In some parts of Africa the prospect of mature, flourishing democracies seems just as theoretical as the concepts that underpin the very principal.
These past few weeks have demonstrated the nature of the uphill battle that faces particular countries in achieving a democracy that the citizens of the continent can be proud of.
The actions of the Ugandan President last week go some way to illustrate the democratic deficit that exists in some African countries. Yoweri Museveni, currently in his fifth term as President, introduced a bill with the purpose of eliminating the age-limit for serving Presidents – which currently stands at 75. Museveni will be 77 by the time his current term ends in 2021. The bill received 315 yes’ to 62 no’s and once the President signs the bill it will become law.
— Parliament of Uganda (@Parliament_UG) December 20, 2017
The idea that a President can alter the nature of a country’s constitution to suit his own whim flies in the face of what every democrat stands for. Furthermore, to exacerbate the feeling that Ugandans live in pseudo-democracy are reports that military personnel stayed overnight at Parliament at the time lawmakers were voting. The very suggestion that in a democracy the presence of force can be used to influence the sway of a vote should not be tolerated by those who purport to uphold those ideals.
It’s worth noting that some members of Parliament are taking the matter to court. If the events in Kenya are anything to go by this might just offer a glimmer of hope. On August 8 the Kenyan Presidential election was contested by Uhrettu Kenyetta and Raila Odinga. Kenyetta initially won the election but Odinga contested the result on the ground of foul-play and took his objection to the Surpeme Court.
On September 1, the Kenyan Supreme Court ruled the election – held the month before – was illegal based on the fact of irregularities in the vote counting. This was the first time in African history that the judiciary had annulled the result of a Presidential election.
However, the boldness and lack of precedence for such action isn’t the only reason for its significance. It is equally significant because it is the sign of a healthy democracy where one of the branches of the state acts to keep the other in check.
Kenyetta won the re-election held two months later and arguably nothing has changed with regards to the level to which tribalism effects the political process. However, the initial annulment is a healthy sign.
To the West of the continent, in Guinea, the President Alpha Conde on November 27, at the 46th meeting of the International Union of the Francophone Press in Conakry, threatened to shut down certain media outlets if they reported on a teachers strike that he had considered to be illegitimate. If a Western politician even made that suggestion, his position would be untenable. Yet there wasn’t the same level of moral outrage shown in Guinea. It’s a matter of ideals and political will.
This isn’t to say that every African country is a despotic regime that has no respect for democratic ideals. Ghana, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Botswana, Namibia and other countries are excellent examples of African democracies. The deficit that exists in some countries is not inexorable. It simply requires the political will of the people to demand change and for chosen leaders to govern by consent and not by some twisted sense of self-importance.