FORMER Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo says democracy is taking root in Africa, but warns that rising political stars will struggle to unseat old leaders unless they join forces during elections.
Obasanjo, who was a military ruler for three years from 1976 and then a civilian leader from 1999-2007, said African countries were making progress towards democracy, but much more remained to be done, after a book launch in Johannesburg on Wednesday night.
Obasanjo said, ‘Yes we are [making progress]’ towards democracy. ‘Africa will get to where it needs to be,’ he said.
‘Thirty years ago, election was an aberration in Africa; today, no election is an aberration,’ he said. ‘Even those [rulers] who want to remain … they still go through some form of election.’
It is ‘what somebody called autocratic competitiveness. They are still autocratic, but they try to show that they are competitive through election.’
But Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema said that despite democratic progress registered elsewhere on the continent, some countries in the Southern African region were moving backwards.
‘We have a re-emergence of authoritarian regimes, and there is regression in the democratic space in our region. We need to reverse this very quickly,’ he said, mentioning Zimbabwe and Zambia as examples.
Obasanjo also urged young and upcoming African politicians to get their act together if they are to unseat old African leaders — many of them septuagenarians and octogenarians who have been holding on to power for decades — through elections.
‘If the youth think that they will get into power on a platter, they are not getting it right,’ he said. ‘They will have to snatch it, those [ageing leaders] will not go.’
Obasanjo co-wrote the book, Democracy Works — Rewiring Politics to Africa’s Advantage, with Zimbabwe’s former finance minister and opposition leader, Tendai Biti, and two other authors.
Former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who also spoke at the event, said Africa had ‘come a long way,’ but that there was still room for improvement as she bemoaned ‘the recycling of the same leaders.’