Democracy in Africa: challenges ahead as elections draw near

Democracy in Africa: challenges ahead as elections draw near

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Over the last two decades, Africa has seen major advances in democracy. Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, and Nigeria are some countries that have proven the continent has come of age and can transit peacefully from one administration to another.
Sadly, attempts by sitting presidents to extend their stay in power via amending the constitution are still a common occurrence in African democracy. Worse still are democracies without term limits. The following are some of the countries where elections will be held in coming months.
Tanzania
Although it is one of the poorest countries in the world with few exportable minerals, Tanzania has managed to avoid the ‘typical’ political violence of most Africa countries. Tanzania has not only been peaceful; it continues to maintain its status as one of African’s strongest democracies. With more than 100 tribes, tribalism is almost non-existent during elections.
The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections – expected to be the closest contested since independence – are due to be held on October 25th. Although the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has won all four elections since the end of the one-party system in 1995, opposition has made remarkable improvements.
No doubt CCM has a strong advantage, but it has lost seats to opposition in the two previous national elections and may lose more in next month’s elections. However, it is rather too soon to conclude which party will win in October. Despite current economic setbacks, political stability will help maintain investor confidence in Tanzania’s economy.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In Democratic Republic of Congo, no less than 40 people were killed in January protests, which were sparked by plans to revise electoral laws. Opposition parties had called for mass protests against the new electoral bill being debated in parliament, a draft law that would allow President Joseph Kabila to extend his stay in power beyond 2016.
Fortunately, the parliament actually amended the controversial census bill following the four-day nationwide protests, and now election officials have announced that the next presidential election will be held in November 2016.
President Kabila is yet to state whether or not he will leave office when his term ends in 2016, though his spokesperson has stated that Kabila does not intend to flout the constitution. After many years of war, democratic progress will only be consolidated by free and fair elections in November 2016. Failure to respect civil liberty and honour the constitution of Africa’s fourth most-populous country threatens investment and economic growth.
Congo – Brazzaville
Although Congo-Brazzaville is one of the major oil-producing states on the continent, much of its population continues to live in extreme poverty following decades of instability. In 2009, an investigation by France alleged President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and his family of acquiring assets in France using public funds, including 112 bank accounts and an automobile worth $224,492.
Under the 2002 constitution of Congo-Brazzaville, the president can be re-elected only once and must be under the age of 70 years. Sassou-Nguesso’s second term in office ends in 2016, when he will turn 72 years old.
On March 27th, Sassou-Nguesso announced his government’s plan to hold a referendum to change sections of the constitution so he can stand for a third consecutive term in office. In July, he announced a national forum to discuss series of constitutional reforms, including scrapping the two-term limit and removing the maximum age limit for presidential candidates.
To make matters worse, Sassou Nguesso replaced two of his cabinet ministers in August after they participated in an opposition-led consultation against the government’s attempts to review the constitution. He is also soon expected to announce a commission that will propose a new draft constitution ahead of the proposed referendum.
In a country that currently enjoys fragile peace, such moves may cause agitation, political crisis, and investor flight in Congo-Brazzaville.
Rwanda
Rwanda is a small non-coastal state in the process of recovering from a major ethnic strife and civil war in the mid-1990s. Although poverty remains widespread, Rwanda appears stable and efforts to rebuild the economy under the leadership of President Kagame have yielded remarkable development and reduced poverty and inequality.
Similar to the constitution of Congo-Brazzaville, article 101 of the 2003 Rwandan constitution limits the number of presidential terms to two seven-year terms. President Kagame ends his second term in 2017, and is therefore banned by the constitution from standing for re-election.
Although Kagame has not yet declared an intention to remain in power beyond 2017, possible attempts at abolishing term limits would serve to overshadow benefits from previous economic gains.
African challenges and successes
These upcoming elections are tainted by proposed constitutional amendments that not only undermine democracy, but may also result in political and economic tensions that create a risky scenario for investors. Unfortunately, things could be much worse.
Ongoing events in Burkina Faso – as well as human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, and alleged murder of activists in Burundi – make a mockery of democracy on the continent and have tragic outcomes. Leaders must understand there is no one ‘saviour’ in any nation.
On the bright side, some African nations have gotten things right. Nigeria’s robust and decisive response to Ebola (which attracted commendations from the international community) and the peaceful transition from a civilian administration to another following the 2015 elections are evidence that there are African states that have what it takes to uphold the value of democracy.

Tolulope Ola-David

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