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Vol 23 No 2 (2021): Democracy In Africa: Myth or Reality?

Democracy is a contested concept that has a number of different definitions. Even some totalitarian and military dictatorships attempt to give themselves respectability by pinning a democratic label on themselves. Any generally agreed definition of what democracy entails involves government in which supreme power is invested in the people and is exercised directly by them or by their elected agents. In general terms, democracy refers to a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Although there may be many forms of democracy, the most acceptable form is representative democracy. In this system, citizens elect officials and entrust them with powers to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the common good. As such, since elected officials stand in for the people, they remain accountable to the people for their actions. In addition, the separation of power constitutes another component of democracy. Power is separated because it breaks down the responsibility of the state into three agencies: legislative, executive and judicial. These tasks are distributed to different institutions in such a way that each of them can limit the powers of the others. Consequently, no institution can become so powerful in a democracy that it becomes dominant and other institutions are disabled.
In just over a year, Africa has experienced three successful coups (two in Mali and one more recently in Guinea), an arbitrary military transfer of power in Chad following the assassination of its president, and two unsuccessful coup attempts in Niger and Sudan. These power grabs threaten the democratization process in Africa. But does Africa observe democracy in the first place? In other words, has Africa undergone the democratization process or it is still a fantasy? Is it possible that Africa only possesses a simulacrum of democracy? What kind of democracy suits the African status quo or is democracy a one-size-fits-all system? Are there limits to democracy in Africa? Is Africa able to function without democracy? Should democracy be fixed or replaced in Africa? Because these are pressing issues in so many of our countries, the editorial board of Chiedza, Journal of Arrupe Jesuit University, for the December 2021 Issue, invites us to reflect on democratization process in Africa by answering the following question: “Democracy in Africa: Myth or Reality?” It could be argued that democracy is a foreign concept to Africa where power traditionally was located with elderly men or despotic rulers who inherited their positions from their families. Differently put, democratic constitutions are often an imposition of the departing colonizers who had hardly demonstrated popular sovereignty in the way in which they managed the colonies. Can this be an accurate account for the failure of democracy in Africa?
Elections are a test of Africa’s democratization process. But, there is a sense in which elections in and of themselves seem to be insufficient markers of democracy or political reform in Africa. Nelson Chamisa, the president of the Movement for Democratic Change, filed a court case against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission claiming that the presidential election of 2018 was not conducted in accordance with the law and was not free and fair. The constitutional court dismissed this appeal on the grounds that the applicant failed to place before it clear, sufficient, direct and credible evidence that the irregularities that he alleges marred the election process materially existed. In other words, the applicant did not prove the alleged irregularities as a matter of fact. Similarly, following the Mozambique’s 2019 general elections, Resistência Nacional de Moçambique, Renamo, submitted an official complaint to the National Electoral Commission to be judged by the constitutional council for “massive electoral fraud” and breaching the country’s peace deal by using violence and intimidation on voting day. Some international observers had raised concerns about the results’ credibility. All the same, Mozambique’s constitutional court dismissed Renamos’s application arguing that the applicant did not provide sufficient evidence to support its claim. Why is it that elections are almost always contested in Africa? To what extent are electoral commissions and the judicial power independent and democratic?
Internal secession constitutes another threat to democratization process in Africa. Across the African continent, diverse secessionist movements are back in the spotlight in Africa. The conflict in Tigray Region in Ethiopia is such one example. Indeed, in November 2020, the forces from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked an Ethiopian military base in the region following a longstanding dispute over the distribution of power and the nature of ethnic federalism in the country. Similarly, agitation for internal secession has turned violent in Nigeria. If legislative bodies are represented by whichever group or political parties that had the largest electoral support, are regional and ethnic minorities never going to be represented adequately in parliaments? Or is proportional representation likely to give smaller ethnicities or regions some say in how government is exercised? Maybe a general question would be what constitutes democracy? Is it the will of the majority of the people? Is 50.1% the majority of the people? If this is the case, what happens to the will of the other 49% of the people? Nevertheless, there are signs of democracy in some African countries. For instance, Kenya has tried hard to get rights for smaller ethnicities have some rights in the constitution. In 2017, Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled the results of the presidential elections due to irregularities. This was a commendable move, for it is unprecedented in Africa for an opposition court challenge against a presidential election to succeed. Equally, the Malawian constitutional court nullified the 2019 presidential elections and called for fresh ones. This verdict resulted from a court challenge filed by Lazarus Chakwera, leader of the Malawi Congress Party and incumbent president of Malawi and Saulos Chilima, leader of the United Transformation Movement Party and current vice-president of Malawi against the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC). The court found out that the electoral process was marked by massive irregularities which included the use of correction fluid, uses of duplicate forms and lack of signatures on some result sheets. Besides, the court found that MEC had breached constitutional provisions demanding transparent elections. But are these moves a sign of maturity of democracy in Africa? Or they are simple smokescreens? In addition, after Hakainde Hichilema’s landslide victory in Zambia’s 2021 general elections, Edgar Lungu conceded defeat. This concession ensured a peaceful transition of power. This was the third time that power has been peacefully transferred from a ruling party to the opposition in Zambia. This is an uncommon occurrence in many African countries as authoritarian regimes cling to power despite electoral downfall. Why is this Zambian ‘culture’ of transfer of power lacking in most African countries? Could it be argued that Kenneth Kaunda, the Zambian founding father, instilled this tradition when he acknowledged defeat against Frederick Chiluba?
Articles should be strictly 4,000 words or less. We also welcome articles, book reviews, poems which do not necessarily reflect these topics or our theme. All articles are to be sent to: either on or before the 30th of November, 2021. Please refer to the Chiedza Website for other details, including the Chiedza style sheet.

Timóteo B. Portásio

Editor-in -Chief

Published: 2022-05-18
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