Africa at large: Keen on democracy, despite mixed results
Posted by African Press International on November 22, 2008
Johannesburg (South Africa) – Over the last twenty years, the ballot box has replaced military coups as a means of political change across Africa, says Professor Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, a political scientist from the University of Ghana. However the results of democratic practices are a mixed bag of sand and sim-sim.
“There has been a significant departure from the mode of politics of the past,” he says.
The historical view advocated by dictators and their apologists that African people do not care about democratic principles but rather their economic social standing is not true, according to Gyimah-Boadi, who is also head of the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development. Analysing the fourth round of the Afro-Barometer survey, he said that over half of Africans surveyed said they prefer democracy over any other form of government.
The Afro-Barometer is an independent research project that measures the social, political and economic atmosphere on the continent. Surveys are conducted in more than a dozen countries and at regular cycles. Professor Gyimah-Boadi says the surveys have shown that Africans have a good understanding of what democracy means to them. According to results from the third round conducted in 18 countries during 2005-2006, 73 percent of Africans rejected military rule. People on the continent are also relatively knowledgeable about government policies concerning healthcare and education.
The survey however also found that while African countries have achieved considerable success in terms of holding elections that are viewed as credible, African citizens are unsure about the ability of elections to improve their lives.
According to Gyimah-Boadi, democracy has fallen short of people’s expectations.
“We have found in our surveys that those who say they are satisfied with democracy have sharply declined by about thirteen percentage points between 2000 and 2005.”
What is clear is that there is a huge gap between expectations and realities. Recent African history has shown that democracy has had varying consequences for different countries. At times it has produced prosperity and at other times factionalism and discord.
Cyprian Nyamwamu, a member of Kenya’s National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) presented the case of his country’s experience before, during and after the 2007 elections. Nyamwamu says that ethnic identity and informal power played a big role in the East African country’s most recent elections, when the contested outcome led to widespread violence.
In 2006, the African Peer Review Mechanism published a report stating that politics are too often based on ethnic rather than social or economic interests. The primacy of ethnic interests, the report warned, posed a threat to national unity, as “differences of opinion and belief… are used to polarise and mobilise group action”.
The APRM report suggested Kenya needed to place ethnicity on the discussion table and consistently involve all groups in mainstream dialogue; reserved seats or proportional representation, the recognition of minority languages, and requirements that key government positions reflect the ethnic diversity of the country were among measures suggested as remedies.
“That report provided an important independent statement on the things we have been saying as the NCEC, political parties and civil societies.”
According to Nyamwamu, disregard for these findings paved the way for the outbreak of violence even before the election in December 2007.
“There is now a clash of ethnic and civil constitutions. Every time there is a conflict between the ethnicities and the national constitution, the ethnic agendas tend to carry the day and this is what has led to what we call the entrenchment of impunity,” he said.
His view on the role of ethnicity was challenged by delegates at the conference. Some felt it was too simplistic an explanation of Kenya’s problem. The role of class and religion was something that needed further analysis and understanding they claimed.
The situation in Kenya is however not the only story to be told about democracy in Africa. Panelists acknowledged success stories such as Botswana, which has never seen a coup and has held regular multi-party elections since independence in 1966. Mozambique is also regarded as a success story on the continent in terms of economic recovery and political reconciliation after a long civil war.
Examples such as these provide ordinary citizens of the continent the hope to meet another tomorrow — smiling.
api/source.Inter Press Service (IPS)- November 20, 2008.
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