Topics: Democracy, Africa, Representative democracy Pages: 13 (4591 words) Published: December 5, 2012


REG. NO. AM17/0251/12




Professor Ben O. Nwabueze's book, Democratization (Nwabueze 1993), is the best place to begin for a wide-ranging and textured examination of democratization in African societies. "Democratization is not only a concept, nor is it synonymous with multi-partyism," Nwabueze writes, "it is also concerned with certain conditions of things, conditions such as a virile civil society, a democratic society, a free society, a just society, equal treatment of all citizens by the state, an ordered, stable society, a society infused with the spirit of liberty, democracy, justice and equality." The stated thesis of Nwabueze's book is that democratization, "in the fullest sense of the term, requires that the society, the economy, politics, the constitution of the state, the electoral system and the practice of government be democratized" Africa’s contemporary democratization experience is a story of divergence. After decades of static autocratic dominance, the region shifted sharply toward representative government after the end of the Cold War. Led by Benin, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, and Mali some 30 African countries have taken steps toward democracy over the past two decades. In 1989, only three African countries could claim democratic governments. This swing has been accompanied by an upsurge in the number of civil society organizations, independent media, and opportunities for political expression. Moreover, reflecting a maturity that scholars long deemed unrealistic in low-income countries, popular support for democracy in Africa remains strong, despite ongoing challenges. Democratic progress in Africa is far from universal, however. A dozen autocratic governments remain firmly in place maintaining a monopoly on power and repressive practices little changed from the 1960s-1980s era of impunity. An equal number of others have adopted features of democracy, though power remains concentrated in the hands of a single political actor. While opposition parties, civil society organizations, and elections are allowed, these bodies are heavily constrained and there is little genuine oversight of the ruling leadership. The spectrum of governance types in Africa parallels other critical challenges the region faces. Economic stagnation, underdevelopment, financial volatility, humanitarian catastrophes, susceptibility to Islamic extremism, and conflict are all closely linked to closed and unaccountable political systems. Put succinctly, a country’s political institutions define the “operating system” or incentive structure under which that society functions. Establishing constructive and responsive political processes in Africa is indispensable to addressing the many other difficulties the region is facing. Despite Africa’s remarkable democratic advances, the future trajectory of Africa’s governance norms remains uncertain. The expanded transparency, accountability, and rules-based processes accompanying Africa’s budding democracies are countered by personalistic regimes that stubbornly cling to long-accepted norms of control, coercion, and patronage. These practices, moreover, are increasingly bolstered by disparate sources of external support that benefit from seeing these “strongmen” stay in power. History of democracy in Africa

  There are two schools of thought on the history of democracy in Africa.  One school holds that a series of internal protest and prodemocracy movements from within Africa have resulted in more and more countries embracing multi-party elections, at least, since the year 2000.  Another school tends to see Africa's democratization as part of what Samuel Huntington (1993) calls the third wave of democracy, which apparently began in the 1970s in Europe and spread to Africa in the 1990s.  A middle ground is, of course, possible,...
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