Democracy in Africa

Why African states are still struggling to implement democracy and constitutionalism

Democracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” While constitutionalism is defined as “a compound of ideas, ideas, attitudes and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law.”

As sweet and good those two definitions sound especially for good governance, many Africa states are still struggling to implement them even though majority of them have these principles well documented in their constitutions. This is where you find a country’s constitution clearly stating how things should be done and the authorities responsible for upholding these principles totally doing the opposite.

But what exactly has made many African states fail to implement democracy and rule of law as they intend to? We examine some of the key factors responsible for this.

The influence of the army in politics

In many African states, the army has greatly undermined the growth of democracy majorly through military coups which deny people a chance to vote their own leaders. Dozens of coups have occurred in many African states since attaining their independence starting from the early 1960s. It is also on record that there are still many African countries that have never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since they attained their independence with military groups toppling incumbent governments to take over power. Unfortunately, military coups and rebellions to take over power have not only undermined democracy in such countries but also led to loss of lives of millions of people over the years. It is also a common practice in Africa for presidents to use the army and police to violently suppress those opposing them in order to continue clinging on to power.

Vote rigging

On several occasions, African countries try to change leadership democratically through elections but in most cases the results are rigged especially by those in power denying people a chance to elect their own leaders. This goes a long way in creating disunity, division and mistrust especially between those in power and the people who are led and sometimes violence has also resulted from such disputed elections leaving many dead, injured or imprisoned.

Unfair constitutional amendments

Many African countries have experienced unnecessary constitutional amendments which are mostly masterminded by incumbent presidents who want to stay in power beyond the stipulated terms. The long overstays in power of incumbent presidents due to these unfair constitutional amendments has also greatly undermined democracy on the continent and prevented the incoming of the would-be good leaders in case term limits are honored.

The influence of culture and religion

Culture and religion still play a very big role in African politics by even going a long way to influence who comes into power. In many African countries, candidates who come from populous tribes and from religions with majority followers stand a big chance of winning elections. The norm of electing leaders basing on religion and tribe is still common in many African states and this is regardless of whether the candidate is credible or not. Upon reaching power, many leaders who are voted on religion and cultural lines tend to favor those coming from the same background against the rest hence undermining the principle of good governance. Social inequalities are created due to this with people coming from particular regions and tribes getting better opportunities than the rest especially in terms of jobs and education.

Limited press freedom

In many African countries, journalists do not enjoy the freedom that they should while doing their work and they are not free to write about or cover stories they want. This kind of press censorship is carried out by those in power trying to deny their political opponents access to the media and to ensure their views or criticism of government doesn’t reach audience. Many African media outlets including the private ones are indirectly controlled by those in power by manipulating what should be aired or written and who should or should not be given media space. On many occasions we see journalists from different African countries beaten, arrested or their equipment confiscated by authorities just because of covering politicians or events that their governments don’t want them to cover. Other media outlets like Television channels, Radio stations and News Papers have also been closed or suspended on political grounds. This greatly undermines democracy through limiting the freedom of expression and intimidation of journalists.

Corruption and voter bribery

It has been widely reported that huge amounts of money are spent during elections in African countries. Unfortunately, much of this money is spent for the wrong reasons and that is voter bribery and buying off political opponents. This has been escalated by the fact that majority of the voters and some of the candidates are very poor and therefore it becomes easy for those with money to influence them. This is such a huge obstacle to democracy in that some of the worthy leaders maybe not get elected just because they don’t have too much money to bribe voters like some of their opponents.

Lack of voter sensitization

The major reason why voters may vote leaders basing on money, religion and tribe influence is because they are thoroughly sensitized by those responsible like the Electoral authorities. Many voters are uneducated and therefore they at least need some bit of sensitization on which qualities they should look for when choosing leaders which is unfortunately not done for them.

Weakened opposition

In some African states, governments have even gone further to weaken the opposition using bribes, spying and sometimes killing prominent opposition members. All these have left the opposition in some states very weak and incapable of ousting those in power during elections.

Police and military brutality

Many times, police and the military have been used to suppress people especially those that try demonstrate or strike over several issues in different Africa states. The brutal suppression of the masses using teargas, bullets, canning as well as arresting and detaining those taking part in demonstrations has continued to undermine the freedom of expression.

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