Africa is los­ing steadily on the demo­cratic score

The Sunday Independent - - AFRICA -

ing pro­por­tion of these states have wit­nessed a trans­fer of power from one party or leader to another.

It’s true that more elec­tions are now be­ing held than at any time in hu­man his­tory, but re­cent high­lights in Gam­bia, Ghana and Kenya mask a prob­lem­atic re­al­ity – namely that the ex­pan­sion of mul­ti­party pol­i­tics has of­ten gone hand-in-hand with po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ex­clu­sion. Over the past five years, the level of po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion and eco­nomic in­equal­ity has in­creased in Africa. In turn, this has called into ques­tion the ex­tent of the con­ti­nent’s demo­cratic gains.

In­creas­ing re­pres­sion

In re­cent times, high lev­els of re­pres­sion have been wit­nessed across much of Africa. These in­clude the ar­rest of Ugan­dan op­po­si­tion leader Kizza Be­si­gye, as he cam­paigned against his de­feat in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Also, in Kenya, there were a high num­ber of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions dur­ing crack­downs on op­po­si­tion protests dur­ing the elec­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Free­dom House, an Amer­i­can think-tank that rates the level of free­dom in ev­ery coun­try, the qual­ity of civil lib­er­ties in Africa has fallen ev­ery year for a decade. Seven out of the 15 coun­tries that showed the big­gest de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the qual­ity of their po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment over the past 12 months were African – the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo, Ethiopia, Le­sotho, Niger, South Su­dan and Zam­bia. Next year, Tan­za­nia may well join that list.

Other forms of po­lit­i­cal ex­clu- sion are also preva­lent. Rwanda leads the world on fe­male leg­isla­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion, while Sene­gal, South Africa, Tan­za­nia and Uganda also per­form well on this met­ric. How­ever, few women are ever elected in the con­ti­nent’s largest states, such as An­gola, Nige­ria and the DRC.

Mi­nor­ity groups of­ten suf­fer a sim­i­lar fate. In Botswana, the San com­mu­nity has been largely ex­cluded from the po­lit­i­cal process. Sim­i­larly, les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans and queer cit­i­zens find their hu­man rights are un­der­mined.

Ris­ing in­equal­ity

In many states, po­lit­i­cal ex­clu­sion has gone hand-in-hand with ris­ing eco­nomic in­equal­ity. As a re­sult, the rel­a­tive poverty – the gap between the rich and the poor – is grow­ing. This is de­spite the fact that the level of ab­so­lute poverty has fallen in a num­ber of coun­tries. In other words, se­ri­ous de­vel­op­men­tal gains are oc­cur­ring at the same time that other forms of eco­nomic ex­clu­sion are in­ten­si­fy­ing.

One of the most stun­ning facts about the con­ti­nent is that the Hu­man De­vel­op­ment In­dex – a com­pos­ite statis­tic of life ex­pectancy, ed­u­ca­tion, and per capita in­come in­di­ca­tors – shows that ev­ery coun­try in Africa is to­day less equal than it was in 2010. More wor­ry­ingly, there is no ev­i­dence that democ­ra­cies are per­form­ing bet­ter than au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tems on this is­sue. If any­thing, the re­verse is true. In­deed, one of the most in­trigu­ing para­doxes of African democ­racy is that it is those coun­tries that are most demo­cratic that are most un­equal. Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, three of the con­ti­nent’s most se­cure democ­ra­cies, fea­ture the high­est lev­els of in­equal­ity in the world.

The com­bi­na­tion of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ex­clu­sion in Africa is im­por­tant for in­trin­sic and in­stru­men­tal rea­sons. In­trin­si­cally, democ­racy is fail­ing to de­liver if it is not help­ing the worst as much as the best-off. In­stru­men­tally, the com­bi­na­tion of eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal ex­clu­sion in­creases the risk that po­lit­i­cal griev­ances will de­velop into in­sta­bil­ity.

One rea­son that democrati­sa­tion has not al­ways re­duced the de­gree of ex­clu­sion is that po­lit­i­cal sys­tems in Africa, much like the rest of the world, tend not to fea­ture in­clu­sive po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ments. The con­tin- ent only fea­tures a hand­ful of states that are fed­eral or fea­ture high lev­els of po­lit­i­cal de­vo­lu­tion – Kenya, Ethiopia, Nige­ria, South Africa and Su­dan. More­over, the abil­ity of op­po­si­tion par­ties to get elected at the sub-na­tional level has of­ten been lim­ited, es­pe­cially in Ethiopia and Su­dan. As a re­sult, in­di­vid­u­als and groups that lose out in the race for na­tional of­fice rarely get to en­joy a stake in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

By and large, African states are pres­i­den­tial and highly ma­jori­tar­ian. They also do not fea­ture con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions that guar­an­tee mi­nori­ties and los­ing par­ties a seat at the ta­ble. Un­til African po­lit­i­cal sys­tems be­come less ma­jori­tar­ian and do a bet­ter job of pro­tect­ing the rights and in­ter­ests of mi­nori­ties, the true ben­e­fits of demo­cratic gov­ern­ment are un­likely to be re­alised. – The Con­ver­sa­tion.

Cheese­man is a Pro­fes­sor of Democ­racy at the Uni­ver­sity of Birm­ing­ham.

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