electoral process or result. That proved naysayers and doubters who thought Nigeria could not have credible elections wrong. Uganda or Equatorial Guinea may be next on the lot as last October saw the end of Blaise Compaore’s 27-year-old reign in Burkina Faso.
If the largest democracy on the continent could get it right, then why would others not? Nigeria – as a trailblazer – has set a huge example across Africa that democracy can work. Kenya, Mali and Senegal have also seen more-or-less trouble-free transitions in recent years. All these goes to show that democracy will be institutionalized in Africa as long as selfless leaders keep emerging. The continent requires leaders that will embrace true democracy and develop the moral courage to live up to democratic expectations. A democracy premised on the principles of selflessness, nobility, tolerance, truth, equality, justice, honesty, self-control and restraint is simply what Africa requires and emerging leaders in Africa can do well to achieve it.

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