Democracy under threat in Africa - think tank worried authoritarianism is growing 'more brazen'

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Algerian soldiers. (Photo by Anis/APP/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Algerian soldiers. (Photo by Anis/APP/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • The number of democracies in Africa decreased from 22 to 18 between 2015 and 2020.
  • Thirteen African countries amended their constitutions to extend presidential term limits of incumbents.
  • Africa's youthful population and vibrant civil society are key for democratic development.

Only four African countries - South Africa, Ghana, Senegal and the island of Cabo Verde - are rated highly in this year's Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance's (IDEA) governance ratings.

The report was released coincidentally on the same day, 24 November, as Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa's ascendance to power in 2017 through a military coup.

Since then, military supported transitions have taken place in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Mali.

The report noted in most countries where coups have occurred, the military took advantage of the masses' yearning for political change.

"The re-emergence of unconstitutional changes of government and military aided transitions is a worrying trend. In some countries, the transitions started with citizen demands for political change, with the military stepping in to resolve the impasse between the citizens and the government," the report said.

IDEA secretary-general Dr Kevin Casas-Zamora said "the bad news is authoritarianism has grown more brazen … the quality of democracy continues to decline".

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The reports noted in some African countries, there were attempts by incumbent leaders to extend their terms of office - a clear red notice they wanted to stay in power for as long as possible.

This has resulted in a decline in the number of democratic countries in Africa.

The report read:

Recently, there has been a gradual decline in the quality of democracy in Africa. Despite significant progress since the third wave of democracy in the 1990s, the number of democracies decreased from 22 to 18 between 2015 and 2020. One key challenge is the unchecked powers of incumbents to manipulate reform processes to extend their stays in power.

According to the report, "in the five years to 2020, 13 African countries amended or eliminated constitutional provisions on presidential term limits".

Countries such as Zambia, four months ago, saw a smooth transition of political power and the military did not interfere with the process.

Political commentators as well as Zambia's ruling United Party for National Development (UPND) attribute the political change to the participation of the youth and vibrant civic society.

The IDEA report observed more countries in Africa were seeing a similar trend.

"Africa’s youthful population and vibrant civil society represent a key potential for further democratic development. This can be seen in the increased citizen mobilisations over the past years in Algeria, Mali, Nigeria, Tunisia and Sudan," it said.

In Malawi, a presidential re-run election in 2020 was delayed because of Covid-19 but saw President Lazarous Chakwere beat Peter Mutarikwa.

Zimbabwe has delayed the holding of by-elections because of Covid-19. The elections will now be held on a date yet to be announced but in the first quarter of 2022.

- The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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