The challenges and future of democracy in Africa

Africa’s destiny will be shaped by how much Africa constructs a sense of common identity based, not on the narrow lenses of state, race or religion, but constructed on Africa’s belief in democracy, governance and unity as the most viable policy option to mediate, reconcile and accommodate our individual and collective interests.


Events in Africa, despite providing hope and mixed results, remind us that no matter the difference in the colour of our eyes, skin, religion, wealth and geography, we all yearn for liberty and equality, something more consequential and bigger than “big and strong men.” What are the possibilities of the contagion effect of the situation in some parts of Africa? What policies can the Africa Union (AU) develop to respond to these situations?


Do these events mark the end of the history of the political evolution in Africa? While not entirely neglecting these very important questions, it is important to address the broader democracy and governance challenge facing Africa and the role of the AU in addressing them. The principal governance challenge facing Africa is how to enhance a self-­nourishing relationship between authority, accountability and responsibility. This is important in reconstituting African politics from being a zero sum to a positive sum game, characterized by reciprocal behaviour and legitimate relations between the governors and the governed.


Democracy building and consolidation is contingent on strong institutions. Democracy and elections are processes, not events, and the key element in building democratic culture in Africa is anchoring the ongoing practices in unambiguous and predictable processes and strong institutions supported by popular participation.


The challenges of electoral conflicts and political violence reflect the problems of transitions to democracy associated with managing elections and building institutions of competition that are widely accepted by winners and losers. Building strong institutions and political processes, such as election, is critical in ensuring that if a politician looses today, it will be rational and cost effective for him or her  to trust the political system to afford him or her  another chance in the future.


Institutions that get involved in elections and other political processes exhibit weaknesses, for example, election management bodies that lack capacity, public trust and legitimacy; political parties that have weak internal processes and lack internal democratic system; acrimonious inter-party relations and weak Civil Society involvement in the electoral cycle. Democracy is much more than electing leaders periodically through competitive elections. It is about acceptance of a culture that institutionalizes certain basic freedoms and liberties: freedom of association, assembly, expression of ideas, political organization; and property rights.


Democracy is about affording the individual the possibility and hope of change, that is, change they can trust in.

In this regard, constitution and constitutionalism in Africa need to be strengthened. Civilian control of the security apparatus of the state and peaceful constitutional transfer of power need to be promoted and encouraged. The promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights, taking into account their universality, interdependence and indivisibility is imperative. Popular participation must therefore be encouraged.


There is need for legislative and administrative measures to guarantee the rights of women, ethnic minorities and others. As much as democracy is an end in itself, it is also a means to an end. When access and control of state power becomes the only viable mode of resource accumulation and distribution, election becomes “war by other means” amongst the political elite.


There is need for improved service delivery and socio-­economic development to boost confidence in democratic institutions and to reverse election fatigue. Since the establishment of AU, Member States have demonstrated a commitment towards a regional and collective approach to democracy building and consolidation.


Platform …with Atta Kwaku Boadi

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