How Africa’s past will shape its fu­ture While many coun­tries on the con­ti­nent have made sig­nif­i­cant strides with re­gard to democrati­sa­tion and bring­ing about peace, the same can­not be said for oth­ers.

Finweek English Edition - - OPINION - Is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal econ­omy at UCT’s Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness.

tihe s “Africa Ris­ing” nar­ra­tive a re­al­ity or a myth? This is the ques­tion that con­tin­ues to de­fine the de­bate about the present state of the African con­ti­nent and its fu­ture tra­jec­tory. A salient as­pect of the de­bate re­volves around whether African coun­tries have re­gressed in terms of con­sol­i­dat­ing the demo­cratic re­forms they be­gan im­ple­ment­ing in the mid-1990s. In par­tic­u­lar, the ques­tion is whether African coun­tries have made mean­ing­ful progress in re­spect of man­ag­ing lead­er­ship suc­ces­sion.

At the height of Africa’s “lost decade” in the 1980s – marked by, among oth­ers, gross eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment, a dev­as­tat­ing debt cri­sis, dis­as­trous struc­tural ad­just­ment poli­cies im­posed by the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and World Bank as well as in­ter-state and in­tra-state con­flicts – the no­tion of an or­derly and peace­ful trans­fer of po­lit­i­cal power was widely frowned upon by the con­ti­nent’s lead­ers. Dic­ta­to­rial rule, epit­o­mised by the dom­i­nance of mil­i­tary gov­ern­ments and the ubiq­ui­tous­ness of coups d’état, was the norm rather than the ex­cep­tion.

The end of the Cold War, and the de­feat of apartheid in South Africa, brought about far-reach­ing geopo­lit­i­cal changes across the con­ti­nent and her­alded what be­came known as the “golden age” in African lead­er­ship. This is a pe­riod that saw the as­cen­dancy of a new gen­er­a­tion of mod­ernising lead­ers, in­clud­ing SA’s Thabo Mbeki, Tan­za­nia’s Ben­jamin Mokapa, Nigeria’s Oluse­gun Obasanjo and Sene­gal’s Ab­doulaye Wade.

These lead­ers cham­pi­oned African re­newal and con­ceived the New Part­ner­ship for Africa’s De­vel­op­ment (Nepad). Nepad was a pledge by African lead­ers to end poor gov­er­nance, cor­rup­tion and con­flicts in their coun­tries.

De­spite some short­com­ings, Nepad suc­ceeded in pro­mot­ing demo­cratic norms and fos­ter­ing po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cor­po­rate ac­count­abil­ity in sev­eral coun­tries through its peer re­view mech­a­nism.

None­the­less, some coun­tries on the con­ti­nent have con­tin­ued to be plagued by lead­er­ship suc­ces­sion fail­ures.

Coun­tries that have ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lem­atic or failed po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tions in­clude Guinea-Bis­sau, Egypt, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burk­ina Faso, Togo and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo.

These gov­er­nance set­backs, how­ever, have been off­set by suc­cess­ful lead­er­ship tran­si­tions in coun­tries such as SA, Mozam­bique, Ghana, Zam­bia, Tan­za­nia, Malawi and, re­cently, Nigeria. for more than three decades and have never had a han­dover of po­lit­i­cal power to new in­cum­bents.

Some key points

A few in­sights can be dis­cerned from African coun­tries’ at­tempts to grap­ple with the com­plex pro­cesses of democrati­sa­tion over the past two decades.

Some coun­tries have proven to be bet­ter than oth­ers in get­ting tran­si­tions right. These coun­tries have suc­ceeded in de­vel­op­ing well-de­fined, reg­u­lated, trans­par­ent and con­sti­tu­tion­ally-based mech­a­nisms for de­ter­min­ing lead­er­ship suc­ces­sion.

The “Big Man” syn­drome has re­mained a key as­pect of the con­ti­nent’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape. Although Africa has made re­mark­able strides to­wards em­brac­ing democ­racy, au­to­cratic and self-serv­ing rule has con­tin­ued to shape pol­i­tics across the con­ti­nent.

Faster eco­nomic growth has led to a rise in mid­dle classes, who have de­manded more ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency from their gov­ern­ments. The growth of the mid­dle classes has co­in­cided with a growth in civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, which have been at the fore­front of the strug­gles for demo­cratic change.

Africa’s youth will play a crit­i­cal role in shap­ing the fu­ture of the con­ti­nent. Mak­ing up the bulk of the con­ti­nent’s pop­u­la­tion, many young peo­ple have not ben­e­fit­ted from the rapid eco­nomic growth ex­pe­ri­enced by their coun­tries in re­cent years. If Africa is to have a se­cure po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic fu­ture, it is es­sen­tial that youth par­tic­i­pa­tion in po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses and de­ci­sion-mak­ing is pro­moted.

More­over, even though Africa has made im­pres­sive eco­nomic progress, po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions in many coun­tries have not kept pace. Shor­ing up po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, such as leg­is­la­tures and the ju­di­ciary, is cru­cial to build­ing en­dur­ing democ­racy and pre­vent­ing a de­fault into au­thor­i­tar­ian rule.

In sum, the democrati­sa­tion and po­lit­i­cal suc­ces­sion story in Africa is one of achieve­ments, set­backs and re­gres­sion.

En­cour­ag­ingly, the con­ti­nent’s prob­lems in man­ag­ing tran­si­tions are out­num­bered by its ac­com­plish­ments.

Even so, African lead­ers can­not claim to be ac­tive cham­pi­ons for re­form in global gov­er­nance while do­mes­ti­cally in­duced prob­lems of po­lit­i­cal mis­rule, en­demic cor­rup­tion, hu­man rights abuses, high lev­els of cap­i­tal flight and gross fis­cal mis­man­age­ment con­tinue to linger on unchecked.

Nepad suc­ceeded in pro­mot­ing demo­cratic norms and fos­ter­ing po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cor­po­rate ac­count­abil­ity in sev­eral coun­tries.

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